Media History Exchange, 2018 Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

Font Size: 
Colors of Error: From the Goddess of Discord to Digital Processing
Carolyn Kane

Last modified: 2017-11-30


In a world esteeming technological efficiency, progress and control, glitches, errors and breakdown are avoided at great cost. When such elements or unintelligible artifacts do appear, they are quickly removed, banished from the domain of official experience and practice. How strange this disavowal seems then, given the growing popularity of “glitch” styles in everything from Silicon Valley’s “Fast Fail” rhetoric, mass-media special effects and digital aesthetics.

Understanding glitch and failure’s “anti-communicative” styles, this paper argues, turns on a consideration of context, technics, and history. This paper performs this labor by analyzing error and failure through a two-fold articulation of historical instances of glitch, failure, and error in aesthetic, technological, and socio-economic systems. While notions of error first appeared in antiquity through theories of human lack and limitation, in the modern era, “error” was projected onto command and control technologies in mechanical reproduction, industrial capitalism, and consumerism. Scientific positivism and statistical analysis in the nineteenth century furthered this trend, which continues through the rise of digital signal processing in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The story of failure and error, the paper concludes, turns on a perpetual struggle between denial and proliferation.

Keywords: Failure, noise, technological history of error, industrialization, human–machine relations, capitalism, information theory, communications


An account with this site is required in order to view papers. Click here to create an account.