The Digital World Really Exists

Visualisation of a Bot Network on X/Twitter.1.

There is no such thing as a digital world. Or rather what we call the digital world really exists in reality. Actually. Physically.

Hard drives are physical objects onto which information is encoded so this information exists as a kind of electromagnetic landscape. This physical reality and the way we experience it are so different we think of the world it shows us as only existing in front of our eyes and senses but of course we would be wrong.

A harddrive would thus be a geological object as much as it is a technical one: a content-rich, heavily processed re-configuration of the earth’s surface. bldgblog -planet harddrive

At a larger scale the virtual world requires many datacentres strung around the world. Physically connected together, using energy to keep going. These black box buildings are too hot for human comfort, they are buildings designed for the machines, for our virtual worlds’ use, not for humans.

We have made knowledge into a landscape and information into a geology.

The truth is that there is no such thing as the digital world.” It is not a realm that exists apart from the so-called real world. Everything that is digital — information, exchanges, and experiences — is also physical. - Chris Butler - There is no Digital World

It is important to try to understand and visualise the way the internet and digital world works. Like dark matter it is part of the world because we see it’s effects even if it remains invisible. If we start to see this virtual world as it really is - part of the real world we could perhaps have an easier time understanding what effect it has on us.

This acceptance into the real world would perhaps then help to make us more thoughtful about the virtual world both in it’s positives and to the threats it poses.

  1. A co-retweet network, where the more orange the node the more recently the Twitter/X account was created, visualised by researchers at QUT. Photograph: Timothy Graham & Katherine M. FitzGerald, QUT Ref↩︎

September 9, 2023