Code It Again, Sam.

Play it again, Sam.

If you remember anything from Casablanca, it’s this one line. Though Ingrid Bergman, who plays Ilsa Lund, never actually said it to Sam, the kind old piano player at Rick’s Café Américain. It’s a popular misconception, a beautifully succinct bending of the real that becomes more culturally prevalent than the actual dialogue. And even though I know the truth, I still prefer the wrong line.

This has very little, if nothing, to do with code. But it does have to do with culture. We build it up, break it down, and mess it around not only because we can but because culture is communal. A movie, like Casablanca, can not be considered a success or a classic unless a community agrees that it is. Even my beloved, but fraudulent, Ingrid Bergman line is constructed in a context of remembrance and simplification.

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Programming, code, and the entire architecture of computing is just as discursive as our cultural history. It’s not just the culture around a painting, film, or photograph that can be socially constructed but also the culture around our logical systems. As said in the “Concurrent Versions Systems” excerpt section, “code creation is an inherently social act”. It’s multi-faceted and “involves processes of collaboration, consensus, and conflict resolution, and embodies social processes such as normalization and differentiation”. Code is discursive, constantly changing, it has an image of precision, mathematical purity, and in many ways this is true. But first and foremost, it is a human created language, not one to solely communicate between our fellow humans, but to communicate to the ghost in the machine.

It’s quite hard for me to try and understand it myself, or at least before I started my foray into coding. My own experience with Python, and learning about how these languages can be closer or further away from the machine (or code used with more or less abstraction), is that code is just as programmable as the media or culture around us. We fight about what defines a code’s elegance, how we should build our front and back-ends, and what languages we should even use. Coding and it’s community have narratives every bit as compelling as the ones we tell with actors and actresses. These range from strange stories about the merits of Soylent for working efficiently, to the extremely important issue of the gender gap in Silicon Valley (and tech in general), and everything outside and in-between. We can not experience technology, or anything for that matter, in a vacuum. And everything we push forward, dial down, advocate, or condemn is shaping a larger world that in turn affects the composition of the machine.

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Even with our class’ experience with W3 and it’s tutorials, we see that W3 is a consortium and decides how and why the languages change. Yet, still they are constantly revamped all the time. Delving further into the CVS section I just wanted to point out the first footnote after the article. A quote echoing a balance in an ever changing world.

“The highest perfection of society is found in the union of order and anarchy”.

This orderly chaos is the breeding ground for our own grasping for meaning. Walter Benjamin in Jussi Parikka’s section titled “Copy” states that Modern Media is “a product of a culture of the copy”, it’s even hardwired into our computers and devices. The remix and facsimile are not only products of our culture, they determine our culture. What is shared, and what is loved, what is mocked, and what is scorned. The circles of discourse we make (whether that’s about music, movies, code, varieties of blueberry jam) eventually take shape upon their own branches of rhizomic influence, however small or large they may be.

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Even the dankest of memes online are both a linguistic and cultural example of the facsimile. Même means “same” in French, and it is only fitting that this image and text based humor standardizes the copying conventions and images in order to create the ‘same’ shared experience of situation without even having to have been in the context of its creation. These can change, of course, but the sharing and copying of these original culture artifacts are what push the change along. It is at this point we start making references about references, dreams in dreams.

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But to what end are we doing this? And how does code relate? Sure, there is a aspect to code that in itself is building off of previous language structures, but it also is based on pre-existing logic structures. And as we try to understand and manipulate the machine further, we ultimately have to bring either the machine further into our reality, or move our reality further into the machine’s. Though our trajectories are heavily intertwined already, seeing as machines, and machine ‘intelligence’ is human generated, they are not one in the same.

Visualization does this by appealing directly to one of our core senses (big surprise it’s sight!) and is meant to help us read data trends better and be more reactive to changing rates. In this process hover, a machine is compensating for our lack of non-visual processing capabilities and we’re connecting/compensating for the computer’s inability to distill information.

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And this simplicity, while limiting in some regards, is something that is deceptively hard to achieve. In humans we try to distill a complex and complicated world down to simple axioms, expressions, lessons, proverbs, sayings, and bumper stickers. But in the function section Derek Robinson says “software also teaches that the simplicity is hard-won; it is hard to slow thoughts down to allow their dissection…” and this is exactly what visualization is trying to get at in a computer. Complexity is easy to have, and hard to understand. Complex is the essence of the world, the universe, the atom, the human, the machine, but to accept that as fact leaves us with very little to go on. The earliest introduction section talks about, “should we limit ourselves to repeating, using, and abjectly loving that which is given, or limit ourselves only to the language of specialists where “questions and differences about words” are erased and terminologies are owned?”

