Object and Information. Serial Strategies in the Production of Information


in: Serialize. Die Gestalten Verlag 2006, pp. 11-13

Author’s comment: I am afraid this translation does not match the German original very well. I keep it online nevertheless. Pls feel free to contact me personally in case of questions.

The Series as Information

A series inscribes an individual object with additional information. It constitutes itself as a series of elements, some of whose specific features resemble one another, some of which are dissimilar. In relation to the series, each individual element appears as a cluster of characteristics that is divisible into three groups: regular, distinctive and latent.(Heidenreich 121ff) The regular characteristics distinguish an element as a member of a series. The distinctive characteristics mark off individual elements from one antoher. Latent characteristics remian undefined; they are distributed fortuitously, optional, and have no definite function. But they may be activated at any time in order to formulate new rules or distinctions. The success of the series depends upon its characteristics being recognized as such, upon the information that has been inserted into its objects successfully reaching the market and the consumer. In linguistics, the efficaciousness of a given distinction is described as a „functional performance“(Martinet50).
An example: in English, the distinction between the consonants L and R possesses a high degree of functionality, while the Japanese language makes no distinction between them. Individual characteristics (of sounds in language, of colour, stylistic elements or details in the case of objects) instantiate a pattern of distinctions. Their effectiveness is subject to economic relationship between a tendency toward distention, one that loses itself in generality, and one towards concentration on detail, which leads to unrecognisability. Such an economics of traits or characteristics becomes obvious in our practical experience with search engines: if a chosen search term is too general, the results are too numerous. But if it is excessively restrictive, then the search fails entirely.(Luhn83f)
These rules apply on two levels when it comes to the economic distribution of characteristics within a series: regarding the construction of its serial identity, and regarding the distribution of its distinctive liberties.

Strategies of the Identical

As a rule, languages and sign systems are flexible. Their structures and semantics are subject to perpetual modification. The outer fields of the series are always as changeable as the manner of production allows, and as the competition demands. Identities and distinctions operate here in two contrasting time domains. The identical aims at relative duration. It traverses a life cycle: designeed as a comprehensive distinction for the entire series in relation to its environment, it is developed as at stable marking which persists for as long as the elements of the series attract attention and procure sales in a given environment.

As a rule, identifal characteristics remain within a hierarchical ordering. The individual series is subordinated to a brand, which in turn belongs to an enterprise. Here, highly divergent communicative functions may be accorded to the individual stages of the hierarchy. Often, the unity of an enterprise remains in the background. It positions its brands and series on the market in order to increase its share of the total aggregate of the product sales. The identitiy of the individual series resides in a cluster of rules which assign them a position within the prevailing characteristics of a given environment.

Within the world of informational objects, the identical serves the pupose of orientation. It operates where the characteristics of objects pass over into the field of concepts and names. The identical, then, constructs a sign in the classical sense: something that stands for something else. It is a cluster of characteristics to which a name is attached. The identical aspect of the series reveals itself to be an anchor which provides a series of objects with a common name.
The strategies of the identical are bound up with the name and its communicative value. They follow the paths of names, beausse brand objects and information are subdivided by name.

But names are only one among many possible dominant entities. In recent years it has become evident how, on the internet, the power of names and brands has remainded behind the power of links and search engines. Und such circumstances, it is thoroughly conceivable that pathways and networks are more important than static names for the strategies of the identical.

Strategies of Distinction

The strategies of distinction find their counterpart in the consumer who has learned to dervie satisfaction from the experience of difference.(Gorz54) In contrast to the identities of the series, the distinctive charcteristics of their elements need not be labeled. They do not have the status of a sign in the sense of something standing for something else. It is sufficient that they be displayed, thereby attracting attention. They represent a ‘nonlinguistic code“ as defined by Roland Barthes (Barthes 38). Their effects are more ephemeral than those of the identities. When the next element of the series appears, one and the same characteristic may have already changed its position. Their objective is not meaning, but instead movement. They are like snapshots taking advantage of the degree of freedom available to them within a fixed position of serial identities in order to perpetuate the respective series.

