AbstractionMay 27, 2009 at 10:29 am | Posted in The Knave | Leave a comment
An abstraction is something that exists apart from concrete existence. In other words an abstract thing is more of an “unthing” than it is a thing at all. For example, Miranda Kerr exists. She is not an abstraction. Your love child with her does not exist. (Women, substitute your love child with George Clooney).
Abstractions can also be un-unthings, or things, that we understand in our culture to exist, but could not be concretely demonstrated to an outsider. For example, a rock is a thing. If an outsider were to ask me what a rock was, I could show her a rock. If she still didn’t understand what a rock was, I could simply hit her with it. Either way, problem solved.
However, the Internet is an abstraction, even though it is an un-unthing. There is an Internet. We all accept that the Internet exists, but you can’t point at something and say: “See that? The thing there with all the pornography? That’s the Internet.”
An outsider, let’s say a caveman named Grung, would not understand, because the Internet is a type of abstraction. I try to explain this to the stooped over man picking fleas from his pubic hair by saying that the Internet is brought to my home because I am part of a network connected to other networks full of digital data that can be transmitted electronically, but there is still nothing concrete I can show Grung.
To become less abstract, I drive him to my specific Internet Service Provider’s office (he rides on the roof rack, of course, because cavemen don’t shower) and point at the building, saying, “See that place? They feed on my porn addition by taking my money every month so I can access the Internet.” Grung understands the building, but not what goes on there. The ISP is still more the idea of a process than an actual thing.
Good ol’ Grung and I go to the nearest Starbucks and after he has defecated in the tip jar while the barista was not looking, I point out the various hipsters doing research on Wikipedia for the screen plays they are writing with their Macintoshes, while they giggle and point at the businessmen doing actual work on their PCs. “All of these people are using the Internet,” I tell Grung. “The emaciated fellow with green hair and a t-shirt reading ‘iWrite’ is on a Wikipedia site about cinema in East Timor and the girl with the three nose piercings and the tank top that reads ‘iBitch’ is on a website about stripping as a form of Feminist Power, which will be incorporated into her NaNoWriMo novel that she didn’t finish five months ago. That businessman wearing the Rush Limbaugh Power Tie is searching for information about how to remove the malware that infected Microsoft Vista when he visited a lyrics website, because he wanted to quote Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ in his PowerPoint presentation.” Grung understood none of this.
So, I take Grung home (making him run next to the car, because my roof is now filthy) and bring my laptop out to the yard where I show him Google.com. “This is my homepage on the Internet,” I say. Grung sees a plastic foldy thing with a picture of the letters G-o-o-g-l-e manipulated so that they are made out of marihuana leaves, blunts, and roach clips to celebrate the 20th of April. Grung seems to understand that the picture is a web page and I think I’ve finally gotten to the concrete from the abstract….
Unfortunately, the next day, when I visit Grung in the yard and show him my homepage again, the Google image, or “Googfiti”, shows the letters spelled out by a young naked boy murdering another young naked boy while suckling the teat of a she-wolf to commemorate the founding of Rome by Romulus and his murder of Remus. The idea of a web page such as google.com is still an abstraction: a concept of a specific Uniform Resource Locator, the content of which could change at any time.
Finally, I realized my mistake. The next day, the Googfiti was a penny with the words “In God We Trust” urinating on the part of the United States Constitution that reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” to commemorate the passage of the Coinage Act of 1864. I explained to Grung that the concrete part of the Internet was what he was seeing right now on the computer at which he was currently looking at this very moment. Right now, the Internet was Google.com and with a few clicks, the Internet could be a picture of Paris Hilton not wearing panties or a video of Susan Boyle singing show tunes in front of a British wanker smuggling peanuts under his black t-shirt.
Basically abstractions are complex unthings, such as ideas, made up of networks of actual observable things, such as rocks, and their relationships to one another. Does anyone want to adopt a caveman? – The Knave