But I agree with the author, Matthew Fuller, we can not fall prey to either or. Accepting the divinity of complexity or the synthesis of field terminologies tacked on to explain our contexts outright is too easy. It’s comfortable to think either you fully understand something, or you are fully in acceptance of the unknown. It’s terrifying to challenge the comfort and strive for capacity to take on the strange, the familiar, and to lose the grip on the familiar connotations of what you think you know. No matter what you think that is.

And to do that, things are gonna get weird before they get understandable, before they get even weirder again. Our lives, like our code and our machines, are programmable in the basest of senses. We like to stay further away from the machine, either obliging codified laws, or passively accepting a unknown complexity. We import, export, and connect our creations and our culture (they usually coincide), to ultimately break down our visions of what something is, and is not. And in our codes, whatever form they may take, we are able to think about what lay before us. And maybe, despite the daunting vastness of experience and meaning, agree on something.

Even if it’s just one line.

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Here’s looking at you, code.

– James J. Fan

 

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~ by jamesjfan on February 22, 2016.

9 Responses to “Code It Again, Sam.”

  1. i n f o — Woah, what I would give to write so eloquently like you do… you really dissect what coding brings into today’s culture and how important it is for us to understand languages like Python, Java, CSS, etc. in order to fully comprehend the machines we use in our daily lives. And I like how you expanded upon the complicated relationship between computers and humans and how we try to simplify things all the time like taking a function in code for what it is rather than looking at the ‘bigger picture.’ 🙂

  2. Overall! I like how you draw such clear insights into the reading and weave it through the context of the film. You present your content/thoughts in a fun, easy to read way and take nice breaks with your choice of gifs.

  3. Content: Not only was your post interesting to read, but your understanding of the terms you chose to write about really comes across in your fluid style of writing. Very informative and enjoyable read!

  4. Overall: Your explanation and interpretation toward the reading are so clear and great. Also, I love how you give in your own interpretation. Lastly, I think the media (images, memes, and gifs) work really well with the content and gives it a great sense of humor 🙂

  5. Best content! I like your post a lot because you’ve truly reflected on your own experience of media production and made some great connections with the reading. Though your blog is not short, it flows really well and you also did a good job of incorporating the images/gifs. In particular, I really like and agree with the argument you made on how it is always difficult to challenge our own comfort zone. Great work 🙂

  6. Content-wise, I enjoyed your blog post the most (again!). While you do a wonderful job of connecting the reading to relatable things, one of the reason I particularly enjoy reading your posts is the fact that it makes me think about things that are not even explicitly mentioned. I think a lot about how (while there are differences between men and women in the state of nature), there is still a social construction of gender difference. In other words, to what extent is the concept of “femininity” and “masculinity” purely socially constructed? The distinctions between the two, to me, feels like an extreme, sometimes dangerous(?), simplification (also despite a wide range of perceptions depending on the culture).

    Anyway, I guess what I was trying to say was that your blog post, as always, is thought-provoking for me as a reader. So thank you!

  7. Overall: This post was incredibly insightful, entertaining, and stylish. I love how you used the movie Casablanca to make your points accessible. What sold me on your post was the level of analysis. All your points made so much sense and really captured what the book was trying to say. I think your post was stylish in the way you wrote and how it looked. Your style of writing, placement of pictures, and spacing of words and ideas was flawless. Even if you didn’t have a single picture I probably would have still given you best style and overall because of how well you wrote. Honestly great job!

  8. Style: Somehow, you were able to seamlessly convey so much information, maintain a blog voice, and keep me wanting to read on. The examples and explanations you used were incredibly helpful in understanding your points & helped drive the post home. Also, this post was stylish in its design and visually appealing. Great post to read & inspiring as far as design on a blog post goes. Loved it!

  9. Best Overall: First of all, I’ve got to say… I see we both have the spinning top gif from the inception! Yayyyyy. Your post was amazing. I haven’t watched the Casablanca (and now I really do hope to) but your ending. It resonated with me even after reading it. *Cue sexy, deep, classic man voice in my head.* I was so captivated while I was reading your post. The way you touched on so many different topics but managed to seamlessly make it flow. You made it seem so natural. Your writing was somehow very soothing.The comparisons, the little details like the même en français…C’était trop magnifique. I learned so many new things. Thanks so much for the post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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