BitRot

2002, 2004
Variable Dimensions
Interactive Computer Installation and on-line 3D environment

“bit rot” : n. A hypothetical disease of binary data, using an analogy to radioactive decay to explain the way that computer programs and files seem to get corrupted or stop working over time even if “nothing has changed.”

BitRot is an exploration of the concept of digital decay and the effects of time in virtual environments. In computer simulations, 3D animation, or computer games, we see a furious push for ever greater visual approximations of reality. However, one significant difference between reality and even the most precise virtual environment is that the virtual environment does not age. A building in a VR world won’t suffer the effects of time; if you ‘die’ in a video game, you can just restart. One of the primary hopes of digital information is that it will escape the limited lifespan of physical storage media. This hint of immortality is one of the core driving forces behind the allure of virtuality.

But this is now a world of actions without consequences, and without time as we understand it. A world without decay tends towards complete stasis, which is its own kind of entropy. Mortality and awareness of mortality is one of the things which makes us human. When we imagine transcending this core human attribute, it is always with great uneasiness – vampires, golems, Frankenstein’s monster, automatons, robots, clones – the “un-dead” – provoke a distinct sense of the uncanny as they are alive yet in some crucial way NOT alive.

BitRot introduces these fundamental characteristics of the physical world into the virtual realm by both simulating material decay and introducing pure digital decay in the form of algorithmic decomposition on the data itself. This process is manifested through virtual fruit and flowers, displayed in full-color realtime 3d graphics. The virtual still-life “rots” over a duration of time, both in a precomputed simulation of actual rotting and through a degradation of the code and data. BitRot has been displayed as an interactive computer installation and as a 3d web environment.