Glitch art and the impermanence of digital media

Chis Baraniuk at The Machine Starts writes:

Recently Reuters listed several apps which aim to challenge the idea that digital media is eternal. Yet none of this is an embrace of the true glitch. Again, we are talking about designing experiences which circumvent the established norms of this technology in order to satisfy specific use cases.

And that’s the power that we have with digital media. We can design obsolescence if we wish, we may pre-program decay when we want – but until recently there was no reason to. As time goes on, however, we will come up with more excuses to do precisely that. Glitch art is just the beginning of our culture leaning towards a world in which the permanence of the digital is no longer assumed. The mangled JPEGs and ruptured codecs which frustrated us in the past and which inspire artists of the present will be demanded by consumers of the future.

These are some fascinating reflections about the temporality of digital media vis-à-vis the glitch. It goes without saying that planned obsolescence has been a part of the experience of digital media from the beginning. And anyone who has experienced a hard drive failure or saved anything to a floppy disk– ever– knows that digital artifacts are, contrary to the hype, highly impermanent. So it’s arguable to what extent impermanence has always been a feature and not a bug.

That said, the rise of temporary social media does seem to mark a shift of terrain in which what was formerly seen as the exception– the glitch– is now the rule. (Cf., Paul Virilio on the generalized accident.)