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As I noted before, digital computation enables a sort of universal form of exchange between other media. This function is certainly made possible by the placement operation and addressable structure I described. But those operations, while imaginable, are in themselves unreachable to our senses. More importantly, they bear in themselves little resemblance to how we are accustomed to crafting new objects with tools and material. However, we are able to sense their effects. Insofar as these operations work "invisibly," behind the scenes, it does indeed seem that magic is being performed when, for example, sound information is used to make a picture. It is as if the medium through which the change is enabled has no form in itself, and is pure operation. Again, as in the case of money, there is an enabling of exchange without the enabling medium seeming to have material consequence on the value of the transaction. The digital operation, like a monetary transaction, seems to provide a function while exacting neither a profit nor a loss in the process. It is in this respect that the digital medium often seems immaterial. It seems to be pure function unhampered by form.
Again, while we have all probably felt this diminished materiality with respect to either monetary or digital processing, we have also, no doubt, seen the other side of the coin. In the case of money we are perhaps most often aware of its effect on goods exchange when we note the value of one monetary unit in relation to another. Dollar versus Yen, for example, changes daily. Inflation too is a form of distortion of the symbolic value of money -- it renders its materiality visible. It is not that we see money for what it is, paper or metal, but that we realize that it is a particular material to which an arbitrary symbolic value has been assigned. Rather than seeing its truth, we are reminded of its un-truth. With digital processing, when viewing an image of a digitized artifact such as a photograph, we may note aberrant "symbols" placed into parts of the digital image by the process of encoding the analog version. These "artifacts" of encoding and data compression attest to some kind of work that has been performed on the image. That work marks the digitized images by literally changing its component numeric values.

What I am saying is that digital representation is not immaterial just because it places such artifacts into our digitized images, but because experiences of digital representation cannot be separated from the material forms through which they is made sensible. That is, although with computers we have the potential to "translate" one representation into another, provided we have these representations stored digitally, we cannot separate this "translation" process from an apparatus through which it is made sensible: the apparent immateriality of digital media is problematized by the tools and interfaces which make them manifest and usable.


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