About Process


A number of poets and scholars--such as Mez, Memmott, Hayles, and Cayley--have explored the impact of code on digital texts. In much digital literature, code is presented as an infecting, obfuscating influence on human language, understandable only as a kind of creole. In discussion, code is described as either lacking the symbolic aspects of human language (at best) or fully devoid of meaning (at worst).

Process is a response to this. I hold that programming languages exist primarily for human readers. Computers can only process machine code--a series of 1s and 0s. However, humans find writing such code extremely tedious. Instead, they have devised a number of programming languages, each particularly well-suited to handling the tasks within a certain domain. Besides a great diversity of languages to choose from, a programmer may also define new variables and functions within a single language, thereby increasing her ability to express her intentions. Yet every one of these programming languages must be translated back into simple machine code before it can be executed by a computer.

Most programming languages in general use are imperative. They consist of a number of directives that produce certain actions or states in the computer. But other categories of languages exist that are more descriptive. For example, XML code can be used to define entities and their attributes; and RDF, a core technology of the Semantic Web, provides a mechanism for describing relationships between such entities in a machine-readable way.

All the pieces in Process are in imperative programming languages. In their full form, all are complete code: they can be compiled into executable machine code. Yet despite describing a series of computer operations, they can also provide subtle comment on human experience.


Each Process begins with a segment of code, a "code poem" of sorts. Most well-written code includes comments to other human readers that outline the intentions of certain blocks of code. You can reveal these code comments, as well as explore all the code required in order to compile the segment. Finally, a commentary--like an interpreter's footnote--offers some explanation of what the segments is doing.

Process requires a browser that supports both CSS and JavaScript. It has been tested on both Firefox 1.0 and IE 6.0 on WindowsXP.


Each Process went through basically the same stages of creation. First, the basic idea is sketched out on a legal pad. Then the full code is written and run. Often, this test code will either include extra print statements or need to be run in a debugger to check that the code is really doing what it should be doing. Then the code is marked up with HTML tags, and the commentary is added. The most time-consuming part of creation has been learning basic JavaScript and DOM methods as this is my first attempt at DHTML.

Main Page, rough draft
Main Page,
rough draft.
Procrastination, rough draft
rough draft.
Romance, deleted
a Unix-based Process that never made it through the sketch phase.

--Zach Tomaszewski, 11 May 2006