Thoughts on Making Pictures of the Screen

Table of Contents
Part I.
Why the “Screenshot”? Why Not Something Else?
 An Introduction
Part II.

The Proliferation of the Pseudo-Synonym

Part III.
Media Metaphor / Media Equivocation / Media Materiality

Part IV.

Aconclusivity: Endings / Questions / Conclusions

All screenshots in this thesis were made by me in an attempt to give form to some general ideas: making and writing inflect and inform each other. Making is a form of knowledge production; writing is a form of making. Producing certain kinds of screenshots became a way of affecting potential so that some writing could eventually be draped upon it. But just as often a turn of phrase created the possibility for a picture. In this way, practice sometimes preceded language and other times it followed. The two nourished each other. Although our world is shaped in part by the semiotic, it does not flow exclusively from this zone; there is and always has been such a thing as visual and experiential knowledge. We have brains in our hands, our eyes, in our feet and toes; and we use them all the time.

The screenshot is unexamined in current critical scholarship, despite appearing in visual culture with more frequency and purpose. And while the screenshot has inherited many behavioral quirks from photography, it also comes with unique material and conceptual circumstances and issues. As a result, this text and series of pictures draws on a multiplicity of theories and concepts, including: software and photography studies, interface and media theory, ideas on embodiment and user agency, as well as a personal investigation into the screenshot’s creative potential. Essentially, this thesis unwinds a string of speculative models meant to initiate theorization of a new creative practice, without claiming any one model as the conclusive approach.

Part I.
Why the “Screenshot”? Why Not Something Else?
An Introduction

…The Terminological Scene of Interaction…
Whatever it means to make a picture of the screen, it goes by many names, a fact that cannot be ignored. “Screen grab,” “screen capture,” and “screenshot” are some of the expressions currently in circulation.[1] And although all these terms designate a similar action, to make a picture of the screen, they also express something elsedifferences. As footholds, such differences emerge from between the material realities these various terms suggest and the concepts they enliven. Whatever it means to make a picture of the screen requires feeling out these footholds, often moving laterally as much as any other direction. The motion of this writing has little to do with ascension. Terms cannot be substituted, not without an acknowledgment of the slippages that make substitution possible, but never seamless. Additionally, just as allowing these different expressions to be substituted uncritically will not suffice, neither will eliminating less photographic terminology for the sake of making straightforward and easy associations between screenshots and snapshots, between pictures of the screen and photographs in general. A refusal is required.

Terms such as “print screen” and “screen dump,” although no longer commonly used, are nevertheless included by Wikipedia in the cluster of pseudo-synonyms that define what it is to make a picture of the screen.[2] Consequently, these faintly anachronistic terms are important to understanding the screenshot. The fact that a phrase or expression is irrelevant is only interesting as far as what its irrelevance might illuminate. Thinking and writing about what it means to make a picture of the screen means thinking and writing about how making a picture of the screen is communicated, as well as how it has ceased to be communicated. Such endangered expressions—“print screen,” and “screen dump”—endure into the present as linguistic fossils giving form to passed and passing realities. Literary scholar Terry Eagleton writes, “[b]y having to grapple with language in a more strenuous way than usual, the world which that language contains is vividly renewed.”[3] This is not to say that language contains “the world,” but only that language contains “a world,” one of its own. Simply relaying through the logic of an argument with “screenshot” as its singular linguistic starting point would bracket out too much. Something messy like a “grapple” is needed, a useful description for how this text came to exist and what philosophic character it embraces.

One way of keeping certain associations open, of encouraging a “grapple,” is to refrain from asking why a particular event happened and instead ask why the alternatives did not.[4] Although, instead of seeking to substantiate a single explanation by revealing the absurdity of competing alternatives, a more open approach would be to treat these various alternatives as fundamental to the explanation, as substantive. Such a method requires the ability, from time to time, to look away from the primary “object of study,” or to put it in language that refutes the hermetic object, the “practice of study.” What is required is the ability to be peripheral, to allow certain phenomena to float freely without letting anything slip completely away. By leading an inquiry into the screenshot’s pseudo-synonyms, expressions that describe making a picture of the screen but also mean something else, certain questions and vantage points are protected from abrupt dismissal. Why are these other phrases not taken up? Why not “From Snapshot to Screen Grab” or “From Snapshot to Screen Capture?”

Examining the act of making a picture of the screen and the resulting pictures must include an analysis of the moving parts of a terminological scene of interaction as well as the concepts and material realities that would populate such a scene. Conceptually, it would be an error to disregard these epistemological shifts and overlaps as simply the unruly affairs of language, to substitute terms uncritically, to conveniently ignore certain terms altogether. After all, it is not a given that the best way to understand making pictures of the screen is through a strict comparison to photography alone; it is not a given that this examination should proceed listlessly from photography to picture of the screen—despite the title of the text. The potential and uncertainty that these other terms bring to the inquiry is integral to the ontology of the picture of the screen.

…Technological Embodiment…
While keeping in mind the importance of renewing the world through an investment in language, it is an overestimation to imagine that language explains or structures all orders of being absolutely and along the same axis. Literature and science theorist N. Katherine Hayles admonishes against this type of reduction of the human subject. “One belief from the present,” Hayles writes, “likely to stupefy future generations is the postmodern orthodoxy that the body is primarily, if not entirely, a linguistic and discursive construction.”[5] In “The Materiality of Informatics,” Hayles argues that material and contextual experiences, what she refers to as “embodiment,” are as significant to humans and human practices as language and discursivity.[6] Embodiment, Hayles notes, is “enwebbed within the specifics of place, time, physiology and culture.” The body unstructured as a raw element, in this sense, signals the total potentiality of the undetermined, while the discursive signals a totally regulating pressure. Embodiment resides between these poles, providing a realistic environment where a somewhat unexamined but visible agency exists, an agency that is linked to the humble fact of being. Hayles gives the example of postures, which are “generalizable to some extent” but nevertheless “depend upon the specifics of the embodied individual.”[7] Such a proliferation of unpredictability, emerging through the specificity of embodied life, challenges power as a unilateral and unidirectional force that constitutes and normalizes whatever it comes into contact with, without diminishing how the social and cultural configure an agent’s ability to act. Embodiment as a creative and heterogeneous energy certainly hints at the gesture and experience of the “user”—a concept that has special significance in relation to computing.

In regard to human machine interaction, design historian John Harwood writes,“[t]he computer, like a corporation, is a form of discourse every bit as much as it is a machine or a commodity and as such has profound implications for the self-image of the human being who uses it.”[8] Exactly how profound these implications are is what is at stake. As a technological act, making a picture of the screen does indeed define a range of human motions and thoughts—what computing affords. But the act of making pictures is more than any specific technological device; it is ultimately a human endeavor, a user’s endeavor. Thus, theories and descriptions of technology that do not account for embodiment abstract away how assessments of and interactions with technology transform technology according to desire. This is not to suggest, as software theorist Matthew Fuller warns, that models of user subjectivity and agency should “stray anywhere near the singalong themetune of 'empowerment',”[9] but only to allow for the type of user agency that embodiment affords, something everyday yet animated. Certainly empowerment can be conceptualized as less than an anthemic “themetune,” and more like the humming of an amorphous melody, something personal and less self-congratulatory, something improvised as it goes along. 

Any examination of the screenshot as a cultural practice cannot emerge from a totally abstract linguistic or technical position. Inquiries into the ways and reasons that human agents use technology are required—both in accordance with the purposes a technology claims for itself and against such purposes. If certain technologies can be considered intertwined with the body, as opposed to phenomena independent of the body, then theories of embodiment have a particular value. Whatever it is about the body that cannot be finitely constructed through discourse extends to the practices that a body engages in, including practices that intersect technology. This is particularly true if technology is not defined as strictly mechanical but as anything that extends an agent’s already present capacity.[10] Embodiment situates technologies within the same contextual matrix as the agents that use them; it subjects technology to coevolution.

How have the reasons for making pictures of the screen changed as computing has exited the insular world of the engineer or programmer and entered the larger matrix of consumer culture, as the computer has been made to interact with more and more bodies? To engage such a question is to engage the screen itself, what it depicts and what these depictions mean. Sociologist and technology historian Thierry Bardini surmises, “[t]he personal computer became ‘personal’ the moment when it came into the hand’s reach, via a prosthesis that the user could forget as soon as it was there.”[11] The “prosthesis” that Bardini refers to is the graphical user interface (GUI), the field of graphics that constitutes a user’s relationship to modern computing. Certainly the GUI has put the computer into many diverse hands, but the proliferation of pictures of the screen proves the interface has not been easily forgotten. In fact, as a site of human interaction and user design the interface is quite the photogenic subject.

…The Shared Creation of Meaning…
However discursive power may be proportioned in relation to embodiment, the structuring force of language remains key. Of particular interest is how language gains traction in the cultural field, a circumstance that provides clues into how non language-based phenomena function without necessarily submitting them to the logic of signification and the sign. Linguist Nick Crossley describes a philosophy of knowledge creation that supersedes the individual and turns to the social. “[L]inguistic meanings are strictly irreducible to individual consciousnesses,” Crossley writes, “They are[…]dependent upon social and intersubjective relationships and conventions,” and are “therefore necessarily shared.”[12] As true as this assessment of linguistic meaning is, it is also true that other cultural practices and artifacts, which may not necessarily be based in language, can also be understood as gaining meaning through socially construed, intersubjective relationships.

