The Ephemeral Digital

This summer, while on a Zoom meeting with some friends we watched the 2014 horror movie "Unfriended". The entirety of the film takes place through the lens of a computer monitor, in it we see our protagonist, Blair, make Google searches and text her boyfriend while trying to make amends with a ghost who has infiltrated her friend group's Zoom call. It's a bad, schlocky movie that seems like it's trying to say something about the dangers of cyberbullying and social media, yet the main problem with the film, (of which there are many) is that it never makes a case for why Blair does not simply shut her computer and leave. 

I took issue with Blair's actions because, as Ben Peters points out in "Digital" digital computers function as indexical tools: they forever point to a world, be it real or a possibility, yet digital objects cannot manifest this world they point to. The idea of a digital screen manifesting real harm, even through the widely used trope of a ghost, seems unbelievable. No matter how scary the ghost may appear on Facebook, it is deeply ingrained in my head that this scariness cannot be real. As Peters puts it, "Digital media, such as these, point and refer to real world objects outside of themselves, and this transducing from the symbolic to the real limits both the computing and the indexing power of digital media." (p.8)

I think this is an interesting point to make when we look to the act of reading on a digital screen in terms of semiotics. Text, under the scale which Charles Sanders Peirce puts it falls under the symbol in terms of semiotics. When reading text on a digital device we then have the screen itself, which is indexical, simulating the analog task of reading on print. The digital here functions as an extension of our thought process, and the spread of ideas. It's a tool and yet, our constant movement towards digital over analog means that we spend hours of our day with works that can disappear at the click of a button and yet still have the appearance of reality, or as Peters puts it "Digital media indexes not only our world but all possible worlds" (p. 13).


There's few things worse online then when archives are pulled down or disappear. In recent years there have been purging of 'dead' websites that aren't updated. Some of these are fan created or personal information of hobbies or ideas. How much space do we really have if these records are so short lived? It's almost like cells with memory that exist for a time then are cleaned out of a body with the waste. Is that what it means to be deleted?