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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors
Analysis, page 1 of 17
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Digital Objects as Objects: The Illusion of Immateriality

The process of uploading and adding metadata to many different media types in Scalar, including personal photographs, audio files, videos stored on YouTube or Vimeo, and manuscript facsimiles from the British Library, gave our class unique insight into the hidden, almost elusive materiality of digital objects. As Matthew Kirschenbaum argues in the introduction to Mechanisms, digital environments are essentially "abstract projection[s]" that "propagate the illusion . . . of immaterial behavior: identification without ambiguity, transmission without loss, repetition without originality" (11). While digital objects in their front-facing forms appear to be immaterial, infinitely replicable, and shareable, they are in fact made possible by material objects such as servers (often in different databases across the continent [4]) and hard drives. Scalar’s distinctive interface stores media files in separately-accessible locations that allow users to view each object’s metadata apart from that object’s rhetorical context in a webpage; in Scalar, digital objects are more than just front-facing projections of the material world. They are accorded their own URIs and their own publicly-accessible annotations. They help produce their own kinds of memory in a web-based, computational environment. 

Thinking of Scalar as a space where we not only discuss and experiment with the tension between digital and analog objects, but also as its own evocative object that makes possible the enduring ephemerals Wendy Chun (2008) describes, reveals its force as a pedagogical tool. Despite but also because of ourselves, we could see the problems Chun highlights manifesting themselves within the space of our Scalar book. These problems include writing in an environment that often appears and feels immaterial, working with media that are at once persistent and easy to manipulate, and learning to identify the differences between memory afforded by the codex and memory afforded by Scalar.  
Authors: Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith
Word Count: 288
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