Continuing with the logic of a shared creation of meaning and the relationship between the individual and the sociocultural, Jürgen Habermas suggests a bi-lateral explanation of dialogic interaction “where individuals are conceived as both the initiators and products of the cultural debates that surround them.”[13] Similar to a feedback loop, culture is not simply a one-way transmission emitted from the agent to the world, but is also an internalization that is expressed by putting more cultural chains of action into motion. Thus, the individual, both “initiator of” and “initiated by” culture, is not strictly at the mercy of pre-existing and pre-approved models of being, but affected by them all the same.

As a result, the screenshot, like other cultural forms, develops in the social field where it is both shaped by and shapes its user, where the development of user knowledge about making pictures of the screen is set into motion in relation to already internalized ways of deploying and understanding picture making techniques in general, techniques which are motivated but not totally determined by culture. Although no practice exists unframed by previous iterations and the meanings those iterations have imparted, new picturing technologies and attitudes are not totally defined by the past or by collective cultural concerns. There is the unpredictability of embodied users to act, not as entirely radical factors, but as factors that can in some way update the cultural debates that surround them through unpredictable initiatives of their own.

…The Black Box and The Circuit Box…
The question remains. Why the screenshot? Why not something else? The brief and apparent answer is that the screenshot appears to be linguistically set up to directly relate to photography. There is a very strong connection between the terms “snapshot” and “screenshot,” a bridge that is strengthened on the back of the “shot.” Naturally, thinking is pushed down a specific and photographically inflected path. But do the snapshot and screenshot share more? Moving through linguistic similarity, there are intermingling phenomenal and material parallels as well, parallels derived from related technological characteristics—although of an abstract nature. There is a certain amount of shared mechanical or apparatus-based automation for example. Media theorist Villém Flusser would call a photograph and a screenshot a “technical image,”[14] as they both come about through the prompting of a machine that can “make elements such as photons or electrons, on one hand, and bits of information, on the other hand, into images.”[15]

Depending on the importance given to the level of interaction (or lack thereof) such prompting requires, the categorical distinctions between film-based and software-based picturing becomes less self-evident. The screenshot like the instantly realized photograph, whether digital or analog, offers very little control over the apparatus making the picture. In more complicated picture-making applications and processes option upon option are available for the purpose of intervening into the picturing act, options that require an investment on the part of a user. When an apparatus does not require much investment, automaticity becomes its distinguishing quality.[16] Such logic challenges the idea that an increased ability to make technical pictures correlates to an age of photographic literacy. When Flusser states, “The camera is a structurally complex, but functionally simple, plaything,” and “anyone who holds a camera in their hands can create excellent photographs without having any idea what complex processes they are setting off,”[17] he is critiquing the ease with which automatic and vernacular photography have been linked to a democratization of knowledge production. In other words, making a relentless stream of photographs may not equate understanding what is at stake or what is philosophically and technically happening in the picture making process.

Whatever is confounding about photography and the interior working of the camera persists despite widespread use. Undoubtedly one way that the screenshot is similar to the snapshot is the ease with which they both make pictures, and thus, in the obfuscation of the technological and philosophical processes that are set in motion with the push of a button, or in the case of the screenshot with the sequential push of several buttons—command+shift+3. If the two correlate, making pictures and comprehension, then the effortlessness with which users can make pictures of the screen would suggest an age of widespread computer criticality and literacy, or at least an age of interface criticality and literacy, which is doubtfully the case. Whether it takes place in a black box or the circuit box, photography continues to elude any totalized comprehension. The user continues to wonder if it is her point-of-view that the camera is subjected to or the other way around.

…The Bustle of Innumerable Electrons…
Another correlation between making a photograph and making a picture of the screen is the frame, which refers to more than an agent’s power to select or prefer one view to another. Framing gives shape to reality by defining the world through limitation. Although this act of world defining furnishes much-needed agency to the user of automated picturing processes, it is not simply about what falls within the frame or an agent’s ability to bracket. Also imbricated is all that remains outside, what is beyond the frame. Both the screenshot and the photograph are defined by what they set apart as well as what they leave out, or better yet, what they are unable to set apart. Gilles Deleuze conceptualizes the space outside the picture as the “out-of-field,” a zone that “designates that which exists elsewhere, to one side or around.”[18] For Deleuze what is inside the frame is ordered and made coherent through the act of differentiation, a structuring of the world to human scale, while the “out-of-field” is set up to be a “disturbing presence” and a “radical Elsewhere.”[19] Whatever remains outside the frame, which as it turns out is quite a lot, eludes the human register, and can only serve to conjure the apprehension of an ongoing, expansive cosmic openness that is totally indifferent to human concerns. It is something on the other side of the concept of nature.

Although Deleuze’s idea refers specifically to the cinematic frame, unquestionably a similar circumstance is in place regarding all forms of photography, whether they are digital, slow, snap, of the screen, or of the world beyond the screen. Is it such a leap to imagine that framing and making pictures of the screen serves to differentiate specific moments of computing in an attempt to comprehend the expansive, unrelenting experience and potential of ongoing computing? And if this is indeed the case, what can be said about all that is left “to one side or around” the frame of the screenshot, that which exists as computing in an undifferentiated and unending state of potential, all that is unframable? Furthermore, if Deleuze suggests an anxiety exists towards the indifference of cosmic openness, a result of it being in excess of the frame and therefore beyond human coherence, can the concept be pushed further into the abstract, can the circuit also be thought of as an atomic and subatomic frame? If in fact it can, then what escapes the screenshot is not simply a matter of the unframable, overgrowth of connectivity and potential of ongoing computing, but something comparable to the utter openness of the cosmic. The frame of the circuit intersects the microcosmic not the macrocosmic, it intersects that all-over bustle of electrons, innumerable and unknowable, some bracketed and differentiated through circuitry, but so much more beyond.

…Interwoven Ontologies…
While there are digital characteristics that are clearly distinct from analog characteristics, just how far apart these distinctions push analog and digital photography is arguable. In regard to the difference between the digital and the analog two logics have been repeated to the extent that they appear to conclude any debate. On the one hand there is the difference between digital and analog manipulation, with the digital supposedly operating on a much more malleable level than the analog. This can be referred to as a difference in the range of manipulation, with the analog characterized as stiff and the digital characterized as limber. On the other hand there is the difference between the digital’s discrete unit (either one or zero) verses the analog’s haptic gradation, the discrete being hermetic and definable, while the gradient is limitless in its material nuance.

Under these criteria a more or less clear distinction has been created with digital to one side and analog to the other. Nevertheless, approaching the materiality of the digital and the analog from other criteria as they relate to the “practice” of photography may yield a more porous distinction. The very term “digital photography” suggests that despite the clear conceptual partition between digital and analog productions and techniques, certain forms of digital picture making continue to be photography despite radical innovations in applied technology. Simultaneously there are digital pictures that fall outside the cultural understanding of photography, referred to coldly as data visualizations. And despite being constructed through roughly the same technical processes as digital photography there is no belief that such pictures are like photographs. That some digital pictures are photography and some are something else is a distinction having little to do with the differences between analog and digital production. Such a distinction is more or less joined to user knowledge and cultural practice. This is not to say that what was once more closely related to data visualization cannot be transformed along human concerns into something more like photography.[20] This is also not to say that the photographic apparatus cannot be used to make something other than photography.[21] In fact, photography is not contingent on particular techniques or technologies, but rather it is technologies and techniques that become contingent on photography in order to exists as certain types of picture making practices, a fact that further complicates any easy division between film and image-sensor production, and ultimately between making a camera-based photograph and a software-based screenshot.

However, inflexible consideration of the photograph and the screenshot as too analogous, as the outcomes of too similar an ontology, discards the specificity of software, what software means, and the material and social effects and affects of computing. The screenshot eliminates certain phenomenon associated with both analog and digital photography. The screenshot eliminates the need for the camera, the need to develop film, to make prints, and to place prints on a scanner. But it also eliminates the need to connect devices and to transfer or upload files. The screenshot eliminates the need to focus, to look through a viewfinder, and thus appears to eliminate the point-of-view. The screenshot manufactures an image for and from the screen, and as a result appears to have little left in common with photography whether digital or analog.

Nevertheless, forcing too wide a gap between camera-based and software-based picture making leaves the significance of the latter dangerously unfettered, as if new technologies and their meanings are strictly conjured at the moment of their creation, as if users and innovations do not engage previous knowledge and biases when creating and deploying new technologies. In essence, the only way to understand what a screenshot is demands wandering across a series of language-based, practice-based, and technology-based similarities and dissimilarities with other picture making media, being careful not to let either similitude or dissimilitude tip the scale. What is required is a peripatetic ontology of the interwoven. Because the screenshot is a simple and ubiquitous computing action it is a good object and practice to think through the ways that photography persists as a recognizable form in the face of radical technological innovation, particularly as photography moves beyond simply incorporating software into its morphology and begins to emerge from software itself.