Objects of Information

When the relationship between things and data as altered, this also affects the forms of the serial. All kinds of objects, whether material or taking the form of data, are progessively integrated into a data stream, one that accords them logistical, informational, and stylistic markings alongside their conventional functions.
Logistic incorporates the object into the traffic of commodities. As an individual object, it is recoreded digitally, and leads a parallel existencs in the form of data: form its design as data, to its manufacture, and all the way to its distribution and marketing, and even beyond. For whenever possible, there is an attempt to guide circulation of things back to the purchaser. The production oriented logic of distribution finds its counterpart in the pattern of consumption and in the profile of the consumer. Statements taking the form „purchasers of these objects have also acquired these other ones“ aperar as the visible apex of a networked structure. Processes of collaborative filtering group commodity streams together on the consumption side. There, the purchaser himself appears as a serial actor in a wold of data and objects.

Informative labels are specifications that go beyond the actual function of the object itself. They are found in instructions manuals, PR materials, links on websites featuring statements on products, manufacturers, locations, inventors, circumstances, and modes of use. Bruce Sterling refers to objects which bring together such data structures as „Spimes“: „Spimes are manufactured objekts whose informational support is so overwhelming extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantations of an immaterial system.“(Sterling11)
Both objects and data thereby double their positions. No matter how they are consumed or appropriated, they occupy positions within a well-informed and autonomous world of objects, alongside their assignment to a specific owner.

Sytlistic markings on the other hand, appear manifestly; they display themselves, and have been designed to do so. They transfer their characteristic traits toward the purchaser. The styles of many individual items aggregate to become the style of their possessor. Now, commodities enter the realm of the game investigated so exhaustively by Bourdieu: „One only has to bear in mind that goods are converted into distinctive signs. … to see that the representation which individuals and groups inevitably project through their practices and properties is an integral part of social reality.“(Bourdieu754)
All three types of markings, logistic, stylistic, and informational , have an impact on the forms of the serial. They multiply the arena of the series, thereby expanding its strategic dimension.

Modes of Production

The history of the seriality parallels the history of production modes. As long as a series consists of objects made individually by hand, the quality of the objects is a question of craft expertise. Under these conditions, the perfected series remains an impossibility. But deviations from a model are not flaws, for they are unavoidable.

Ever since things have been produced by machines, series have consisted of identical elements that conform to norms. Standards and formats link products to allow an overarching compatibility with a standardised product world. Here, the differential constitutes a surplus. It is coded as additional information, and designates serial products as something special, as a luxury or a brand.

Once production processes themselve become programmable, the material motive for seriality will disappear: Modes of production will no longer compel seriality. The function of seriality will change. It will be converted from a manufacturing necessity into an informational strategy. This will affect conventional objects along with data and data-bearing objects. Customisation and the rapid prototyping of products and programmes will contribute to making series flexible, just as do dynamic web services, which tailor information to individual spectators. (Vogt+Weizenegger28, O’Reilly)

But the demise of serial production has been heralded regularly for more than 20 years now. According to his prognosis, once machines have become intelligent and flexible in the application of manufacturing techniques, the era of production of identical series will be over. By 2000, the new world of singular individual items should long have since become a reality: “In twenty years, inventive consumption will be among the creative activities .. this means that you will design your own clothing or make changes to standard models, allowing a computer or laser to correctly cut out the desired item of apparel .. it could even become feasible to list the desired custom features and to then produce a car from them.”(Robert Anderson, Tofler281) But things have turned out differently. The notion of the ‘prosumer’ as a hybrid between producer and consumer did not come to pass so quickly. The individual commodity has remained an exception. The series continues to exist. But it has changed somewhat. Initially, flexible production has not been turend outward toward the consumer, but instead inward towards the organisation of production. There has been a transition from Ford’s rigid production modes to the logistics of variable production processes, undertaken on a large scale for the first time by Toyota. (Castells181)
Seriality is no longer dictated by the requirements of the manufacturer. It is instead a strategy of information. Information now reverts to style. Style in turn becomes the game plan of logistics. It finds an echo in a consumption that is emancipated from pure functionality. “Consumption, consequently, is above all the cinsumption of infromation.”(Lazzarato54) The basic structure of his information is to be found in the series and its apportionment of identity and distinction.


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