(alex galloway) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Wed, 30 Apr 1997 20:24:59 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> ZKP4. "2 keywords for the digital text: object and protocol"

[please comment! - those annotations will go onto paper too -p]

Alexander Galloway

"First commodity, then sign, now object..."

For many years now theorists have preferred to speak of value
economies--be they semiotic, marxian or psychoanalytic--in terms of
genetic units of value and the general equivalents that regulate their
production, exchange and representation. In the digital economy there is
a new semiotic classification system: object and protocol.

Our species of textual unit is the object. The object represents a unit
of content, an infoid. It is not a digital commodity nor a digital sign.
The digital object is any content-unit or content-description: midi
data, text, vrml world, image, texture, movement, behavior,
transformation. These objects are always derived from a pre-existing
copy (loaded) using various kinds of mediative machinery. They are
displayed using various kinds of virtuation apparatuses (displays,
virtual reality hardware and other interfaces). And finally, objects are
always erased.

Platform independent, digital objects are contingent upon the
standardization of data formats. They exist at the level of the script,
not the machine. Unlike the commodity and the sign, the object is
radically independent from context. Being digital, the object is a
quantitative entity without being defined by exchange. At the same time,
it is produced to be transferred.

Unlike the commodity, the object in internet semiotics is not a product
of labor power. Objects do not gain their value from use, nor from
exchange. To put it in more traditional terms then, the translation of
texts into the digital medium is marked by the invisibility and absence
of labor. It is not simply that this form mystifies its history, it's
precisely that "productive history" is no longer a term of engagment.
Digital texts read and write themselves. And yes, this absence of labor
in object production and consumption is extend to practices of reading

Finally, objects are inheritable, extendable, pro-creative. They are
always already *children*. Yet they are not "more real than the real,"
since "real" is not an ontological term but rather a stylistic one in
this context. Also, objects do not have genealogies, since they do not
even have mythical chronologies, per se. "History" here is a tabulation
of past and possible event-commands.

Protocol is a very special kind of object. It is a universal description
language for objects. Protocol is the reason that the internet *works*,
and performs work. But what kind of work?

In the same way that computer fonts regulate the representation of text,
or html designates the arrangement of objects, protocol may be defined
as a set of instructions for the compilation of contents (objects).
Protocol is always a second-order process; it governs the *architecture*
of the representation of texts.

By definition, protocol facilitates similar interfacing of dissimilar
objects. Contrary to popular conjecture, the digital network is not a
heterogeneity. It is a hegemonic formation. That is to say, digital
networks are structured on a negotiated dominance of certain textual
forms over other forms--all in accordance with schedules, and
hierarchies, and processes. Protocol is chivalrous. Objects are
filtered, parsed, concatenated. They are not archived, filed, or perused
(these are pre-digital activities). This dynamic constitutes a true
textual economy. Ebb and flow are governed by specific protocols.
Connectivity is established according to certain hierarchies. And like
the logic of traditional political economy all elements conform to
formal standardization.

Traditional semiotics has little currency in mapping reading practices
over digital networks. Textual protocol "allows objects to read and
write themselves" []. And thus, objects
are not reader-dependent but rather they perform work without being
categorized as "artificial life."

Internet semiotics is still a process of reading. However it is a
reading that engages the object as fundamental textual element, and
protocol as primary organizational principle for objects. Exit
information, sign, representation; enter content, object, protocol.

(Alexander Galloway [] is assistant editor of
RHIZOME INTERNET [] and has written on the French
review Tel Quel. He is currently working on issues surrounding digital

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