…Computing as Representation…
Photography theorist Geoffrey Batchen, in Burning with Desire: the Conception of Photography, suggests that photography has no stationary identity to investigate, that the practices and pictures that constitute photography amount to a “flickering across a field of institutional spaces.”[22] If photographic identity flickers across institutional spaces, it must also flicker across those agents that establish, upkeep, and participate in such spaces. Although care should be taken not to lump cultural agents uncritically into homogeneous groups, agents that find themselves under the roof of one institution or another do indeed have some stake in each other, in their commonalities and vested interests. Literary theorist Michael Warner suggests that socially related groups “share reference points, career trajectories, and subclass interests. They share protocols of discourse.”[23] The computer is such a discourse. A public manifests through identifying or being identified on a spectrum across a series of classifications, meaning there is no single public, but rather a series of interlocking publics with more or less in common. This is certainly true for those publics that are established through relative proximity to or distance from emerging technology, a fact that influences the very shape of technology and what activities technologies are put towards. Software theorist Ron Eglash notes that computing power is expended most strenuously when wealth is at stake. Referring to a group of graduate students using computers to design a competition yacht, Eglash writes, “I was struck by the way in which computing power and financial power had managed to stick together, even in this ostensibly nonprofessional exception.”[24]

There is no such thing as power, either computational or financial, without a relationship between agents, those that are subject to or enact power’s expressions. In conflict theory, “[d]ominant and subordinate groups battle over norms and resources, with dominant groups seeking to engineer consent through producing representational systems.”[25] Although the ability to put computers to particular uses may not be easily defined under the category of a “representational system,” access to technology does indeed participate in the battle over resources. Entrée via the comprehension of certain hardware and software regimes tends to demarcate one class of person from another, which clearly compounds socio-economic standing. Furthermore, computing has a distinct visibility, which is not only a result of advertisement or representation in the most literal sense, but is also a result of how portability has made computing a pervasive cultural image. Such an image, everyday computing in any place whatsoever, clearly stands for economic advantage. The fact that access to computers still resides in the realm of the real suggests that the screenshot and the technological amalgamations required to make a screenshot are tethered indelibly to the body, and therefore to all the ways that different bodies are limited or enabled as principal interpreters and formatters of the screen.

In a digital world were “all well-fed people are expected to take pictures in the same way everyone is expected to speak,”[26] the screenshot, as a particular type of digital picture, is necessarily linked to the resources and infrastructure that must accompany computing power. Among other things, the screenshot expresses the agency of a user constituted by access and privilege in general, which manifests as prolonged uninterrupted interaction with certain software and interface regimes. Thus, at least part of what defines a screenshot is directly related to the opening of a particular gap within various cultural, national, geographic, and ethnographic communities—a gap between the technological haves and have-nots.

In March 2012, during the much celebrated, annually held South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas, a program was initiated by the global marketing agency BBH, which turned homeless people into Internet hot-spots. Festivalgoers could pay participants for a password and instantly connect to wireless networks set up throughout the city.[27] Although criticizing such a program, part publicity stunt and part charity, is a knotty prospect, David Gallagher of the New York Times points out the unseemly side to this scheme that masquerades as altruism. “When the infrastructure fails us…we turn human beings into infrastructure.”[28]  No longer just the stuff of science fiction, a program such as homeless hot-spots indicates a shift from value surplus to network surplus, not created through labor, but through the base existence of human bodies with nothing to do and nowhere to be, passive bodies that can be easily channeled into network amalgamations. As it turns out, being a node in a system does not guarantee access to that system. Keeping such social manifestations of computing in mind—­who is connected to what and how—it is glib to proceed with the under-examined assumption that computing is innately and universally a solution to whatever ails a community or that computing is a neutral act unaffected by the kinds of social, political, and financial privilege it necessarily represents, both conceptually and visually.

...Animated Objects within a Genealogy of the Incomplete…
In a last set of instructional sentences, this text is about the screenshot, even while it rambles. If this writing resembles anything like a genealogy, it is a genealogy of the incomplete, made of both so-called productive and unproductive paths­­—a genealogy of backtracking and no-outlets. Mieke Bal writes, “objects are active participants in the performance of analysis.”[29] That this particular analysis favors the concept of a “practice of study” over an “object of study” only further complicates what the thing being studied brings to its being studied. As such, if a “practice of study” participates in its own analysis, there is no guarantee that this is a helpful or even benign act. Perhaps its participation is antagonistic and impossible to satisfy. Regardless, to perform analysis, as opposed to conduct analysis, gives analysis flexibility, opening it up to ideas of play and gesture. Such an attitude ensures a place from which to proceed, not necessarily bound by the received knowledge of logical order or cause-and-effect, but open to notions of stimulus and response in which characters bring energy to their interactions.[30]

[1] The OED entry for screen grab provides this 2010 usage, “S. S. Ko & S. Rossen Teaching Online (ed. 3) ix. 255   ‘Print screen’ keys can provide capture of an entire page, but when you only want the menu on the left hand side of the screen, you need to use screen grab software.” The italics are mine. This example is meant to illustrate how similarly common usage treats the terms screen capture and screen grab. In addition, the description of Snagit, an overblown screenshot application, also reveals how loosely this language is handled in the world.  What follows are a few excerpts from the Tech Smith webpage dedicated to Snagit: “grab your entire desktop,” “take the time to set up what you capture,” and “never misspell a word in your screenshot again.” The italics are mine to stress the uncritical substitutions of terminology. See: for more.
[2] Wikipedia. “Screenshot.” Last modified 5 December 2012.
[3] Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 3.
[4] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1972), 399. In this book Bateson puts forth the idea of a cybernetic explanation. “We consider what alternative possibilities could conceivably have occurred and then ask why many of the alternatives were not followed, so that the particular event was one of those few which could, in fact, occur.” I am not deploying Bateson’s concept so much as I am hi-jacking it and forcing it to deviate from its predetermined path in order to land in some unknown territory.                                       
[5] Katherine N. Hayles, "The Materiality of Informatics," Configurations 1, no. 1 (1993): 147.
[6] Ibid., 155.
[7] Ibid., 158.
[8] John Harwood, The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 62.
[9] Matthew Fuller, Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software. Brooklyn, New York: Autonomedia, 2003), 2.
[10] In his chapter on apparatuses, Flusser refers to the pick as an extension of the toe. See: Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (London: Reaktion, 2000), 23.
[11] Thierry Bardini, Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 53.
[12] Nick Crossley, Intersubjectivity: The Fabric of Social Becoming (London: Sage Publications, 1996), 8.
In this quote Crossley is specifically referring to Heidegger’s turn away from Husserlian phenomenology, which also marks a turn towards the linguistic as well as the social.
[13] Christopher Crouch, “Afterword,” in Visual Literacy, ed. James Elkins (New York: Routledge, 2008), 200. Crouch is referring to Habermas’s concept of communicative action, what Crouch calls a “reflexive dialectic.”
[14] Vilém Flusser, Into the Universe of Technical Images (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 16.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (London: Reaktion, 2000), 73. Flusser is something of a technological determinist, which I take issue with. Nevertheless, his description of the impact of the automatic apparatus is very important to understanding what it is that the embodied agent is up against. It heads off easy utopic definitions of users as the empowered centers of manipulation. Referring to the power of the automatic apparatus, Flusser writes, “This is the intention with which they [automatic devices] were created: that the human being would be ruled out.”
[17] Ibid., 57-58. The issues of automaticity lead Flusser to have a pessimistic outlook on the idea of vernacular photography that I find both intriguing and somewhat against the grain of cultural studies, which generally hopes to look at culture without judgment, whether it is high or low, vernacular or professional.
[18] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: the Movement-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986),
[19] Ibid.
[20] A clear example of this drift can be found in the technology used to perform ultrasounds. What was once a more or less abstracted depiction has been transformed using 3-D imaging into a picture making technique that borders on portraiture.  
[21] Certainly an artist like Sherri Levine, who is known for making photographs of other photographs, challenges viewers to not only denounce the artistry of her work but also its basic standing as photography. Thus even pictures made with a camera can be construed as something that is not-quite photography.
[22] John Tagg, quoted in Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1997), 5.
[23] Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 148. Although Warner is specifically referring to reading publics the basic concept is true for any public, especially as discourse (textuality) is easily expanded to Discourse (picture, object, sound, attitudes, organization of space). In other words, the same way that the shared creation of linguistic meaning is expandable to cultural objects such as pictures, the formations of reading publics and counterpublics is  expandable to publics that rally around criteria aside from texts.
[24] Ron Eglash, “Computing Power,” in Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008), 62.
[25] Janet Staiger, Media Reception Studies (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 6–7.
[26] Graham Harwood, “Pixel,” in Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008), 213.

[27] “South By Southwest: 'Homeless Hotspot' Stunt Stirs Debate At SXSW,” Huffington Post, March 13, 2012,

[28] David. F Gallagher, “NYTSXSW,” March 11, 2012,

[29] Mieke Bal, "Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture," Journal of Visual Culture 2, no. 1 (2003): 24.
[30] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1972), 403.
Within the chapter on the cybernetic explanation, which I referred to at the beginning of this text, Bateson suggests that “[i]n general in communicational systems, we deal with sequences which resemble stimulus-and-response rather than cause-and-effect.” Here Bateson applies a concept normally reserved for the way the physical world interacts through energies that objects have and house to the metaphysical world, so that objects have conceptual (communicative) energies as well.

Part II.
The Proliferation of the Pseudo-Synonym

…Print Screen…
Although not all current digital devices manifest the desire for an increase in what can be open, available, and shown concurrently on a single screen, the look of the personal computer (if indeed computers can be said to be personal) nevertheless remains ubiquitous.[1] Whatever recent transformations the computer interface has undergone, such as track-pad commands and touch displays, the “windowed style of the graphical user interface,” in which, “different programs, representing different media, can appear in each window,”[2] still dominates the screen. Interface innovation is driven by the need to minimize the effort required to toggle between ever-growing proliferations of computer applications, each with the potential for multiple open windows.[3] This is especially true as computer screen real estate continues to increase making more space for more and more windows to be open simultaneously.[4] But even as the screen has shrunk to fit into the palm of the hand, this need endures: to flip, to switch, and to leap unfettered across operations and applications. More requires navigation while the interface appears to interfere less. This fact persists regardless of screen size—especially as users come to expect all screens to deliver a similar kinesthetic and interactive experience.

