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Border Codes

Mark Marino, Author

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Why Study the Code

Critical Code Studies names a set of methodologies for the interpretation of digital objects through the computer source code.   This field has recently developed its definition to include the application of humanities-style investigation into digital objects through computer source code.  Contemporaneous with Software Studies and Platform Studies, CCS seeks not to fetishize the code but to bring it into the discussions of digital objects that had previously only mentioned it passingly.  CCS takes the code as a text, in the sense of Cultural Studies and attempts to examine the culture through the object with the code as the entryway.  Code then becomes the border leading into the digital object.

In the Transborder Immgrant Tool, the code is available online, made public by developer Brett Stalbaum to coincide with the 2010 Critical Code Studies conference.  Stalbaum offered that code in the context of a larger discussion about the investigations brought against the project and particularly Ricardo Dominguez.  To offer the code was to lay all the cards on the table, nothing to hide.

What the code reveals is another layer of meaning of the project, one perhaps particularly evident since the programmers as part of the Electronic Disturbance Theater also saw themselves as artists.  Consider the name of the central function, the one that handles the moment when a water cache has been located:

Here the code employs a metaphor, that of water witching, which reframes the project.  To know that the code uses this terminology is to perceive the project in a different light.  Some may object that only the computer sees the code, but the code has many audiences, including the programmer, other programmers who work on the project, and anyone who accesses the public sourceforge tools.

The "Witching Event" name is arbitrary to the system and consequently, some might argue, trivial to the system-- or perhaps inconsequential.  The Java will compile into bytecode where the names of anything become lost.  This paper and this project by turning to those who disappear in the desert deals in the realm of the inconsequential, those that seem to mean nothing to the desert in which they perish, if also nothing to the country into which they enter.  The name the programmers give the method passes back and forth among those who read the code, becoming significant in shaping the conceptual paradigms of those who work at the border of machinic and human realms of communication.
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