According to Vilém Flusser, a code is “a sign system arranged in a regular pattern” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography , 2000, p. 83); as a whole, a fabric of symbols called a “culture” that has been made by human beings (hence the “genetic code” is not part of it).
Flusser looks at Western civilization in the light of its current crisis, which presents itself as a crisis of the alphabetic code and of linear writing. With the invention of photography and lm, and speeded up even more by the advent of digital technical images (Technobilder), the alphabetic code is being pushed out by new, postalphabetic codes which are more efcient for the production, storage, distribution, and decoding of information.
The code of technical images derives from the alphabetic code, since, according to Flusser, photography, lm, video, and computer images are the result of scientic texts, particularly from the elds of chemistry and optics, and later from electronics and computer science. Even so, we have not yet learned how to deal with the new codes. Whereas László Moholy-Nagy could still pronounce the dictum that the illiterates of the future would not be those who cannot read, but those who cannot photograph (Moholy-Nagy, quoted in: Benjamin, “Little History of Photography,” in: Selected Writings, vol. 2, 1999, p. 527; Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, Fotografie, Film, 1925), Flusser’s central issue, freedom in the age of digital codes, is even more contentious.
Just as in the beginning of text-based culture it was the literati who dominated the new code of writing, today it is the programmers of image- generating apparatuses who encode culture, both Western and Eastern. They as well – usually collectively working authors of linear texts (which have now become auxiliary texts) – create a gigantic literature of code hidden in the apparatuses and their applications. Uncovering, decoding, and recoding this literature of code is the act of freedom that Flusser calls “playing against the camera” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, p. 80). It is a tricky game: The programmers of the iPhone are more powerful than Günter Grass.