Given the increasing and ongoing complexity of interaction the windowed computer screen affords, it is clear that the command “print screen” recalls “usage patterns from the 70’s, when personal computers were strictly single-task machines.”[5] Such a singular command—print the entire screen exactly as it appears—reflects a conceptualization of the screen as an indivisible mass. Although certain functions have allowed users the option to make a picture of either the entire screen or a single window, both the screen and its user has far outgrown this function. The ongoing and polyvisual field of the screen exceeds the choice between “whole screen” and “active window.” The contemporary screen requires the ability to copy and make pictures of any place on the screen whatsoever, to address the scatter and overlap of windows, icons, toolbars and menus, all vying for attention, while self-arranging or being arranged into innumerable compositions. The space between the window defines what a screenshot is as much as the window itself. Advanced screenshot software addresses this fact by beginning with the creation of a frame, albeit an unfixed and reconfigurable frame that can be positioned on the screen in any place whatsoever.

Putting aside such concerns, the command “print screen,” nevertheless plays an important conceptual role in understanding the picture of the screen, specifically as it relates to printing logics that express the requirements of the industrial and information age. Management historian JoAnne Yates, in Control Through Communication, argues that the rise of modern systematic forms of management, which served large-scale manufacturing and industry, necessitated particular advancements in communication methods. The need to circulate and retain copies of memos, contracts, policies, and other managerial records drove the innovation and proliferation of specific low-involvement printing processes, such as the carbon copy, the cyanotype, the electrostatic copy, and eventually the ink-jet printer. In fact, these intricate management systems “were established, operated, evaluated, and adjusted—that is to say managed, or controlled—all on the basis of flows of information and orders.”[6] Printing logics based on dispersing information cheaply and easily were more than simply adjunct to management systems; they were constitutive. Clearly the motivations of a bureaucratic management system differ from those that shaped photography. The command “print screen” is undoubtedly affiliated with these administrative printing logics, which are also camera-less and lean more towards duplicating contracts, invoices, memos, and timelines than printing photographs.

And although office-based copies are not photographs, they are imbricated with photography. In “As We May Think,” Vannevar Bush’s prophetic essay of 1945, a speculative information storage and retrieval device is described—something similar to a futuristic microfiche machine. Although the Memex, as Bush calls it, fails to manifest the importance of content manipulation, it predicts a system of linked texts and how such a system might structure access to evermore-widespread “flows of information.”[7] As a precursor to the hypertextuality of computing, the Memex hinges on a very specific form of photography, “in which the picture is finished as soon as it is taken.”[8] What is significant to this analysis is the way that a dry method of photography, a distinct bureaucratic category of picture making, emerges from photography in general.[9] And given that dry photography, or xeroxography as it eventually came to be referred, is a such large part of Bush’s prognostic thought experiment, it is not surprising that the Xerox corporation, “a kind of cultural symbol of the modern culture of copy,”[10] ultimately played a sizeable role in the formation of the contemporary personal computer, not only through the introduction of a series of interface innovations that revolutionized the computer’s usability, including the window metaphor, but in relation to bureaucratized forms of printing and information management.  

…Screen Dump…
The term “screen dump” conjures notions of dumping data, the duplicating and transferring of information from one device to another; it also makes associations between data and the contents of the screen. Because data is generally regarded as transparent, an unmediated stand-in for the object itself, data appears detached from issues of cultural interpretation. And although data presents itself as a fact, Gregory Bateson’s suggestive remarks about data are worth consideration; “‘data are not events or objects but always records or descriptions or memories of events or objects.”[11] Such an attitude suggests data, as a description, has a relationship to the more or less conflicted world of the representational. Thinking through Bateson’s definition of data, the screenshot as a picture making technique that intersects data so decisively cannot simply be thought of as an objective presentation of computing. If there is some relationship between photography, data, and the screenshot, the cultural thorniness of “representation” cannot be totally put aside in favor of the disproportionately smooth surface of “presentation.”

Furthermore, because computational data is so massive in scale and arching in breadth, a fact that makes it generally incomprehensible, it is data visualization’s job to organize these unintelligible fields of information according to “a level of human sensibility.”[12] While screenshots do depict visualized data via graphical interfaces—the drop down menus, text fields, and bouncing icons that act to leverage computing power along a human scale—they are also more. Screenshots offer a way to mine and excavate certain pictures from an array of visualized data, to select what visualization is of interest to an embodied agent along a secondary axis—reflexivity. As a result, data visualizations and screenshots are inextricably linked, but certainly not interchangeable. If data visualization remakes data to human scale through the “mapping of digital data onto a visual image,” [13] the screenshot remakes data visualization to human scale by restructuring the screen as a picture, by affording an embodied intervention into the screen, an act that is based on cultural concepts like staging and framing.

André Malraux referring to the conceptual effects of the rise of the museum writes, “[w]e forget they [museums] have imposed on the spectator a wholly new attitude towards the work of art. For they have tended to estrange the works they bring together from their original functions and to transform even portraits into ‘pictures.’”[14] For Malraux this transformation is a loss. But the fact is, whatever contextual stability of meaning the portrait surrenders as a result of its estrangement what is gained is vital to understanding how a portrait—a representation—exerts power. What is gained is a drive towards reflexivity and an interest in how a representation creates effects. And although there is no place where various screenshots exist like the unified social space of the museum, screenshots are nevertheless estrangements that are decontextualized or pulled from their circumstance on the one hand and brought together again on the other. In other words, the screenshot reconstitutes computing by tear[15]ing it apart, and by putting it back together, which imposes on the viewer and the screenshot maker wholly new attitudes towards the graphics on the screen and wholly new attitudes towards their interactions with these graphics, not to mention what is set into motion by interacting with these graphics. Such a reorganizing, which allows for arranging, rearranging, collecting, and re-contextualizing accentuates and exposes new knowledge about computing and new user relationships toward the computing interface.

The blog “Screenshots of Despair,” for example, acts as site where users post screenshots that express a sense of contemporary alienation that in many ways contradicts the utopic “themetune”[16] of network connectivity as it has come to be erroneously, or at least simplistically, equated with human connectivity. The organizing principle behind Screenshots of Despair is hopelessness as it has come to be reflected in the act of computing—images deleted, access denied, empty folders. As the homepage suggests, “Screenshots of Despair” is “as much about the gap between people and machines as it is about isolation.”[17] But more than being about the disconnect between human and machine or between human and human, the blog is also about the recognition of the human condition within the act of computing and the need to isolate that moment from computing, to tear it from the whole of the screen, to make it into a picture and reinsert it into the network under the new human scale context of “despair.”

As a result, perceiving these moments of despair exceeds the simple act of recognition and becomes an act of production through the performance of observation. When observers observe, they change the very things they observe; they suggest outcomes through their mere presence.[18] The screenshot, via the phenomena of observation, guides the eye away from what it needs to see to service computing in order to observe computing itself. Such observations increase the likelihood that a computing activity or moment of computing will be worth differentiating, and even encourages the manipulation of computing in order to produce certain types of pictures—staging. As making screenshots becomes a routine part of a user’s computer activity, computing stops being “simply computing” and reflects a new attitude. The interface becomes a stage that the user performs within and upon. A picture is snapped as documentation of some performance. But because transparent or objective documentation does not exist the screenshot does not simply follow the performance, rather it precedes the performance as the potential of a formal outcome and therefore affects the very shape a performative computing act might take. Having seen others stage the interface along an index of “despair,” users find it easier and easier to recognize or stage these moments themselves. The result is a proliferation of screenshots and the creation of new reflexive knowledge about what computing is.

…Screen Capture…
Of all the terms used to describe making a picture of the screen, “screen capture” has a special relationship to the screenshot, a relationship that revolves around the link between the static still and the moving image, between film-based photography and film-based cinema. Although a “screen capture” can refer to making a picture of the screen it can also refer to tracking and copying user keystrokes, video chats, and other on-screen actions as they unfold in time. [19]  Unlike the screenshot, which only takes an instance of computing out of context, the screen capture can be thought of as an action that highlights, copies, and pastes a continuous slice of computing temporality onto the Desktop.  In other words, a screen capture makes a movie of the screen. Deleuze advises that the moving image of film-based cinema is not simply related to photography in general but to the snapshot specifically. In fact, it is “the equidistance of snapshots” and “the transfer of this equidistance” into a filmic structure that affords the moving image of cinema.[20] What is the result of extending the relationship between the still and moving photographic image to the relationship between the screenshot and the screen capture? It does not follow that screenshots as instances are aggregated into the moving image of a screen capture. Rather it appears that the static still and the moving image of the digital screen signals how the same data can be tracked along a different axis.

