Digits and Anomaly Reading

“Digital” by Benjamin Peters revolutionized my understanding of the digital, as was his intent. Peters also instilled the value of the index and put the verb back into the word computer. I mean, he indicated the fact that computers compute—count, index, manipulate. Very obvious stuff on the surface, but many of those obvious facts about computers were disguised by the user interface of the computers I had as a kid (~1999-2009). I never thought I needed to learn the fundamentals, or moreover, I thought I already knew the fundamentals. And in a way, I did. Hover the mouse over what you want, click. Refer to that thing. Point at that thing, etc. But Peters brings in the historical context of those fundamentals, which really (for me) emphasizes the initial function of computers. He states, “digital media do what fingers do” (2). Peters’s style is playful, provocative, and sharp—if a bit compact at times—and he balances the history of computation well with the contemporary user experience of a digital device.

In conjunction with Peters’s piece, Moretti’s essay drives home the indexical ("pointing-to") quality of computer-generated graphs. A dip in an otherwise upward-moving data set points to a time of political strife, in the case of the rise of the novel in Japan (9-10). That said, the readings give me a new way to read and compose questions from visualized data. I can now look at a changing trend on a graph and identify it as a point of interest, according, oftentimes, to low-level data.

And it’s this concept of low-level data that stands out to me in Manovich’s piece. In one of the videos linked to the article, a Mark Rothko painting stands out, for low-level data reasons. But Manovich’s colleague, Jeremy Douglass, suggests that, while this painting does not seem to stand out for any highly-important data reasons, these DH strategies can seed a researcher’s attention to something they would otherwise overlook. Just like dips in chronological line graphs, the anomalies, due to their very existence, index (and have the potential to unravel) important historical and political contexts that other interpretive methodologies run the risk of glossing.