First of all, what is the internet?
As part of the Design and Deep Future Research Group at the KABK, I have been trying to figure out what Coding in Situ means. I wrote about the idea around 10 months ago after a visit to Robida with Kirsten to make a website. In that moment, it felt right to co-opt a term from architecture criticism and point the lens towards the act of writing code. But, as a term with little definition, it has soft, blurry edges.
When I think through what it means, I try to break it down into sections. Coding is to create instructions using language that can enact a process on an input to create an output. Whilst the abstract definition can be useful, I prefer thinking about the physical act of coding because of the images that it generates, from the hacker in a darkened room to the silicon valley tech bro and everything inbetween. These images give a certain way of contextualising the act of writing code and it's these images that I hope to challenge.
Then there is the word Situ, a term that I've been prodding and poking for quite a while now. What is a Situ? How can it be experienced, mapped, and understood? Is it a physical location with geographical boundaries that you can cross over or is it less tangible situ that goes beyond physical presence? So far, the situ of Coding in Situ has focused on the geographical locality of the place where the coding is happening. However, it does not ignore the networked and global scale of things like the internet that it is inherently connected to.
Then there is the In. What does it mean to be in the situ? As I worked on the Robida website from here in Rotterdam, am I still Coding In Situ? It feels like it, but perhaps thats not up to me to decide. The in is the part that I clearly haven't given much thought to so far.
Towards the end of my participation in the Research Group I will make a report, something to summarise what has happened. I'm going to try writing out what I have done in a series of entries on this website, which somehow seems more fitting than writing into a larger piece of text in a Microsoft Word document. I want to work through the things I've been thinking about in bite-size chunks, posts rather than essays. This will be the first in that series. Perhaps it will become more structured but for now, it is what is it. Here we go:
When I code, it could mean that I press a key on the keyboard, let's say the letter 'A'. When I push that key, a chain of events occurs throughout my computer that at the moment is too complicated for me to understand but eventually ends up with a letter 'A' being shown on my screen. Whilst this seems somewhat banal, if you begin to look closer it also appears to be magical. I saw a TikTok video a while ago by a someone with the username @ethanforyou that encapsulates the feeling I have when I start examining this process closely:
Like even like, plumbing like how does anything work♬ original sound - Ethan Judelson
Late last year, I enrolled on an online course in Computer Architecture and Operating Systems. I did so with the idea that I wanted to get to know my computer better. Whilst I feel like I know every contour, sticky key, dead pixel and broken USB slot on my laptop, I have no idea how things happen behind the screen. By enrolling on this course, I hoped that I would begin to understand my computer on a more intimate and internal basis. I wanted to get to the inner workings, the electrical currents, the cables, and the components.
As part of the course I watched two videos, the first of which explained the different components within a computer; their individual functions, what processes make use of them, and how information flows between them. At the end of this video (which I was watching on my computer), I had this strange moment of sublime as I stroked the metallic surface beside my trackpad and began to understand the scale of the processes going on inside. Whilst I didn't know any of the things that were actually going on at that very moment, I somehow had a feeling for it. I had a feeling for the thousands (millions?) of processes going on at that moment underneath the metal. I could almost feel the buzz of activity, or perhaps it was just my computers fan going into overdrive. As @ethanforyou so succinctly put it "sorry but what the fuck is this? how does it know what this means?"
I think that part of Coding in Situ is about recognising that the world is material, the virtual is material, the digital is material, the cloud is material, VR is material, crypto is material, the web is material and in the same way, all those things are also virtual. When we think through all of these things as material, does it change anything, does it make a difference? Does it make it accessible? Or does the material presence of all these networked things become too much? Perhaps inhabiting the exasperation and urgency that I hear in @ethanforyou's voice is a good place to start find answers.
I want to begin diving deeper into the material relation to the environment. Thinking about what happens across CPUs, local and global networks and maybe also our social environment when someone presses the letter 'A'. For now I'll leave this as an 'intentional' post but I will continue to spend some time writing up my thoughts here about this process and things I find along the way.Back…