Yet, however different digital-based moving images are from film-based moving images, whether or not it can be argued that moving digital images are aggregates of a multiplicity of stills, digital video editing programs such as Final Cut offer frame-rate options when exporting projects. Such an option acknowledges and offers some control over the instance in relation to the aggregation of instances. As such, the rapid movement of frames is important to both film-based and digital-based moving pictures. Frame rates in video games, for example, determine the speed at which the screen is refreshed, which dictates the quality of the visual experience. The less frequently the screen is refreshed, the more disturbed the motion becomes. Image disturbances of this sort trigger a shift in media interaction, from “media experience” toward “experiencing media.”[21] In other words, less equidistant frames and fewer frames replaced per second manifest as digital artifacts that prompt user awareness of a normally unnoticed apparatus. The fact is that such artifacts are not the exception in network computing, but are the rule. And although the frame-rate in a moving digital image is partially different from what a frame-rate means in film-based cinema, both determine the look and nature of a real-time visual experience as it relates to a viewer/user in front of a screen. Both operate through a process of rapidly replacing one thing with the next in a succession that creates verisimilitude along a human scale, what can be referred to as the uninterrupted dream-like flow of pictures.

…Screen Grab…
Abstractly considering a quotation from Henri Lefebvre’s book, The Construction of Space, might be a useful start for contemplating the implications of grabbing the screen, particularly as it relates to the difference between discourse and space. “The act of writing is supposed, beyond its immediate effects, to imply a discipline that facilitates the grasping of the ‘object’ by the writing and speaking ‘subject.’”[22] Thus, Lefebvre challenges the authority of writing to bring about a transparent form of understanding, suggesting that the relationship between the “speaking subject” and the “object as graspable” is not a matter of logical order, where one naturally follows the other as a conclusion (agent + discourse = comprehension); but is only a “supposed” relationship. It would have been preferable if, instead of “grasping,” Lefebvre had written, “grabbing,” which would solidify discourse’s ability to move a non-linguistic object from the murk of the unknown into the illumination of analysis. It is this assuredness and conclusiveness that Lefebvre writes against, particularly when imagining what language can say about space and social practice. For Lefebvre grabbing can only be truly comprehended through the action of grabbing. However, as a result of the computer interface, grabbing also has a discursive function.

Regardless, both grasping and grabbing imply imaginatively stopping the speculative process. To grasp the screen, meaning to comprehend, would ultimately reduce it to a contained and handled object, reinforcing the common perception of technology as a fixed tool controlled by its wielder. But the screen is more than an object with finite parameters, a tool to be grabbed; it is also the site of and home to various picture making and disseminating practices. The tool affects the body as much as the body affects the tool. The computer screen is not a matter of abstract mathematical space (or as Lefebvre might have called it “Logico-epistemological space”). [23] It is a part of, and interwoven into, reality itself. Like any space or place, the computer screen, and what takes place within it, is neither exclusively physical, mental, or social, but is rather an amalgamation of these categories. As a result, the screened space of the computer is also governed by all the relationships that intervene in any reality whatsoever.

At the same time, grabbing is very important to the act of computing and computer spatialization, as exampled through the commands: grab, drag, and drop. Thierry Bardini writes, “[t]he personal computer interface started with the hand, not with the brain (or the eyes for that matter).”[24] And although it may seem obvious to suggest that grabbing objects in the world is similar to grabbing symbols on the screen, computer interface design had to be constructed towards this type of exchange between user and machine, an interaction based on making things comprehendible at a kinesthetic level (to grab) as opposed to a semiotic level (to write). In other words, if for Lefebvre grabbing can only be truly comprehended through the action of grabbing, the problem computer interface proposes is that grabbing in the realm of computer interface is both a kinesthetic act, something beyond language, and it is distinctly discursive. This complexity manifests in the very materiality of computing. Matthew Fuller suggests, for example, that writing code for the dialogue boxes of a textual-based interface is a far simpler engineering task than writing a “drag and drop idiom.”[25] If grabbing, dragging, and dropping are matters of efficiency, it is neither an abstract mathematical efficiency nor a simple kinesthetic efficiency that is satisfied. Rather, what is satisfied by such an idiom is the way the physical relationship humans have to the world creates the world along both a material and meta-material level. As such, the screen is a tactile differential that mitigates the complexity of computing, as discursive, while opening computing to embodied kinesthetic responses and codes of behavior, which the screenshot transforms into representation. In many ways the computer interface signals the return to the abacus, a movable visual representation, and a turning away from the writing of numbers.

[1] Screened devices, such as smart phones and tablets, display windows differently than personal computers. Whereas personal computers tend to present windows as overlapping, these other devices display one window at a time, although this is changing. As of now Windows has released its new phone, which presents applications as an array of tiles. And although these tiles do not overlap, they suggest the consumer’s desire for the phone to act similarly to the personal computer insofar as they both should show multiple computing options simultaneously.
[2] David J. Bolter, and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 47. My italics.
[3] Active Screen Corners is one example of how Mac interface designers are adding more navigation complexity to the screen. Another example is the ability to toggle between applications via the command + tab function. Another example is the f11 hot key that moves all open windows out of the way of the desktop.
[4] As of now the largest computer monitor a consumer can purchase is 30 inches, although some stunning examples of amalgamations of screens are provided in the following link:

[5] Frank Stajano, “Security For Whom? The Shifting Security Assumptions of Pervasive Computing,”, 2.

 [6] JoAnne Yates, Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), xvii.
[7] Yates, Control through Communication, xvii.
[8] Vannevar Bush,  “As We May Think,” The Atlantic, July 1945,
[9] See Scanography, a picture making practice that uses a computer scanner in ways similar to a camera.
[10] Jussi Parikka, “Copy,” in Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008), 74.
[11] Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, viii.
[12] Richard Wright, “Data Visualization,” in Software Studies: A Lexicon, ed. Matthew Fuller (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008), 79.
[13] Ibid., 78.
[14] André Malraux and Stuart Gilbert, The Voices of Silence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 13-14.
[15] There is an issue here with the idea of the screenshot being a part of the whole. The fact is that this cannot be reconciled. If the screenshot is really a part ripped from the whole then there should be something missing from the whole, but in fact the whole of the screen remains intact. The screenshot is part of the whole insomuch as it is a redundancy at the same time. Similarly when the part of the screen is removed or copied this part then becomes a whole in and of itself.
[16] I am suggesting here a link between the problem of uncritically assigning empowerment, which Fuller suggests through the use of the term “themetune,” to the subjectivity of the user and the problem of uncritically assigning human scale values to the technological fact of device connectivity.
[17] Screenshots of Despair, “About,”
[18] The OED entry for the prefix ob- yields this, “in the direction of, towards, in the way of, in front of,” which suggests the way in which observing itself interferes with the thing to be observed. "ob-, prefix". OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press.
[19] I should note that movies of screens are also referred to as “screen casts,” a term that is gaining explanatory power. Nevertheless, “screen capture” is deployed as I have described it above, but it also has a more broad meaning.
[20] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 5.
[21] Lev Manovich refers to computer media as having an experiential quality, a concept that I will engage more thoroughly in Part III of this text.
[22] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 28. Emphasis mine.
[23] This kind of abstract space is what Lefebvre tries to bring back together with what he calls “practico-sensory” space, or what we might refer to as simply lived space.
[24] Thierry Bardini, Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 53.
[25] Fuller, Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software, 150. 

Part III.
Media Metaphor / Media Equivocation / Media Materiality

…Tending Towards and Array…
Mathew Fuller concludes in his essay, “The Impossibility of Interface,” that ultimately metaphor is not inherent to interface, that computing and software in general need to be recognized for what they do and not what something else does.[1] Such a request would ostensibly extend to media and media-like amalgamations specific to computing, such as the screenshot and the metaphoric activity of grafting photographic concerns onto the distinct act of making a picture of the screen. “With every interface metaphor,” Fuller writes, “there is a point at which its explanatory or structure-providing advantages collapse in the face of the capacity for mutation in the universal machine, the computer, and what it connects.”[2] Fuller continues; no matter how useful metaphor is to “imaginally map out in advance what functional capacity a device has by reference to a pre-existing apparatus,” eventually “functionality outstrips the explanatory capacity of reference to previous media forms.”[3] While it is true that software metaphors are not absolute in their predictive or instructive capabilities and that references to pre-existing media forms lose potency over time, it is also true that comparisons and references facilitate the comprehension of what software engineers and users might want a given software or technology to accomplish.

Media scholar Steven Johnson outlines a more sympathetic approach towards comparison between pre-existing and emerging media. “Certain digital revolutionaries,” Johnson writes, “will see this pilfering from the past as a limitation, a telltale sign of a thinker still trapped in the analog world of the past. But the truth is...[t]he interplay between past and future forms drives the creative process more than it impedes it.”[4] Of interest are the two ways the interaction between past and present are characterized. In Johnson’s estimation this relationship is creative, while Fuller describes something more or less limiting. If the screenshot can come to exist fully as a media form, its expansion in this direction will most likely be the result of a investigation of both photography and computing—how and when they can be brought together, as well as when they should be pulled apart—and not as a result of dogmatically forcing the screenshot to always concretize its predetermined inherent software qualities in opposition to whatever photography or any other media is understood to be.

Fuller is correct in stating that “functionality outstrips the explanatory capacity of reference to previous media forms,”[5] but only if it is a given that metaphors or media comparisons are meant to explain away, rather than guide or describe. As comparisons go “metaphor” is more than a taskmaster of sameness; it is also an opening up to difference. If “metaphor” means “this is that,” it also means, ”in fact, it is not.” It is the ability of a metaphor to hold in tension both the sameness and difference between the tenor and the vehicle that makes it enduring. By far a metaphor does more to add to an utterance through its associative power than to reduce through an insistence on sameness. But given that any language whatsoever—not to mention the trickery of metaphor—struggles to land squarely on any artifact or practice, thinking in terms of “description” is more useful than “explanation.” Description creates options through accumulation and aggregation, while explanations must either totally cohere with previous explanatory structures (showing a predilection towards singularity) or they must negate previous explanatory structures (showing a predilection towards the reordering of knowledge). In other words, with competing explanations either one or the other must prevail or one or the other must fit within a pre-existing structure, while competing descriptions tend towards an array of choices open to less structured, yet promising, navigation.

