Is it text or image?


This assignment had me thinking about a video that I recently watched (and then tweeted). The video was a graphics programming demo from 1993, and it reminded me just how much respect I have for graphics programmers.

You see, computers are naturally number machines. They like numbers and nothing else. That is, until ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) made conversion from numbers to text possible. Computers then reveled in words (at first only English, but the ASCII standard has grown to support every written language). Pictures, however, still posed a serious threat.

Computers, at the time of the first digital images, had only a few kilobytes of memory, about 32 colors, and screen resolutions maxing out at 320 x 240. A tiny picture could consume most of those resources, meaning there was no memory, screen space or color left for the computer to do anything else.

The solution? ASCII Art. In the absence of digital images, programmers became very savvy at utilizing collections of letters, punctuation, and other text decorations to create images. Since these were already stored within the computer, they took very little space and memory to use, and if ASCII Art is done right, it can supersede the image it is trying to imitate.


In the twenty-first century, we have seen ASCII Art invade our everyday lives in the form of emoticons (a portmanteau of emotion and icon).


This is essentially ASCII Art, the use of letters, words, punctuation, etc. as images. ASCII Art still goes on through out the world. One notable example is during the development of the video game Portal 2, Valve hid ASCII Art versions of screen shots from the game within the source code of their websites.


Magritte would probably note ASCII Art as the resemblance of text to an image, and that’s precisely what ASCII Art is; text attempting to be an image.


About cerrax

Butcher. Baker. Candlestick Maker. And world-class cheese.
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