Digital Objects

We deal with digital, spectral, ethereal, virtual, and cybernetic objects every day, yet we rarely pause to consider how they unfold, how they are positioned among other entities, and how they affect us and the broader world. Multiple definitions have emerged, offering intriguing insights into the nature of cybernetic objects:

Complex, Granular, Unit-Based, Layered #

In his book “Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism” (2006), Ian Bogost introduces the concept of “unit operations,” referring to the discrete, modular functions constituting both digital and non-digital systems. Digital objects, in this framework, are configurations of these unit operations. This approach emphasizes the procedural and systemic nature of digital objects, seeing them as composed of smaller, interacting units that can be analyzed both individually and collectively (Bogost, 2006).

Code, Data-Based #

Lev Manovich discusses digital objects within the context of new media, defining them as entities that exist as digital code. These objects are interactive, modular, and programmable, forming the bedrock of digital culture. N. Katherine Hayles, in “How We Became Posthuman” (1999), describes digital objects as virtual bodies, entities created, stored, and manipulated in digital formats. These objects are distinct in their capacity to be easily copied, altered, and distributed, fundamentally changing how information is perceived and utilized (Manovich, 2001; Hayles, 1999).

Virtual, Hyperreal #

Jean Baudrillard, in “Simulacra and Simulation” (1994), explores cyber-objects as entities within hyperreality, where the line between the virtual and the real is blurred. Cyber-objects are simulacra representing a new level of interaction with reality through digital interfaces. Eric Sadin discusses virtual objects as parts of immersive digital environments that simulate real-world experiences or create entirely new ones (Baudrillard, 1994; Sadin, 2017).

In (Feedback) Loop #

Norbert Wiener, a pioneer of cybernetics, introduced the concept of feedback loops in “Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine” (1948). He emphasized the importance of feedback in controlling and regulating systems. Stafford Beer applied feedback loops to organizational theory in his work on management cybernetics, developing models for effective organizational control and self-regulation. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU) extended cybernetic feedback loops into cultural and theoretical domains, viewing cultural phenomena, technologies, and ideologies as interconnected systems that self-regulate and evolve through feedback processes (Wiener, 1948; Beer, 1972; CCRU).

Haunted, Spectral, Ethereal #

Eric Sadin describes digital objects as spectral, omnipresent, and ephemeral, continuously shaping human experience and social dynamics without always being directly observable. Grafton Tanner, in “Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts,” notes that digital objects, especially cultural ones, often serve as repositories of nostalgia and critique contemporary capitalism by repurposing old media forms. Tanner uses this concept to describe how digital objects, like vaporwave music and art, evoke a sense of the past haunting the present. These objects are imbued with a spectral quality that reflects cultural memory and nostalgia, creating a sense of temporal dislocation and blending past, present, and future in ways that challenge linear narratives of progress (Sadin, 2017; Tanner, 2016).

Beyond Silicon #

Yuk Hui sees digital objects as entities deeply entwined with broader philosophical and cultural contexts. His work emphasizes the ontological implications of digitality, considering how digital objects mediate between different layers of reality and experience. Hui suggests that digital objects are not just passive representations but active agents that shape human understanding and interaction with the world. For Hui, digital objects are part of the ongoing process of cosmotechnical development, where humans and technology co-constitute each other (Hui, 2016).

Conclusion #

Cyber-objects are programmable and programmed entities, data-based, in permanent loops and mutations, transmitting the hyperreal often in hauntological ways. They exist in a constant complex, fractal, uncanny hyperstitional loop where time and space appear distorted, often blurred, as the codes, texts, images, and sounds that build a virtual theatre. All virtual objects depend on a geological, cosmotechnical context that transcends technology and expands the qualities of cyber-objects.

References #

  • Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press.
  • Beer, S. (1972). Brain of the Firm. Allen Lane.
  • Bogost, I. (2006). Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism. MIT Press.
  • CCRU (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit). Collected Writings.
  • Hayles, N. K. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press.
  • Hui, Y. (2016). On the Existence of Digital Objects. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. MIT Press.
  • Sadin, E. (2017). La vie algorithmique: Critique de la raison numérique. L’échappée.
  • Tanner, G. (2016). Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts. Zero Books.
  • Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. MIT Press.