i'm torn, always, between the urge to preserve every scrap of human existence and the sense that all things ought to be purged once they are complete. these desires are always selfish; i personally benefit from the work of people and things long past, thus i feel some sense that current creations ought to persist into the far future. but then, sometimes, i think about a distant future human who might have access to the things i have extruded into existence, but without the context of my actual existence, and i feel a wringing in my gut.

i believe that the best way to understand things is to get my hands dirty in them; i've participated in processes i didn't understand, contributed to systems that i later condemned, built up infrastructure i won't admit to in public. this is fine, i tell myself. this is how i learn.

i've been proofreading machine-transcribed texts that have been scanned from books in the public domain, but do not yet have a digitally portable existence. it's mind-numbing, to have my eyeballs pass over marks on a screen in two columns, remembering that one is a source, an 'image file', while the other is a desired output as a 'text file'. conceptually, these two things are different, but visually, they are frustratingly close.

the easy parts are to correct errors in spacing and spelling, translating little flecks of ink and dust on the scanner bed into coherent text that can be easily transported and manipulated into a variety of formats for print, screen, text-to-speech, etc. the hard part is when a jumble of unfamiliar scribbles appear, and i need to stare at my keyboard in despair while trying to decide how to communicate those parts of 'image' into some format of 'text'.

at the same time, i'm taking a class on the history of books; we do exercises in hand-scribing to understand pre-machine copying process, we look at parts of printing presses and the books that resulted from historical manufacturing, we touch parts of old skin and wood and metal that was invented and assembled so that one human could transfer a thought to another human.

some days, i look at the errors that happen from context being lost in that transfer, and worry less about if we're doing it right now, because we've never done this right. we can never do this right. writing is an approximation of language, which is an approximation of thought; books are an incomplete model of someone's worldview.

these buttons i am punching on this machine to ask it to record a very specific integer that can be sent to other machines to turn them into a script that another person might read, this is an incomplete model of my worldview.

25 January 2018 21:39

  Commons License this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. for more details, please see my license information.