Mechanisms + SpecLab

I’m a few chapters into Mechanisms and just finished the Preface of SpecLab. The juxtaposition between these two is funny. Drucker is (or at least in the preface purports to be) all about aesthetics, interpretation, imagination and playfulness. In contrast Kirschenbaum’s focus on forensics feels stodgy, insistent in its grounding with the physical apparatus of the hard drive, the magnetic signals, the ‘device.’ Yet, while I think I don’t share his passion for the physical storage medium, I do appreciate Kirschenbaum’s approach – he refuses to gloss over these details of the underlying components of computing, and uses this material view to counter the (tropes of a) ‘medial ideology’ presented by others. This description of Kirschenbaum’s conceptual/analytical framework is particularly nice:

Forensics itself is a Janus-faced word, by definition both the presentation of scientific evidence and the construction of a rhetorical argument. Mechanisms embraces both of these aspects. While it does not shy away from technical detail (or theoretical nuance), it is first and foremost intended as a practical intervention in the current discourse about digital textuality.( p. 21)

But… when does he get to the acknowledgement that storage and inscription is not made meaningful without processing and interpretation? I hope he does. It also strikes me that the choice of devices and technologies in his examples already seem quite dated (or perhaps historical is a better way to say that).

Kirschenbaum focuses on the act of displacement involved in writing to the hard drive. While he begins to hint at the coming changes with cloud services (though maybe that was not a buzzword yet at the time of writing) I see this is a much more significant act of displacement, shifting much more of the physical inscription away from the user. It might be interesting to do a study of inscription with web platforms and cloud services to document at the really low-level what is recorded on the user’s side vs. the service provider’s side, what’s black-boxed or not, what inscriptions remain locally even when we work in the cloud.


Drucker, J. (2009). SpecLab: digital aesthetics and projects in speculative computing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kirschenbaum, M. G. (2012). Mechanisms: new media and the forensic imagination. Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT Press.