ENIAC Display

Displaying Displays: A Praxeological Analysis of Computer Screens

Workshop »Screen Operations«

Berlin, 13-14 July 2016
Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik

This paper argues that digital computing is sustainably organized by the agency of visual displays. A praxeological analysis based on Harold Garfinkels “net-work theory” reveals that the operability of the first programmable digital general-purpose computers is based on three properties that are characteristic of computing today: the non-representational, public and discrete nature of computer screens. This means that something can be read off the display that wasn’t originally intended. The first digital computer display (see ENIAC display above) targets the comprehensible representation of digit positions rather than the readability of digital numbers. Its purpose is not the semantic interpretation of primary information; its importance is constituted at the level of secondary information, through which a praxeological path structure is revealed. These three praxeological characteristics mean that the technical constitution of the first computer displays is designed for the user’s structural incorporation. The first digital computers already have properties that we ascribe to social media today.