I should probably know this, but I don’t – perhaps you can help me? Do the LCD screens we use today still refresh 30 times a second or whatever the way projectors and old screens used to?

See, Michael Joyce writes:

The computer is always reread, an unseen beam of light behind the electronic screen replacing itself with itself at thirty cycles a second. Print stays itself–I have said repeatedly–electronic text replaces itself.

That’s evocative, but is it strictly true anymore? There’s certainly no longer a beam of light shot at the screen from behind as in cathode ray screens, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure quite how LCD screens do work. Just little sort of diodes or something? (Yeah I know go look it up. But the sun’s shining (!) so I’m going outside instead.)

10 thoughts on “does electronic text still INSERT itself?

  1. Sindre

    As I can remember, LCD displays keep their state, the pixels have physical
    addresses that the GPU uses to change the state of individual pixels. So a pixel keeps its state as long as the GPU sends the same signal, no refreshing. However the confusion might occur
    because LCD displays have response times. It refers to how long it takes a pixel
    to change it’s state, this has sometimes been referred to as refresh lag or simiar.

  2. Liz Lawley

    (Um, that is, “yep” in response to the comment, not “yep” that LCDs refresh the same way CRTs did.)

  3. Jill

    Oh great, thanks guys! From that wikipedia article:

    while a phosphor on a CRT will begin to dim as soon as the electron beam passes it, LCD cells open to pass a continuous stream of light, and do not dim until instructed to produce a darker color.

    So Michael Joyce’s statement about electronic text doesn’t hold any more. Sort of a pity…

  4. Matt K.

    Of course Michael was also trying to capture something more general about electronic text and electronic culture, what he called elsewhere (I forget where, exactly) “the anticipatory state of constant nextness.” The beauty of the “replaces itself” formulation is that it was based in technical ground truth. On the other hand, I’ve argued that this is ultimately a false dichotomy: textual scholars have long understood that print is perfectly capable of “replacing itself,” and our fixiation on the fluidity and ephemerality of electronic text speaks to what I’ve called a Romantic ideology, more lately a *medial* ideology.

  5. Jill

    It was such a beautiful statement, yes – Matt, where have you argued this? I expect I may have read it but just forgotten where…

  6. Matt K.

    Check here for the short version:


    And my forthcoming Mechanisms (MIT) for the (much) longer version. 😉

  7. Jill

    Thanks Matt – I think I have read that (or maybe part of it was in a blog post, it’s familiar, anyway) but I hadn’t connected it to the Joyce quote – excellent 🙂 Looking forward to your book!

  8. Mark Bernstein

    Joyce’s argument is essentially unchanged.

    The significant way in which text replaces itself is through the link. CRT phosphor refreshing doesn’t really matter; indeed, persistence of vision means that most people seldom or never perceived it.

    But hypertext — both navigational and stretchtext — does promise that the text we now see will be replaced by whatever we see next. In the codex, we turn the page — and we know that page is still sitting there, unchanged, beneath our fingers. But, on the screen, where are the flowers of yesteryear?

    In print, we are absolutely certain that we can turn back to the previous page, and that it will be the same artifact we saw moments before. (This certainty has limits: we might die before we can turn the page, or our two-year-old be about to tip a pot of India ink onto the book.) In hypertext, the back button may work but it might not; we might be taken to a different page. Perhaps the page has been updated on the server. Perhaps it was computed for our benefit, and now a new and different page will be computed for us. Perhaps it’s a video stream into which you cannot step twice. So, I disagree with Matt: Joyce is identifying a real difference, it’s not merely romantic ideology.

    But this difference is a minor gloss — just as Joyce’s adjacent observation of the recto/verso rhythms of the codex book is a gloss. Yes, books have left-hand (verso) pages and right-hand (recto) pages, and yes, that does contribute in some way to the experience of reading. But nobody really cares very much about page breaks, and a sonnet, whether printed on the recto or the verso or written on the wall, is still pretty much the same.

  9. Espen

    For a textual medium that truly replaces itself, how about TV?

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