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Image Tracer
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2012
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The project Image Tracer by missdata stems out of an interest in the importance and presence of media images, moving around the internet ecosystem at an age in which the heart of representational economy is the mobile signifier. Image Tracer is a research tool that generates an archive out of images found through Google’s search engine, tracing their web address (URL), their appearance (or disappearance), and their ranking.

Today we are critically dependent upon digital memory, which has undermined our biological capacity to forget, turning remembrance into the default condition. Technological advances in digital storage capacities have resulted in a precision and efficiency that lead us to believe we can surpass our mortality. Google’s global server farm archives any query ever conducted through its search engine.[1] Google knows more about us than we ourselves can remember. Such a comprehensive memory makes us lost in details with no capacity to generalize and to develop, leaving us with the capacity to see a great many trees yet not the forest. Memory is our way of reconstructing the past. Faced with these storage capacities, human memory appears defective. And yet our physiological ability to forget allows us to get rid of excess memory: it lets bygones fade away, allowing us to appreciate as less important that which is irrelevant to the present. Under the new conditions of eternal memory, we cannot forget (nor forgive). Our dependence on digital memory also grants Google the capacity to change history. This, of course, is nothing new: control of information translates into control of individuals. This was the case during the centuries in which the Catholic Church controlled the sources of knowledge and the institutes of memory, up until the advent of print.

When a search for an image takes place through Google’s search engine, the Image Tracer runs a code that saves the results into a file, which is uploaded to a database and converted into a viewable page. These web pages serve as momentary snapshots. When another search is conducted, a new snapshot is added on top of the previous one, and so on, in a kind of archeological piling-up of information. The density of the image increases and decreases, reflecting its lifespan and ranking in any given format over time. An opaque image indicates constant presence and position across numerous searches, whereas a transparent and blurry image indicates changing ranks and a short internet-lifespan. The Image Tracer deviates from normal internet use by cataloguing and representing the information gathered in Google’s image search engine. Reviewing the changes an image undergoes across a time scale allows for a kind of analysis and thinking that let us “see the forest.”


 

 

 


 

[1] Google’s global server system contains over one hundred thousand terabytes (one hundred million gigabytes) of data.


 

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