IAT 811 – Week 8, Hardware, Software, Wetware

Wetware uses software that runs on hardware but sometimes on firmware. Confused? The chapter entitled Hardware/Software/Wetware, written by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, from the book Critical Terms for Media Studies by W.J.T. Mitchell and Mark B.N.Hansen seems to suggest that you are not alone if you think that you may be confused.

The chapter first looks at how hard it is to define, within the context of media studies, what exactly a computer is. Tool? Not context-oriented since it can be used in any context – even ones not yet discovered yet. A machine? Perhaps, but not in the conventional sense since it contains media, instructions, images, videos, stories, etc. Medium? Perhaps.

The chapter draws parallels between computers and ourselves (i.e., the wetware). But stepping back and looking at the difference between hardware and software is complicated. One might want to say software is rewritable and hardware is read-only. But firmware makes things confusing since it is physical but it can also be written to.

Perhaps then the difference between hardware and software is that hardware is physical. Even if only to be touched by our entire finger as we move across its tiny city-like architecture as if we are gods moving our Omni-presence across the entire surface of the tiny computer chip civilization – or several … they are that small after all.

We, as wetware are much like the computer and the computer reflects and even is us. Our hardware is the written to physical form – the DNA, our firmware and software is the RNA that converts the information from the DNA into proteins.

Our environment too can be conceived to be our RNA since it has the ability to utilize our DNA and make changes to our behavior and our characteristics. What about viruses? Viruses are viruses – attempting to run things amok, parasites act like Trojan horses (i.e., specialized types of viruses) where the host is misused for some other ulterior purposes and motives.

Marshall McLuhan was right in that the “medium is the message” – the medium (computer) embeds itself in the message and the message is that the computer is us, it reflects what we are. But the computer is still hard to define since it rewrites all of what was media theory and media studies – another point made within this chapter.

In the book Art and Electronic Media by Edward A. Shanken, and the chapter Simulations and Simulacra on page 259 is reference to a piece by Brenda Laurel entitled The Six Elements and the Causal Relations Among Them where “Aristotle’s fundamental ideas about drama” are referenced (Action, Character, Thought, Language, Pattern, and Enactment). Parallels are drawn between what Aristotle saw with drama (and its narrative) and current day technology and how it uses these exact principles in many different facets with computer technology.

With that, it is easy to see that computers are hard to define and how previous iterations of media theory are rewritten once again.


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