There's an interesting and subtle issue here.
Martin has distinguished between a programme and the computer it can run on. However, where is the computer in this? Following the stricter definitions of computability we would assume the computer is in the programme - not in the specifics of the hardware. The computer hardware offers the potential that a programme might exploit but, depending on the dependencies of the programme (eg: specific technical requirements, such as outputting to a screen or making a sound), a programme can be run with no electronic hardware at all. A programme can be run just using a few people who assume various roles in the agency of the programme (eg: forwarding, receiving, processing and/or modifying messages, processes and data). I use to ask my first year media art students (when I had such students) to build a computer on their first day in class - which would leave them rather bemused until I explained that they would collectively be the computer and the software would be them speaking to one another.
The point is that the computer is in the processes being executed, not in the hardware doing it - although this raises questions of dualism that are not that different to those that plague questions of human ontology. But I don't want to go there right now. It's a complex argument in its own right...
We now need to ask what the implications are, in respect of Martin and Marc's discussion, of recognising the computer as being a symbolic and abstract thing, rather than a material assemblage (although it might be both). Given this definition of the computable it is logical to agree with Marc as the computer is, effectively, an abstract language system, not a specific piece of equipment (it's not a simple tool, as Martin has suggested, but a symbolic system). Thus we should feel an obligation to consider the manner in which the code of the system is organised and where the code derives from as key to its ontology and agency. Issues around whether the code is open source or not become intrinsically important, just as the origins and context of the language we use in our daily communication is important. For example, when using language, the speaker/writer can take varying degrees of care in assuring that the language they use is precise and does not reference or contain meanings or contingencies that would compromise the message in some manner. A specific example here would be avoiding gendered pronouns to ensure gender dynamics do not affect how a message might be interpreted.
Marc's insistence on assuring certain qualities in the computing systems used at Furtherfield should be considered in this light. Further to that, just as we look to unpack the general use of language and signals (in the media, or wherever), as we seek to understand the agendas, frameworks and laziness underlying a specific message, so we should do this when working with and considering the computing systems we use. As language systems, computers carry numerous implicit messages and conditioning frameworks, just as natural language systems do. We need to have our software bullshit detectors finely tuned to "critical" in this respect.
On 23 Nov 2012, at 10:23, Martin John Callanan (UCL) wrote:
> Hi Marc
> I was mainly considering the bigger point of how an artist uses tools.
> To use a computer program is an abstraction of the computer. I
> certainly didn't mean to imply that the issues below are abstract, and
> you must realise I'm not disagreeing with you on that! The one point I
> was disagreeing with, is that open source being the only solution, as
> to limit artists to open source is a political restriction to be
> I do think if someone (including an artist) isn't involved in the
> community around open source development, or involved in actually
> developing, then they are simply acquiring the software. If someone
> simply acquires open source s/w there is no difference between
> purchasing non-open source. It is a just a tool they have acquired to
> On 23 November 2012 01:08, marc <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Hi Martin,
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