I’d like to begin by citing Trevor Owens (at the Library of Congress), citing Mark Sample (George Mason), citing Matthew Kirschenbaum (University of Maryland) in order to define screen essentialism: when “‘digital events on the screen” … become the sole object of study at the expense of underlying computer code, the hardware, the storage devices, and even the non-digital inputs and outputs that make digital objects’ [existence] possible.’ It is within this area of study, study the events on-screen, that digital media studies takes ground and interprets the message from the inside, the outside, and everywhere in-between. Just as Kittler describes in There is No Software, the message we encounter on-screen is simply an extension of the software we are running to read this message, which is an extension of the GUI, the OS itself, then the BIOS, and finally the binary digits at the level of machine language that our processor interacts with. Only by studying this continual translation of the message can one seek to engage in a media studies reading of the material. This, I will argue, is why critical studies of glitch and artistic works of the glitch aesthetic are so appealing to the reader/user, and why the glitch aesthetic remains still hidden and largely inaccessible to the masses.
We might say that a void in the interface prevents humans from logically comprehending the translation of data that occurs between the machine language and the message’s visual output on-screen, but it is only the inability to process this data at the rapid speed that a current microprocessor can, that constructs this apparent barrier. Regardless, this barrier makes the content beneath the interface seem hidden. It is within this hidden space that either the glitch, or proper translation of data occurs. From this origin, I note, the glitch aesthetic arises—out of the hidden, the unfamiliar, and the seemingly inaccessible. It is this place that the hackers, the artists, the digital explorers work to navigate and bring the glitch aesthetic to the fore. The opportunity to work in such an aesthetic remains highly accessible to most computer users, yet the term glitch has only recently made it into the mainstream: Barack Obama’s repeated use of the word glitch describing healthcare.gov and the 24/7 news cycles adoption of the word into a certain mainstream American vocabulary. I began thinking through these ideas after reading Trevor Owen’s piece on the Library of Congress’ online publication, The Signal, which presents itself as a user-friendly guide for creating glitches in just a few easy steps. I realized that the term, and the recognition of the glitch has entered into the mainstream American consciousness, but the glitch itself remains hidden behind our interfaces layered one over another, over another. The glitch may be a part of popular culture, but popular culture still does not own the glitch. For now, we still depend upon hackers and artists to bring this aesthetic to the fore.