Plaintext Performance

Plain text does not contain information about text sizes or styles, and it is the most efficient way to store text. It supports standard ASCII characters, including numbers, symbols, and spaces, but does not support any text formatting. This allows it to take up less than half the size of rich text documents containing the same number of characters. This is why log files, which contain a “log” of data generated by a program, are typically stored in a plain text format.

Plaintext Performance

With the browser window open, and JavaScript enabled, a screen of plain text scrolls up and down the content static piece. This jerky scrolling movement continues even if a user decides to scroll manually. Originally, the piece was performed live by Bjørn Magnhildøen in 2006, who would combine the phrases he typed, algorithmic writing, and feeds from various automated computer processes like net connection monitoring and ftp logs. Now that it is accessible on the web, the jerky animation is used to replicate Bjørn’s performance, and gives the piece a feeling that it is living. 

JavaScript and HTML are both used to play with plain text format in this piece. The JavaScript scrolls the text up and down in the browser window. The HTML text is the bulk of the piece’s content, coming in various forms: File Lists from within the operating system, ISBN numbers of books, ASCII Text Art that was wildly popular in 2006, as well user generated text of various commands and comments. With just JavaScript, HTML, in the plain text form, these traditional digital processes and the old-fashioned medium are both still present in the applications and programs we use today in 2014.

The feeling we get when experiencing this piece is similar to the first time we opened up in TextEdit, the HTML in of a website, or a code document from a program. We feel overwhelmed by this unfamiliar form and of a language we may not fully understand, but we accept that its purpose is to allow us to use the technology the way we do now. We are cautious not to touch the keyboard, and to quickly close the window and leave as if we were children who accidently stumbled into the “do not enter” section of a museum. And yet, the more time we spend there, the more curious we become to understand how it works.

Although the content of the piece does come together to create a narrative or have any function, plaintext is an effective medium to express this back end language in the digital landscape. In the form it is presented to us, we are left to imagine where its content originates. Is the text inputted by another human being, a program, or are they both the authors?