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Preface and Introduction


on the one hand, Agrippa – “electronic text that is volatile and ephemeral by design, which nonetheless turns out to be one of the most persistent and avialable literary artifacts on the Web” (x)

on the other hand, physical trauma of harddrives can’t erase data in WTC collapse

hysteresis: persistence of magnetic recording over time

MEMS, microelectromechanical systems – Recordable Locking Device; nanoscale

“electronic textuality is simialrly locatable, even though we are not accustomed to thinking of it in physical terms” (3)

most new media studies focused on conceptual level of digital objects – screen essentialism

focus on STORAGE (against Kittler’s narrative of storage)

materiality – long footnotes on pg 16

forensic materiality: non-self-identicality of matter

formal materiality: manipulation of symbols

“formal materiality is not an absolute term, but rather one that tries to capture something of the procedural friction or perceived difference – the torque – as a user shifts from one set of software logics to another” (13)

“Forensic and formal materiality are perhaps better brought to rest on the twin textual and technological bases of inscription (storage) and transmission (or multiplciation), exactly those bases underpinning my earlier narratives of the survival of the WTC hard drive data on the one hand and the proliferation of Gibson’s ‘Agrippa’ across the Internet on the other. Forensic and formal materiality also accord witht he fundamental duality of a mechanism as both a product and a process.” (15)

marriage of textual studies and computer forensics

“electronic texts as artifacts – mechanisms” (17)

practical intervention, but also call to preservation

Chapter 1

what is writing? – expand definition outside alphabetic literacy

“screen essentialism” – Nick Montfort; c.f. with floppy disk example

“medial ideology” – “one that substitutes popular representation of a medium, socially constructed and culturally activated to perform specific kinds of work, for a more comprehensive treatment of the material particulars of a given technology” (36)

metaphors of light and rainbows, dematerialized electronic textuality

“screen essentialism becomes a logical consequence of a medial ideology that shuns the inscriptive act” (43)

computer forensics, questioned document examination > part of branch of forensic science known as “trace evidence” (48) – “every contact leaves a trace”

“While it may be technically possible to create the conditions in which electronic writing can subsist without inscription and therefore vanish without a trace, those conditions are not the medium’s norm but the special case, artificially induced by an expert with the resources, skill, and motive to defeat an expert investigator.” (50)

challenges to medial ideology:

ephemerality of electronic texts

deleting file only signals that file’s entry is now available for reuse – deleted file like a “fossil”

physical storage location of file will change each time it is open and modified

autosave includes snapshot of file – “ambient data”; “slack space”


example of Joshua Davis’s Praystation Hardrive – not a bitstream; rawness of data is merely rhetorical


fixity and fluidity

electronic doc security “can only underscore the limited and arbitrary nature of any medial ideology that celebrates onyl the fluidity and fungibility of electronic text” (58)

magnetic force microscopy – sees patterns of magnetic flux reversals; a number of them together make up a “bit” (the smallest symbolic units of computation)

MFM makes truly deleting data from magnetic media difficult

“shadow data” – remnants of earlier data representations along edges of the track

“virtual” as more heterogeneous category – not virtual, just very small!

Chapter 2

harddrive as blackbox – only seen in abstractions, like pie charges

RAMAC – computers as more than devices of prediction and prognostication (79)

early harddrive description – using language of book (80)

Air Force needed a way to automate inventory control; punched paper cards were random access

“human- and machine-readable inscriptions thus coexisted and were codependent in the feedback loops of a rationalized workplace” (82)

“electronic textuality is almost always automated textuality” (83)

DOS (Disk Operating System) arose “precisely because of the need to displace the process of reading and writing data to and from the floppy or other magnetic media” – removing the inscriptive act from direct human oversight enabled the rise of personal computing (84)

problem of retrieving data on harddrive – solved by Luhn with hashing – development of hard disk required “important innovations in low-level electronic textual practice” (86)

grammatology of the harddrive (89)

random access

signal processor; constantly converting analog to digital and back again; data on disk is second-order representation

differential – measures reversals, not actual charges

chronographic – “irreducible temporal dimension” to data read/write

volumetric – 3d writing space; attempts to increase aerial densities

rationalized; FAT (File Allocation Table); skeleton key to drive’s content; identifies where file data is on hdd

motion dependent; head cannot touch platter or data is destroyed


non-volatile (but variable)

Gitelman: new inscription technologies signal new subjectivities; what subjectivities inscribed by harddisk drive?

“sea change in the production and management of human knowledge records, one whose implications go far beyond the hard disk drive alone as a technology of writing and inscription” (101)

equating subjective identify with personal data (102)

increase in storage and “cloud” computing – further displacement of harddrive

storage has become fashion (109)