Neither software nor software interface is developed a priori, without any sense of a user or the series of tasks to be performed, tasks that necessarily draw on some aspect of the material world. As a result, software is at least partially analogous to the world that it finds itself, especially given that it is part of the world that it finds itself in. The fact is, as much as software transforms and (in)forms the world, the world transforms and (in)forms software. Software metaphors and media comparisons are engrained in the “why” and “what” of software development and not sprinkled on after the fact as ornamentation. They are constitutive of and integral to the design of software-based media and computer human interface, no matter how inadequate such comparisons grow. Furthermore, if a metaphor participates in the formulation of software, it is not as if the metaphor itself escapes transformation in relation to the software it describes or the practices that a given software affords. Language comes off restructured by what it portrays as much as it structures a portrayal.  A classic and prescient example is how the term “snapshot” has been transformed through its application to photography. Initially used to describe rapid rifle fire, “snapshot” is less about game hunting and more about the instantaneity and speed of making certain kinds of pictures. This is not to say that “snapshot” does not bring those associations of violence with it, but that the metaphor and language itself has undergone change in relation to what it explains. Metaphor helps to determine but does not overdetermine. It is open on both sides of the equation.

…Experiential Forms of Knowledge…
Technological advancement “is a matter of the minute and painstaking modification of existing technology;”[6] it is built on previous innovation. While the sizzle of past forms of technological advancement may seem slower by comparison to the explosive pace of software and computing developments, fantasies of total and radical technological breaks generally rely on historiographic tropes by which a technology “is attached a precise date and particular man (few indeed are the women in such lists) to whom the inspired invention ‘belongs.’”[7] Regardless of the technological fact of incremental development, it is not given that the digital is the natural or essential outcome of a self-governed techno-lineage, that digital media simply complete or fulfill the media processes and promises initiated by previous analogical devices.

That digital media represent both an extension of already existing media and something distinct and new is what makes Fuller’s interest in the particularities and specifics of software, as opposed to digital media in general, important. By focusing on the distinctiveness of software and software applications much of the noise of the past can be tabled and software can be investigated as a thing in and of itself, with the hope that such an investigation will say something about contemporary society’s profound software entanglement, as opposed to an anteriorized speculating on the digital nature of various past technological and conceptual innovations. In other words, the promise of the “new” in “new media” can, through software studies, be capitalized on.

Nevertheless, the assumption that software has inherent independent qualities that exist completely outside the human praxis of comparison and comparative driven production is a perplexing notion.  As much as innovation comes from incremental adjustments and additions to previous technology, it also comes about through incremental applications of user knowledge, which does not always flow front-and-center from the stated functions and objectives a technology is claimed to have. Structures of knowledge also flow from the experiential, from previous understandings and engagements with technology and media, from places that cannot be determined as centers, but that exist as every other place. As a result, a particular media’s production and application may be best gleaned from the real-world experiential knowledge of similar technologies and media, and not from an abstract techno-centric perspective or an over-investment in what software is supposed to do. The screenshot takes on new meaning and promise as the problems and potentials of photography are grafted onto its shiny new software surface, an act that does not limit the algorithmic specificity of software, but that ruptures it, complicating it further. Past and future forms, coexisting and interweaving, drive the opening up of what making a picture of the screen can be, allowing the picture making technology to exceed its generic software purposes, allowing it to be defined through embodied practice as opposed to inherent qualities.

…Strategic Media Essentialism…
Searching for what interface, computing, or software-based media do according to internalized and hermetic tenants suggests a demand for media specificity. Film theorist Mary Ann Doane writes, “[t]hose works that can be labeled ‘medium specific’ are those reiterating and reconfirming the constraints of their material support.”[8] By aiming media at its own materiality the influence of other media, of other material constraints, are necessarily removed. The result is a form of logical media purity, which then, for example, drives naturalistic space and figuration out of painting. The end game of painting conceived in terms of its own support system is painting that reiterates the application of paint and the physical flatness of the canvass. Sculpture is reduced to the phenomenology of being in situ, to its occupation of space. Certainly the fact that the screenshot captures the very image of the screen from which it emerges centers the screenshot in its materiality. In this sense, the screenshot can only reaffirm its materiality and its support—the computer screen. Thought of in this way, the screenshot would appear to be the paradigmatic image of media specificity.

However, Fuller suggests something more, to rid computer software of the characteristic of metaphor, which presumably would allow software and interface to act in accordance with some essential technological characteristic. If it were possible, as a thought experiment, for software to operate metaphor-free, unfettered by the burden of comparisons to previous media forms, what would this mean for the screenshot? Such an experiment might be considered a form of strategic media essentialism, a tactic meant to temporarily allow discussions of media specificity without getting embroiled in the ways that media users often struggle against such claims of essence.

Photography’s specificity, however arguable, is historically linked to the concepts of the trace and index. The trace describes the mark or remnant found in the photograph, that which was once in front of the camera, and the index describes how the photograph permanently refers to something else, the way it points outside itself.[9] What is most specific to the software that makes a picture of the screen is not so much the inherent quality of algorithmic processing, something that a screenshot more or less shares with all other software, but its ability to interact in a specific way with a unique subject—the space of the user interface. Graphically speaking, this is a specific kind of world where bouncing icons scramble for attention, where edges softly round or come to sharpened idealized corners, where delicate and uniform shadows are cast, and unvarying highlights glimmer in mathematically determined regularity. The crisp blue paper of a desktop folder never fades or wears out. When the white-gloved hand of the cursor is dragged across a link it does not come up with a finger full of dust. The interface purports a world of sanitized order. The façade does not deteriorate or decay, so much as it becomes outdated. As such, interface is only noticeably outmoded the moment it exists in comparison to a newer iteration, the next version. In this way comparison, far from stifling, drives the innovation of software. The user is conditioned to recognize this out-of-dateness as a trigger for technological desire.

Within the specific world of the interface, the picture of the screen is the record of this never-ending (comparison driven) aging façade, a relationship that is thoroughly implied by the website Guidebookgallery contains a pictorial history of graphical interface development ranging from Lisa Office System 1.0 to Mac OS X Panther, as captured in screen grabs and screenshots. Consequently, these past moments of graphical protocols are structured into an archive, held static for scrutiny. As an archive of interface, guidebookgallery instantiates the pristine character of interface and promises the possibility of an abstract technological history by focusing on interface alone. Yet this archive, like all archives, is as much about what is absent as what is present. “A good art historical tale can be as provocative as a mystery story,” Michael Ann Holly reminds us. “Some thing has gotten lost, someone has gone missing, a visual clue remains unseen.”[10]

What is most missing from a screenshot illustrating the aesthetic choices that went into an outdated text-editing program is precisely the text that would have filled the blankness of interface. What is abstracted away is the temporality and quality of contact, the clue of the human agent required to give interface meaning. All the multiple iterations of the text, the chaos and proliferation of versions that inevitably fill digital hard drives and desktops, remain unseen in a collection of the blank form. Ironically, the reality of living with and using computers contradicts the superficial promise of organization that the digital often trades on. Certainly the technological promise of computer-aided efficiency is easy to fulfill, but only if the body is thoroughly mastered or removed altogether from the equation. Interface, as contingent on context and content as any technology, does not totally regulate itself, but is governed, at least to some degree, by the embodied ways it is put to use.[11] There is no such thing as technology in any significant way outside the purview of the agent.

In lived life, hard drives and file directories never arrive at total organization, rather they are always in states of wildness and cultivation, overgrowing here and being placed into order there. Against received knowledge, the instantaneous copying of files and the resulting multiplicity of versions has made organization less and less possible. Ultimately, living with computers is a messy human affair, with numerous versions of files strewn across several portable drives, across several portable machines.[12] Truer now than ever before, “Organizers have found themselves eaten up by whatever they were trying to organize.”[13]

Thus, the mere picture of the screen, as a simple reproduction of the space and place of interface, becomes media in ratio to how it includes the activation of this space via user collaboration and interpretation. It is the ability to address the interface as a zone where users invest themselves in unique ways that affords the screenshot any kind of specificity, a fact that exceeds the simple instantiation of software’s given material support, a fact that exceeds the rote enactment of an algorithm, a fact that exceeds purely copying. Yet, as satisfactory as it would be to conclude this circumstance categorically makes pictures of screens unlike other technical pictures, especially photography, a screenshot can still be conceptualized as both as trace (an imprint of a past moment of computing) and as an index (a constant referring to that moment of computing). These practices, making screenshots and making photographs, are neither substitutional, where one naturally performs and means the same as the other, nor are they obligatory, where one is forced to behave exactly like the other.

