Digital Mythologies / Digital Plagues (Part 1)

“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

(John Milton, Paradise Lost)

Conceptual Tactility

Calligraphic Sensuality and the Digital Text

When a person writes, there is a certain way in which they ‘inhabit’ the medium. For instance, the posture of the body as it moves the hand across the page and the feel of the letters which are returned to the writer in order for them to respond and govern their shape. This physical experience which is fed back to the writer thus finds itself expressed in the character of what is written.

Digital text, by contrast, through removing the hand, the arm, the texture of the paper, the fluidity of the pen in motion, has broken this physical link. One of course still types text – thus a more spikey, erratic physical relationship remains, however the physical relationship between the writer and the letter has completely disappeared. One presses a key and a letter appears, in whatever pre-determined font or format.

Striking a key on a typewriter came with a certain violence and a certain music. The key must be struck with a force for the letter to reach and impress upon the page; in a similar way, the letters must also have been typed with enough force to span the gap between the writer, the letter arm and the page. Steven Jesse Bernstein was a poet of type – his book, I am Secretly an Important Manwas published in type, words commonly capitalized to accentuate their force and his performance was always rich in its aggressive attack. By contrast of course, the computer keyboard is much more subdued, a less aggressive music, less strength of hand, but with the same cool distance between the author and the page[1].

Making a similar argumentative leap – arcing the gap between how words get onto a page and how individuals transfer meaning to one another – interaction is undergoing a comparable transformation. The physical touch and the detail within that touch are increasingly less significant than what is conceptually/aesthetically/emotionally transferred. The calligraphic man was a physical sensualist – attentive to the detail and the feel of the letters; careful with his stroke. The digital man replaces this physical sensuality with emotional/conceptual transmission – he is the psychic TV, the Cronenberg Scanner.

Animation: Gestural Tactility

Though it is recognised that the wholesale production of image and video media has led to a marked increase in ‘visual literacy’ (Greenfield, 2009), animation and virtual immersion may advent a kind of gestural literacy. A sort of conceptual tactility, a heightened sensitivity by which feeling, mood, presence and state can be transmitted through physically dislocated gesticulations. Animation is an act of communication 1) between the doll/avatar and those that view it and 2) between the animator and the animator (through the medium of the doll). By this, we mean the animator imagines, and in imagining ‘experiences’, a particular posture or gesture; he then autoamputates this imagined posture into an avatar and in turn receives the quasi-erotic satisfaction of seeing that gesture returned. The animator in a sense ‘inhabits’ the doll, ‘experiences’ the doll, through a purely conceptual yet quasi-physical sensation as if they were moving and communicating with their own body.

This same experience is true of those that view the doll and use the doll, particularly where they are able to choose or manipulate its actions. Their own body, in a sense, inhabits the doll, thus, in large part, the appeal of the concept of ‘immersion’. One does not immerse oneself in the sea; one immerses oneself in a digital/conceptual sea, which is, for digital man, a richer and more evocative experience than the actual sea.

The language of the conceptual gesture is silent from the perspective of words, and in a certain sense, animation arrives with the feeling of being mute. Within conceptual tactility, the body is not entirely present to the doll in a similar way to how the author of type is no longer present to his text. Conceptual tactility, with the transference of the gesture, possesses the dumb frustration of not being entirely there. The mime artist who conveys his message through the body, whose silence accentuates the body, who is generally trapped behind a screen of glass, resembles the state of conceptual transference – Euchrid Eucrow, the mute artist frustrated into madness and murder; the Cronenberg Scanner who is saved from telepathic madness by art and seclusion. The mime is frustrated by his lack of speech, the animator by his lack of presence.

ASMR – Digital Sensuality

In the past, intimate sensations were transferred through proximity and the physical touch. Today, the same sensations can be deliberately isolated and transmitted as an artistic act, tactile sensations transmitted psychically as if having/giving a digital massage. The ASMR (Automatic Sensory Meridian Response) video through its attention to detail and its simulation of proximity creates exactly this kind of effect. A good example from amalzd roleplays a librarian handing out books and emphasizes the importance of detail to the quality of those books (American Psycho being the obvious example).

Moreover, furthering the notion of speechlessness in conceptual tactility, ASMR can reveal a shift from propositional meaning – that is, where a statement conveys something evaluable as true or false – to an emotional, juxtapositional or sonorous transmission of meaning – that it resonates rather than imparts truth or persuades. Hence, conceptual tactility is the transmission of experience. See autodespair where most of the effect is conveyed in the sounds of a gun, the intense breathing of a man, any words serving in juxtaposition to the sound, visuals and ideas evoked. A more ‘negative ASMR’ here, the ‘unguided’ nature of the meditation giving a sense of the kind of feelings presented:

The above phenomenon is taking place throughout digital creativity – 3D modelling, cybersex, virtual worlds, MMORPG and music using 3D sound such as vaporwave or DISTROID – artists and participants required to imagine and experience that which they produce without actually experiencing it in any embodied sense. That they are able to ‘inhabit’ the context, object or gesture is essential to the accuracy and success of its simulation, thus encouraging the development of a tactile sensitivity at the level of the concept. With this comes an impetus to a resonant silence – a frustration with propositional words and logic. Moreover a similar frustration is transmitted in the creative work, that the body is disconnected from the situation it assumes and thus communication is impaired.


[1] Today, creating a digital letter is a process entirely separate from the act of writing. Neither is it produced in the factory as with the typewriter. It is conceived, drawn and then applied homogeneously across any number of unique texts.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3


Greenfield, P.M. (2009) ‘Technology and informal education: what is taught, what is learned’, Science, vol. 323, no. 5910, pp. 69–71.
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