Pixelvision: A Meditation

“Though it may seem like a more recent creation, the pixel first appeared in New Jersey in 1954, the same year that Elvis cut his first record and the transistor radio was invented. At Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, mathematicians and engineers created the first computer graphic–and the first instance of digital typography–on a computer the size of a Manhattan apartment…The Princetonian pixels were as primitive as one could imagine–literally the glowing filaments of the machine’s vacuum memory registers–but they marked the beginning of a sea-change in how we represent and see the world.” Andrew ZolliPixelvision: A Meditation (Core 77)

In The Language of New Media, Manovich notes that, even before digital images chopped up an image into pixels, cinema chopped up actions into pictures. I also note Zolli’s observation that “the pixel has been slowly dematerializing, losing mass and gaining verisimilitude.”

Hmm. A pixel may be losing area, but can it really be said to have mass? If you want to say that a photon or the electrons that store a pixel in memory have mass, well, then as pictures have increased in resolution, requiring an increse in the number of bits it requires to store the color information for each pixel, then wouldn’t the pixel be gaining mass?

I’m also a bit troubled by the implication that “verisimilitude” or the approximation of the “real” world is / should be the goal of computer-assisted creative media. Yes, there’s a place for photorealistic simulation, but that’s only scratching the surface of what computers can do.