…Media Multiplication and Instantaneity...
In an effort to comprehend why media are made to mimic each other’s functions and appearances, new media theorists Jay David Bolter and Robert Grusin discuss media relations in terms of affiliations. One example from their book-length study, Remediation, are television news programs which often incorporate “the influence of the graphical user interface,” particularly “when they divide the screen into two or more frames and place text and numbers over and around the framed video images.”[14] Bolter and Grusin describe two contradictory logics: “hypermedia,” the multiplying and ongoing development of ever increasing types of media, and “immediacy,” the desire for instantaneity and direct contact with the thing being mediated.[15] In fact, the blending of these logics via new media amalgamations and assemblages, such as television shows that use computer aesthetics, signals how “our culture wants to both multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation.”[16] Remediation, as an overarching model, describes how the drive towards the “hyper” in fact creates a sense of the “immediate.” Through such logic the screenshot can be considered new insofar as it is a unique assemblage of certain photographic and computing concepts. But does the screenshot always result in a picture in which the effects and realities of computing are made immediate, in the sense that they are un-mediated? As much as screenshots depict computing they also draw attention to the conditions of computing, to the very mediation of interface; they explicitly express new types of reflexive relationships to computing.

Putting aside Bolter and Grusin’s concept driven ideas of media allows issues of materiality to be considered. In Software Takes Command,[17] Lev Manovich constructs a theory of media related directly to the physical challenges of describing software-based picture making, which in turn prompts concerns over media and their relations to an agent. Among the many issues that Manovich’s concept “metamedia” addresses, the time-based and interactive characteristic of computing is by far the most useful. “Thus,” Manovich writes, “although some static documents may be involved, the final media experience constructed by software cannot be reduced to any single document stored in some media.”[18] The reference is not to a media, but rather to a “media experience,” which opens computing, and by extension all of the digital, up to conceptualization as a process inexorably contingent on and defined by a user’s interaction. Although it is worth noting that many of the media location issues that Manovich tries to explain about computers have been historically true for cinema and broadcast television as well. Does the media of cinema reside in the reel, in the projector, in the screen, in the architecture of the theater, in the architecture of the set, in the technology of the camera, or more accurately in the “media experience” of the moving image in relation to an embodied agent?

Yet, no matter how Manovich’s metamedia theory incorporates user experience at its base, placing much needed emphasis on media interaction, it does not confront the screenshot head-on. Simply put, the question Manovich asks throughout the book is as follows: “what happened to the techniques, languages, and the concepts of twentieth century media as a result of their computerization.”[19] The answer is the magnetization of what were once separate media, which are drawn together under the power of software. In other words, “metamedia” is an attempt to explain the impact software has had on pre-existing media. Although Manovich does eschew total media convergence or the reduction of media to various effects brought up from the smooth unified space of computer data.[20] The fact is, screenshot technology is not so much affected by software, but emerges from software itself; it is not a pre-existing media transformed through contact to computing, but rather it is the reflexive document of computing that surfaces from computing itself.

Given that media are not strictly technologically determined, that they are equally defined through interaction, such a thing as media specificity can be said to exist as long as the meaning of such a concept includes embodied agency in its structuring. The fact that photography does not exclusively depend on any one technology to exist, that it is a human concept in process and coevolving with technology, opens the debate to the simple but powerful question: is it altogether known whether the digital has subsumed specific media in a move toward media convergence or whether specific media have subsumed the digital in an move toward digital divergence?

Returning to Bolter and Grusin’s double logic and putting away how screenshots create a sense of reflexivity towards computing, it is also true that screenshots can be thought of as instantaneous and factual presentations of past acts or moments of computing, an immediate presentation of computing. In October 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld convictions for Akhil Bansal and Frederick Mullinix for the illegal sale and distribution of prescription drugs in what amounted to the most complex and globally dispersed Internet drugs case to date. The sheer density of business is telling; up to 75,000 pills were shipped daily. Because all sales took place through various websites spread across the globe, the screenshot became a crucial way to visually corroborate certain online moments in time—especially given that many of the drugs related websites operated temporarily in order to avoid discovery. Part of Bansal’s and Mullinix’s appeal questions the prosecution’s use of screenshots in the original case. Ultimately the screenshots were easily upheld in one paragraph of the Court of Appeals legal opinion, which stated the pictures were in fact what they claimed to be as determined by an expert witness who explained the reliability of Wayback Machine, the Internet archive site used to regenerate the suspect websites. These past moments of computing were then shown to the courtroom via screenshots. It was legally determined that the jury had in fact been presented with trustworthy visualizations of former computing moments, that these websites indeed existed at some point. Although this was only a small part of the overall case, the implications for pictures of the screen are profound. That the screenshot can be verified and presented in a court of law as evidence of something that existed at one point suggests a general attitude towards screenshots as more or less having the same pictorial potential for veracity as photography, a fact that goes against easy claims that the digital explodes concepts of photographic reliability, as if analog photography has not always been imbricated with manipulation, which has been more the rule than the exception. [21]

 …Media Objects…
If screenshots can be logged as exhibits A and B, they have fully emerged as media-objects, a fact that allows screenshots and software-based pictures to be questioned through object-oriented concepts. Accordingly, the skeuomorph is also a suitable model for describing how media becomes “systematically dependent on each other and on prior media for their cultural significance.”[22] This is especially true if the materialization of digital media, the body, and their relationship is of importance. On the surface, skeuomorphs are elements of a design that, although no longer necessary, persist; frequently translated into purely aesthetic expressions. The tiled look of linoleum creates a visual connection with ceramic tile but as a matter of stylistic appearance and not function, which would seem to diminish the meaning of style, limiting it to formalistic play. But style and aesthetic expression are techniques of communication that transmit significance as much, if not more than, content itself. “One does not signify something; rather, one signifies in some way.”[23] Content does not exist independently of how it is expressed, but is contingent on forms of expression: how it appears, what arrangements it takes, how it is transmitted. Thus, instances of design that are carried over from one object to another, from one device to another, are not separate from but rather integral to meaning. As a material metaphor, the skeuomorph concentrates its emphasis on the object-hood of a thing and how artifacts materially relate. Yet, far from mere appearances, these particular physical resemblances and aesthetic decisions constitute sophisticated messages and instructions. Information scholar Nicholas Gessler explains: skeuomorphs “are informational attributes of artifacts which help us find a path through unfamiliar territory. They help us map the new onto an existing cognitive structure.”[24]

Although many material characteristics persist across photography’s various technological iterations, one unlikely skeuopmorphic trait is the sound of the camera’s shutter opening and closing, which has been coded into the software used to make a screenshot. When screenshot software is triggered a distinct, although obvious, digital sound issues forth—the mechanical noise of a picture being snapped. Certainly there is no reason for a camera-like sound, or any sound whatsoever, to continue into the territory of software, aside from the resonance that it creates between two distinct processes that no matter how distinct, nevertheless, must share some commonality. And even if this commonality is only a matter of a “sound effect” the question is begged: what type of effect does this sound create?[25] If there is no particular materially functional reason for linoleum to look like tile, marble, or any other surface, or for making a software program trigger the aural expression of a shutter opening and closing, it is important to question why the new is contingent on its predecessor? It is important to inquire into what effects such mappings might have and do in the world; to ask what such mappings serve and what the function of user recognition is? It is important to continue to look beyond philosophic media notions such as remediation and metamedia, regardless of their conceptual rigor or descriptive power. What are the material reasons that media resemblances exist?

An upgrade economy, in which new editions of software, hardware, and even network capabilities are introduced to the market every six to twelve months, is heavily reliant on various forms of product correspondences to function smoothly—meaning certain categories of media and technology associations are, at least partially, economically driven. “Such a repetition is necessary in order to keep the mass scale of users, by means of an apparent familiarity, on the upgrade path to perfection.”[26] The skeuomorph contributes to this “apparent familiarity,” not by stopping at the material level, but by instantiating the ways that the material and the conceptual are interwoven. By making sense out of the differences and correspondences across media and media devices, skeuomorphs help ensure continued comprehension and mass consumption, despite, or maybe even because of, unrelenting product development. More than mere embellishment, something that gains meaning through its visual pleasure, skeuomorphs regulate what types of attitudes user should continue to have towards certain amalgamations and aggregations of technologies; they constitute specific “user friendly” attitudes within aggressive, version driven realms of technological innovation.

While matters of upgrade economies certainly help to explain skeuomorphic resemblance, how seamless an experience these resemblances offer the user is altogether uncertain. While the skeuomorph helps to “map the new onto an existing cognitive structure,”[27] to facilitate a user’s ongoing competency across proliferating technological devices, whatever the body and embodiment carry that is unpredictable is also dispersed across these variously mapped interactions. To put it more overtly, the skeuomorphic as instructional resemblance is not complete, or moreover, is incomplete-able. The fluency of comprehension that is established through the skeuomorph across photography’s ever-shifting surface, what allows users to amass specific user knowledge and make connections between screenshots and snapshots, is equally open to the indeterminate via the body and its affective capacity or that which “fills the interval between perception and action—the very interval that allows the body qua center of indetermination to delay reaction and thus organize unexpected responses.” [28] As a result, a technology like the screenshot simultaneously labors under the ideological traits and behavioral patterns of the photographic, while also being enabled to diverge from those patterns. Consequently, the digitally constructed sound of the shutter opening and closing within the screenshot software signals the drive toward photographic resemblance while simultaneously allowing difference, opening the screenshot to photography while also allowing it to exist as a software amalgamation in its own right.

[1] Fuller, Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software, 99-120.
[2] Ibid, 102.
[3] Ibid, 100.

[4]Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (San Francisco: HarperEdge, 1997), 19.

