Decoding the Virtual Unknown

Decoding the Virtual Unknown - Heather Fernon
Excerpt from Leonardo Electronic Almanac MIT Press
Volume 4, No. 2 February 1996.

For those whose early childhood memories are founded amongst the
story telling methods of modern media; captured moments on
television relaying the fragments of personal drama and tragedy,
shot and edited for mass consumption - how does the on-line
engagement challenge our understanding of communication practices?

The Internet has become a catacomb of the late twentieth century
western culture. It provides an ongoing exchange space for visual
and written dialogue - a dynamic platform through which images and
symbols of contemporary society are rendered.

Yet the true identity of the electronic pigeon remains an enigma,
hidden behind notions of science fiction and advertising cliche.
The possibilities of on-line communication are both restrictive and
unique. New boundaries are drawn within screen space and time,
which are peculiar to each new user's experience. The interaction
of provider and viewer becomes dependent upon the web's ability to
utilize and translate its flood of dialog and visuals. With such
outpouring of material, the stems of communication are defined by
the network of chosen navigational symbols.

The computer becomes the conduit through which to translate
knowledge without the sensory experience of human understanding.
Like television, it defines without perception of the original
aesthetic or its tangible replacement. The identity of the original
is hence transformed through the 14" coated light source, glowing
two feet or more away from the viewer. Images are dispersed through
cultural filters, mediated by technological constraint.

However, the sensibility of the original can only be gained by
direct personal experience. The on-line recreation of this identity
reflects more upon contemporary sensibilities and symbology than it
does the artifacts it seeks to translate. The common experience is
one of mass dissemination and translation. It requires the
suspension of belief, beyond the experience of the original depth
and texture of form - into a contemplation of what lies beyond the
digital veil.