::: nicole shiflet :::

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All Things Binary: 011000100110100101101110011000010111001001111001

In the context of computer language, the translation of all words may be broken down into two digits: zero and one. Words, numbers, and all forms of communication may be simplified into lines and circles through the binary number system. The simple beauty yet complex structure of this system demonstrates our desire for maintaining some form of unaltered mark making among the rapidly changing environment of the digital age.

While on the subject of rapidly changing environments, I attended a lecture just this afternoon given by Rachel Beth Egenhoefer that encouraged me to revise this very paper. Her work revolved around binary code, breaking down the complexity of the computer as machine, and displaying the results in a playful aesthetic with the use of candy and knitting. Her forms encourage the viewer to think of the computer not only as a tool but also to question what goes on inside of its structure, (the hidden inner workings). By breaking down the computer to its simplest language level we begin to understand how it communicates.

Programmers have created new languages from binary code to Java Script through the computer. They are not languages divided by geographical location but languages evolved from numbers and code. They are languages that are not typically thought of as understood by the general public. Many artists whose work deals with technology often attempt to break down these languages into something they themselves may understand. What is inside of that plastic box? What is inside of that computer chip? What do those ones and zeros mean?

Another use of the binary language exists in the form of barcodes. Information consisting of zeros and ones are inserted into lines or bars. This is, again, more hidden information. Droog Design is a group of artists collaborating on creating interactive works with everyday materials. One such work, titled “System Almighty”, allows the viewer to scan any barcode they may have with them. (One may be surprised by the amount of barcodes he carries with him on a regular basis.) The reading of the barcode then triggers household objects to turn off and on such as hairdryers, lights, and fans. The objects “are themselves scavenged and transformed objects of everyday use that react against the slickness of technology. Their unpredictable behavior is unique to each barcode. Technology guarantees that every experience and identity is specific, but in ways we can never know.” 1

The binary number system utilizes a very small alphabet, consisting of only two letters, or to be more exact, numbers. However, its vocabulary may be as complex as the programmer will allow it to be. What irony to find such a simple basic alphabet in such a complex machine! Understanding the relationship between information inside of a computer and its meaning becomes an important task for the digital artist.

1. Aaron Betsky, SFMOMA, http://010101.sfmoma.org/start.html.

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