Tuesday, October 31, 2006

November CommQuote

"Language isn't what it used to be. In computer-mediated communication, including cell phone conversations, email, chat room dialogues, blogs, and all documents written on a computer, the language we learned at mother's knee is generated by computer code ... The easy flow of writing and reading human-only languages on computers, increasingly routine for the millions who populate cyberspace, is regularly interrupted by indications that unseen forces are interacting with the language flow, shaping, disrupting, redirecting it. I mistype a word, and my word processing program rearranges the letters. I think I am making the keystroke that will start a new paragraph and instead the previous paragraph disappears. I type a URL into the browser and am taken to a destination I do not expect. These familiar experiences make us aware that our conscious intentions do not entirely control how our language operates. Just as the unconscious surfaces through significant puns, slips, and metonymic splices, so the underlying code surfaces at those moments when the program makes decisions we have not consciously initiated. This phenomenon suggests the following analogy: as the unconscious is to the conscious, so computer code is to language. I will risk pushing the analogy even further; in our computationally intensive culture, code is the unconscious of language."
--N. Katherine Hayles, "Traumas of Code," Critical Inquiry (Autumn, 2006)

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