An absent presence

Jpeg operates at different scales. As an object it has an ontological status which object-oriented approaches see as equivalent to any other object in a network but which other approaches could address as material, powerful, ideological, structural, textual or discursive. Obviously an object oriented approach would not rule out these frameworks, indeed it argues that it’s flat ontology offers a way into the power of objects that other approaches do not.

My experiments have highlighted that the protocol withdraws from view at some level, leaving only its traces behind. To take that and simply say that the jpeg protocol is a slippery thing, a virtual object or a metaphysical puzzle is not only to engage in philosophical sophistry but to explore only one scale of operation.

Jpeg as a scopic apparatus, a technology of imag(in)ing, is enfolded at different scales within the scopic regime. Its traces are visible across the distributed web but it is instantiated in the real world if only at the scale of specifications, RFCs and code instructions. It ‘exists’ as documents online and in print within the Joint Photographic Experts Group, doubtless in Google, Yahoo and Adobe engineers’ libraries. It exists within the software those engineers produce. Somewhere ‘inside’ the software in my Olympus DSLR that allows me to shoot a RAW and jpeg simultaneously, there is the jpeg protocol. Some lines of code instantiate that protocol. It is not instantiated in the same way in my iPhone but somewhere in the code of the Camera app, is the jpeg protocol.

From an object-oriented perspective these ‘presences’ can be seen as ‘alliances’, the protocol-object coming up against the institution object, the software object, the corporate object, the camera object. Other perspectives may draw that presence in terms of scales within an assemblage. What is important is that the absent presence is not simply a philosophical issue, it is deeply real and material as well as virtual and immaterial. It’s instantiation at these scales, its realisation as a scopic apparatus, is real. It is implicated in software that structures representation and surveillance. It is enfolded in economic shifts that structure social media culture and practices. Whether it is protocol or the protocol traces that have those effects is a moot point. The issue is that those effects and affects are real and protocol is a way into tracing, tracking and problematising them.

Jpeg is an absent presence but It is not a simulacrum. It is present at different scales. Although it withdraws from view, becomes a black box, it has a presence as well as effects. It is an object in an ontological but also a practical sense. Chasing protocol through the experiments in the Olympic Arcades Laboratory is not a metaphysical party game, it is exploring that presence as well as the absence – the black box that allows, enables, empowers and structures Google searches, iPhone citizen media, Facebook archiving and governmental biopower.