Historicizing Pixels and Packets – Mike

Graham Harwood in his essay on Pixel contextualizes the pixel (short for picture element) by demonstrating the historical background to the pixel and then extrapolating that to the social and cultural backdrop we have today. He sees the earliest predecessor to the pixel is with Brunelleschi’s net in which he used to construct buildings. By casting a net, or gridded plane over a reflective surface and positioning and rendering on the other side of it he was able to accurately see the amount of light being used in each section of the grid.


By historicizing an object that is traditionally seen to fairly new in the grand scheme of things Harwood in effect normalizes their existence. Now this doesn’t mean that he trivializes pixels, but that by providing the context behind them we are able to see that these ideas that we wholeheartedly believe are new actually have their story grounded in something that is much older.

This is what I will hope to do with my ecology project. Much like an image we see on a screen is composed of a finite number of pixels, the data and the content that we see on this screen is composed of a finite number of packets. And if we use Harwood’s methodology of looking back to the earliest predecessor we can see that packets aren’t in fact a new technology. We can see that the idea of splitting some form of information up into smaller pieces to be reassembled later on isn’t a new idea. The earliest I can think of, and I’m sure there are much earlier examples, is a zoetrope. By isolating a bit of information, in this case a single frame of an image, we lose all meaning. It is just a picture. However, once we spin the zoetrope around do we begin to see the bits of information reassemble and context is brought back in by the assemblage of data before our eyes.


Each frame represents a packet of information

-Mike Lorenz

~ by Michael Lorenz on March 10, 2014.