Whether read by humans or read by machines, our digital texts betray us. In a time when the NSA is undermining the encryption tools of its own corporate allies, not to mention gathering the communications of its citizens, it seems that no matter how they are encoded, decoded, encrypted, keyed, visually misshapen, or otherwise transformed, text-based communications in a digital network have nowhere to hide. There in the words, in the sequence of the letters and numbers themselves, lies one’s financial details, their psychological state, their deviant inclinations, and even their literary tendencies—open to algorithm and interpretation.
Hiding messages in plain sight requires ingenuity, as seen in secret languages from hobo code to leet. But eluding detection in massively networked digital systems can require much more radical evasive action. What kind of secret language systems can be designed in response to these conditions? What might message delivery, encoding methods, or decoding rituals look like? Can we imagine a poetics of encryption? How are our basic concepts about texts altered when the role of form is to hide the content? What happens to writing when using the alphabet is simply too risky?
Faculty: Anne Burdick, Elise Co, and Tim Durfee