[5] Fuller, Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software, 100.
[6] Donald A. MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman, “Introductory Essay and General Issues,” in The Social Shaping of Technology: How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum, ed. Donald A. MacKenzie and Judy Wajcman (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985), 10.
[7] Ibid., 9.
[8] Mary Ann Doane, “The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity,” Differences 18, no. 1 (2007): 131. doi: 10.1215/10407391-2006-025.
[9] Ibid., 140.
[10] Michael Ann Holly, “Mourning and Method,” The Art Bulletin 84, no. 4 (Dec., 2002): 660,
[11] I realize that some aspects of technology are deterministic, meaning that they shape society by determining what kinds of power structures are required to keep them functioning smoothly. But it is equally true that technology does not exist in a vacuum, that usage and context give it meaning.  Langdon Winner suggests a concept of flexible and inflexible technology as opposed to simply stating that technology determines the social or vise versa. What this means is that some technologies like nuclear power, to use Winner’s example, force the social into particular patterns of control, while other technologies are less formative. Simply put, whether a technology determines the social or whether the social determines a technology is not a hard fact but determined on a case-by-case system that questions a technology along a register of flexibility. Do artifacts have politics? Langdon Winner in MacKenzie, Donald A., and Judy Wajcman. 1985. The Social shaping of technology: how the refrigerator got its hum. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Pg 26- 38
[12] How cloud computing will affect this idea is yet to be determined.
[13] Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + the New Technoculture (London: Fourth Estate, 1997), 46.

[14] Bolter and Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, 40.

[15] “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.” Here Grusin and Bolter are describing loosely what they mean by hypermediacy (multiplying media) and immediacy (the sense of no mediation whatsoever.) Ibid., 5.

[16] Ibid.

[17] In November 2009, Manovich released a draft version of a book that he is working on, which was released to the Internet in an unfinished form that I believe is related to the transparency movement that other new media thinkers also embrace. An acquaintance who owned and ran a new media gallery mentioned to me one of the last projects that he wanted to take up was to make the gallery totally transparent online, so that anybody could see what he sold and for how much, what the rent was in the space, etc.
[18] Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (Self-Published: Creative Commons License, 2009), 15.
[19] Ibid., 36.
[20] Ibid., 78. Regarding convergence Manovich writes this “But this is not what happens in media languages as they hybridize. Instead, they acquire new properties–becoming richer as a result.”
[21] Federal Evidence Review, “Authenticating Internet Screenshot Evidence under FRE 901,” December 19, 2011,
[22] Bolter and Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media, 56.
[23] Henry L.  Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 54.
[24] Nicholas Gessler, “Skeuomorphs and Cultural Algorithms,”
[25] One answer, although not the most interesting answer, can be understood through such proposed laws as the Camera Phone Predator Alert Act, introduced in 2009 by congressman Peat King. The act hopes to make it mandatory that all cell phones trigger some tone when they take a picture in order to alert others to the act. Although this law does not stipulate that the tone sound like a shutter being released.
[26] Fuller, Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software, 101.
 [27] Gessler, “Skeuomorphs and Cultural Algorithms.”
[28] Mark B. N. Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004), 133.

Part IV.
Aconclusivity: Endings / Questions / Conclusions

…in Advance into an Image…
Regarding photography’s particular form of influence, photography theorist Ariella Azoulay, writes, “[t]he camera has the capacity through its sheer presence to set all of these effects in motion without even taking even a single shot.”[1] Azoulay not only refers to the way that the photograph continues to have effects after it has been taken, but also to the way that the mere possibility of a photographic act changes whatever reality it comes into contact with, the way the world anticipates being made into a picture. Barthes describes a similar reaction to photography’s effect on reality, an effect set in motion by the camera’s mere presence. “Now,” Barthes writes, “once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing.’”[2] Barthes could stop here and have it down—the effect of the camera is the inauthenticity of the pose—but he goes on, “I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.”[3] Such a transformation suggests more than the simple act of posing. To make another body, as opposed to simply rearrange the pre-existing body, proposes the presence of the camera initiates a wholesale change in reality, which becomes transformed in advance into a pre-conceived photographic vision.

Both Barthes and Azoulay describe how the world structures itself into the photographic prior to the act of a photograph being made, a fact that undoubtedly calls into question the automatic independence of the real from the photographic. In other words, at least some aspects of what is either graphic or scopic about the real does not simply exist; but rather is constituted through a particular pre-existing and ongoing form of visuality, a visuality that is related to the photographic. Essentially, as human vision has been indelibly transformed through the act of seeing and making the photographic, at least some aspects of reality have come to be arranged along a photographic axis for a photocentric eye.

Performative Computing…
Furthermore, Azoulay parses two events from photography: the event of photography itself and the event being photographed.[4] Within the world of computing a similar scenario is unfolding. Whatever is left of what might be called naive computing, that is “computing in and of itself,” is most certainly being transformed by the potential to make a picture of the screen. It can be similarly claimed that with the proliferation of screenshots two events are distinguishable: the event of computing and the event of making a picture of computing. Similarly, the screenshot like Azoulay’s photograph also reverberates within the world of computing long after the picture has been made, influencing and guiding other users in their understanding of making pictures of the screen. But more than this after-the-fact influence, the screenshot as a mere potential changes the very act of computing itself, charging it with possibility, bestowing upon it a sense of reflexivity that emerges from the screenshot’s ability to tear part of the screen from the whole, to re-contextualize and re-present this instance/part under different criteria.

True as Marshall McLuhan’s axiom is, that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium,”[5] there is nevertheless also much more. The content of the screenshot is not strictly the computer and interface in the abstract. Also included is the very residue of activity, or refutation of activity, which an agent brings to computing and the interface, the specificity of a particular body and culture. In other words, the screenshot contains and makes visible two potentially inseparable aspects of computing: 1) The radical space of the interface, which includes, but is not limited to all the various media that occupy the screen 2) The activity of computing itself, which can be thought of as an embodied interaction with the computer interface. Thus, the screenshot simultaneously makes a picture of the graphic and aesthetic space of computing and the user’s motions and gestures within this space.

By structuring the screen and the interface as a picture, the screenshot encourages a shift in computing awareness, invigorating it with the impulse of performativity. In response to the ability to make a picture of the screen, users arrange its icons into compositions, fill its text fields in antithetical ways, set up atypical interface scenarios; they transform the screen in advance into an image. As a result, the screenshot raises the ground (the screen itself), and what was once only a support much like the canvas in painting is converted from a state of naturalized neutrality to a self-involved and reflexive object—a picture made for the screen, about the screen, both the subject and object of its own creation.

But the fact persists, only particular users would seek to make such pictures, users that have vested interests in understanding computing along a “meta” or reflexive register, users that have had long term and intimate exposure to the power of computing, who have necessarily benefited from this power to the detriment of others. As such, certain questions remain: Is the act of making a screenshot in fact critical or does it simply instantiate the power of computing and as a result the cozy relationship between wealth and computing? How does the screenshot, as an act undertaken by a specific type of user, align itself with the desires of the wired and wired-less global North in general? Can the screenshot ever express the aspirations of those populations that have different kinds of relationships to computing, less imbricated, less ingrained? If indeed such interventions into the screen can be said to operate against the programmatic determinism of software, to create a hospitable environment where unpredictable expressions of agency can occur, the question remains––whose agency and to what degree?

…Under the Influence…
When a user decides to compute two pathways are potentially open: either computing naively or expressly. Naively is used to refer to computing that is unaffected by the possibility of the screenshot, while expressly refers to computing conducted under the influence of the possibility of the screenshot. Both scenarios are contingent on user experience and knowledge regarding the ways in which a screenshot can be used as a tool to intervene onto the screen in a more or less imaginative way.

Because I am a particular type of user, one that has a certain proximity and intimacy to computing, mostly as a consumer, but also as an artist who has explored the screenshot as a medium, I can only compute expressly. Nevertheless, within the concept of computing expressly there are more possible pathways. I can either proceed with the potential of the screenshot as the background to my actions or I can proceed with this potential as the foreground to my actions. As a background the screenshot potential lies in wait, ready to snap at the screen, yet it is restrained. The act of computing is subject to, but not overwhelmed by, the potential of the screenshot. Subsequently, the screen is always on the cusp of becoming a picture but is not beholden to this fact. As a foreground the screenshot potential takes charge of the screen, its power as a possibility completely and fully present in and informing every computing decision. Under these circumstances computing is no longer strictly conducted along the technological axis that computing power is supposed to serve. Instead, computing comes to serve the picture. Thus, the screen is subsumed by the act of picturing.

If I compute under the auspices that the screenshot will be the foreground to my computing actions, and as such, subsume computing under the potential to structure it as a picture, if I proceed on this path, the contents of the screen (the interface and my interaction with it) can be thought of as a series of potential scenarios that I set up in advance of the picture. In other words, I pose the screen. But I also pose myself through this interaction, particularly as the interface always contains within it the residue of its embodied use. The interface comes to resemble a stage upon which I interrogate computing through a specific subjectivity and through specific performative actions. To proceed in this way opens computing up to a variety of end results that are not contingent on fulfilling the logic that computers and computing sets forth for itself. The potential to make a particular type of picture of the screen frees the user from the tyranny of a programmatic step-by-step interaction with the interface. In other words, a special picture can be created, one that communicates the unpredictable ways that the interface cannot come to completely meet its user, the ways in which the embodied agent continues to exceed the interface and the limited range of desires and powers that computing represents.

[1] Ariella Azoulay, "Photography: The Ontological Question," Mafte’akh: Lexical Review of Political Thought, no. 2 (2011): 72,
[2] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 10.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Azoulay, "Photography: The Ontological Question," 72.
[5] Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message,” in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, ed. Marshall McLuhan and Lewis H. Lapham (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1994), 8.

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