JPEG and PhD: a case of double standards

A PhD is the opposite of JPEG. Where JPEG is about interoperability, a PhD is about uniqueness. Where JPEG is flexible, a PhD is fixed. Where JPEG  is about the start of something, a PhD is about the end.

JPEG is a standard. Enfolded in software, hardware and human practices it enable and encourages interoperability. JPEG-encoded files love to be searched and shared, they live to be found, filed and folded into new social media spaces and relationships. Their ubiquity ensures visibility across the Web and the desktop. Their icon appears as a friendly preview. The finder automatically opens without demanding to know which programme to use. JPEG-encoded data slides seamlessly into PowerPoint slides, albums and DIY photo-books. Heavy-industry software, grown-up programmes pick up the work of the protocol without even acknowledging it. JPEGs open and Photoshop and Facebook get on with the real work. JPEG-encoded information waits patiently to be visited by spiders and agents. It lines its information and marketing potential up in neat meta-rows. It’s always happy to fit in. Ready, willing and able.

The PhD is a standard. It delimits the real from the pseudo, the established from the flaky. It is defined in terms of uniqueness, a particular contribution to knowledge. It demands a separation. It remains aloof on the shelf, distinct and authorised. Its Harvard connections are regimented and controlled. Defined and determined to separate not connect. PhD-encoded information does not need anything. It doesn’t demand recognition once it has done its work. It doesn’t need to be accessible. PhD writing doesn’t need to fit in with heavy-industry publishing – it needs to be re-encoded to be interoperable. The PhD-encoding process is about rendering a unique, specific file with a single job: pass one test and withdraw beyond access.

JPEG is flexible. It can encode data in many ways. As a compression standard it works as a continuum.  JPEG appears as almost analog, a curve not a series of steps. Lossy. Willing to lose in the service of bandwidth, download speed or processor power. Happy to bend its colour space and resolution within the bounds of human perception it is economical with the acualité. JPEG eyes the bigger picture.

PhD is fixed. It’s binary. Yes. No. No maybe, no shades of grey. PhD will not bend or adapt. It has no view beyond itself. It is not willing to play with perceptions or human fallibility. PhD-encoded information cannot be re-saved at lower resolution and remain a PhD. Low quality information cannot be interpolated up to a PhD.

JPEG starts things. It sets content relationships in motion. It makes gig memories shareable, It renders stag night antics memorable. It cements or undermines relationships, friendships and Circles. It facilitates following. It encourages avatar remakes, personality transplants and social CV makeovers. JPEG-encoded information starts data trails. Raw material in data mines it kick-starts data-subjectivities.

The PhD is about the end. Of an apprenticeship. Of an extended interview. Of a project. The PhD sighs with relief and starts again with a book, a research bid or maybe a new module. A seizure. A break. The letters and the title bookend the name. Dr. PhD. A passport to a new network but an entry ticket surrendered at the door. The network works on the next standard, the book, the grant, the conference. The PhD waves goodbye as the real work and career takes off.