Image Objects: Computer Graphics and Object Orientation

Jacob Gaboury
The term ‘computer graphics’ was first coined in 1960 by William Fetter, an art director working for Boeing. In 1964, Fetter was the first person to model the human figure using a computer. ‘Boeing Man’, as he has come to be known, was intended to model the human form and provide adaptable representations for use in ergonomic simulations, in other words, to create a digital model of a physical object in order to simulate real-world interaction. One year prior, in 1963, Ivan Sutherland defended his PhD at MIT. Titled Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System, it outlined the first complete graphical user interface that allowed the user to create and manipulate lines and shapes directly on the screen of the computer, organising them into ‘objects’ that could later be recalled and ‘instances’ that could be manipulated en masse. Between 1962 and 1967 Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard developed the Simula programming language at the Norwegian Computing Centre in Oslo. As its name implies, Simula was developed for simulating discrete event systems, and first introduced concepts such as objects, classes, subclasses, virtual methods, coroutines, discrete event simulation, and garbage collection to programming languages. It is considered the first object-oriented programming language.


Beginning in the 1960s there is a shift in the field of computer science from computation as procedural, end-driven, linear calculation, toward a kind of computation through simulation – of simulating a world comprised of self-contained, constructed objects that are capable of discrete forms of interaction. These objects are nameable, actionable, visualisable, and are meant to replicate real world engagement with a knowable object world. While in the past computing had largely been concerned with the procedural computation of information about the world, and in solving problems derived from information taken from real world contexts, this shift marks a move to digitise the physical world so that it can be made subject to a system of simulation. Through this process of digitisation, the world is limited, made discrete and knowable, and can be used to model virtual scenarios that may be translated back into the physical world.


Over the last fifty years this simulation-logic has come to dominate the way we produce and engage with the objects that make up our world. In the same way computer graphics are used to model the function of real-world objects, object-orientation mimics the physical and linguistic object-relations of the human world. In doing so it interfaces the human with the nonhuman, as through interface “users are made to inhabit the space and medium of the other objects and are treated as objects themselves” (Alt 297). Users are disciplined so that they may be interfaced with the object-network. And yet these object-oriented systems also produce nonhuman forms of affective engagement, in that the object-actants shift and adapt in response to an engagement with the system like a swarm. Much as objects in a swarm are engaged in a process of affective sensing and adaptation, “software is… a body of code being executed, existing through that temporal unfolding in technological and other milieus and support (or afford) its existence” (Parikka 165-166). In this way object-oriented systems are both structures of highly networked control and examples of a non-human ontology that nonetheless contain the human within itself, “a nonhuman that traverses the human, that runs through the human” (Galloway and Thacker 141).

Works cited

Alt, Casey. “Objects of Our Affection: How Object Orientation Made Computers a Medium” in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Galloway, Alex, and Eugene Thacker. The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

Parikka, Jussi. Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010. Print.

Sutherland, Ivan. Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System. New York: Garland Publishers, 1980. Print.

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