This week I went to the Media Archaeology Lab and chose to work with some new materials. I wanted to find something obscure, forgotten, and ideally a dead end. Then I found The Etch-A-Sketch Animator. This system is from 1986, and one can quickly tell. I was not quite sure what to make of the device, so I used my natural instincts. I created on the digital medium, what I find the digital world is most successful at circulating—cat memes. I recreated, as I could, Nyan Cat: the greatest of all cat memes. Nyan Cat him/herself may indeed be 8-bit, but I chose to work in this 2-bit medium of black/white, on/off, 1/0. In this binary dot-matrix interface, I recreated Nyan Cat, who became no longer ‘neon.’ Rather, a binary cat emerges, a Byan Cat, if you will.
But jests aside, such interfaces have a propensity for re-creating the familiar, the known, the producible/reproducible, and that which brings one joy. As a child, I never had an Etch-A-Sketch Animator, but I did have a traditional Etch-A-Sketch. Within this frame I used the magnetic particles to create, what I will describe now as, binary images. Ultimately, this Etch-A-Sketch Animator may be forgotten and a technological dead-end, but it functions here as a piece of technology that forces the user to rethink the experience with an interface, and similar interfaces. The Etch-A-Sketch Animator, self-consciously digital, forces one to reconsider the traditional Etch-A-Sketch. The Etch-A-Sketch, produced in 1960, may pre-date the digital. But this ever-present childhood play toy, I argue, popularizes a lineographic, binary writing surface for the masses. This 1960s toy propagates the binary frame, predating the home computer, but preparing an entire generation for the adoption of a new binary interface in the first monochromatic computer monitors.