Date: Tue 06 May 1997 13:52:11
From: Frank Hartmann

Re: 2 keywords for the digital text: object and protocol

Frank Hartmann

Internet semiotics? Further to Alexander Galloway’s basically interesting reflection on ‘object and protocol’, his argument for a digital economy based on this dualism is far from being a clear one. He refers to traditional semiotics and it is true that this once innovative turn in communications theory has little to say on digital networks (so far - those semioticians will come trudging along some day, trust me). And yet, we can learn from classic semiotician Charles S. Peirce why the digital economy does not work as indicated: a sign - ‘all thought is in signs’ - stands for something, but not as a simple representation for an object. There is a process between sign, sign use and sign object called ‘semiosis’: "an action, an influence, which is, or involves, a cooperation of three subjects, such as sign, its object, and its interpretant, this three relative influence not being in any way resolvable into actions between pairs." (Peirce 1877/78). This is the epistemic shift from a traditional, ‘substantial’ notion of truth to the critical, pragmatic one. The sign is not much more than a certain ‘way’ how an object is given to its interpretant (which does not spell reader / writer). There was never necessarily a ‘conscious subject’ involved in this process.

The concept of semiosis introduced, more than a hunderd years ago, a non-intentionalist principle of communication. I do not think that ‘protocol’ does replace semiosis. And the ‘object’ (as in VRML?) does not replace the ‘sign’. Then indication of subsequent dualisms like information vs. content is misleading. So does it really make sense to speak of a ‘new semiotic classification system’? What would be gained from such ‘classifications’ anyway?