We are facing Yet Another New Polemic (YANP) as technology further seeps into every crack and crease of our daily living. The online self is pitted against real life, as though, at some nebulous and ridiculously trite level, we could carve a graphite line delineating the real versus the digital.
Nothing new. We've seen it before haven't we? The age old Mind versus Body dualism. The fallacy of Nurture versus Nature. And arguably even the polemic Eurowesternized culture sees with time on the Forwards versus Backwards scale.
In all cases, the model fundamentally underpins and serves as a catalyst of secondary theorizing. But given a fatally flawed model, secondary conjecture would appear equally flawed.
This post attempts to illustrate a concern I have regarding the newest Digital versus Real dualism, but in a manner I have yet to see expressed.
Of Signs and Signified
Signs attempt to express the construct of the signified.
For every McDonalds a golden arch. For every Nike a swoosh. For every four letter word that defines "bird" a complex series of neural firings that embody a particular thought of bird.
Not all birds. Not a particular bird. A carefully crafted notion of "birdness" in the subject's mind. This "birdness" lay in the subjective reality of the individual.
At the simplest formation, Saussure's sign and signified.
Of Data and Signs
So what then do we have to pin notions of signs upon in the digital realm? Data is probably the lowest level of abstraction here.
Data has the ability to represent signs. "Bird" is nothing more than a series of bytes in the system. A vector drawing of "birdness" can also be represented quite easily in an equal series of bytes. And on and on.
Of Data and Signified
Data as sign is no large mental leap, nor is it to leap further to the signified.
Within this however, is an interesting recursion.
A digitally crafted artwork might be recursively viewed as the purely signified, even more so with heavily abstracted works. A Twitter wedding stream might see purely digital interactions that, while referring to a more outside "reality", are entirely predicated and induced by the strictly digital interaction.
Of Data and Systems
Interestingly, and largely the subject of this post, data appears to go one step further. If signs and signified are elements, data can also be leveraged to express the superset. Data can be used to define the system they operate in.
The RGB values of an image are, in one breath, both signs of the "birdness" via a representation of image and simultaneously a description of the wavelengths of light to be expressed. An internalized process must define how and what those data values mean, and offer a system of translation to represent them accordingly. An internalized semiotic system if you will.
The Big Questions
The question I have is, if one seeks to disentangle the simplistic notion of Digital versus Real, the individual at some point must collapse the almost quantum-like entanglement from a ball of fuzz down to finite position.
Where is such a divide for those that cling to the YANP of the Digital versus the Real?
Where does data expressly refer to only the real? Further, are there examples where data recursively only refers to the digital? In the case of the latter, does it offer a branch of unreality?
Where do we concretely isolate the purely digital text message from the reality of the meeting at the restaurant? (Or does causality not figure into this Digital Dualism?)
Where does the Twitter feed part from reality and into a purely recursive and reflexive communication of digital signifieds?
Is it possible that with the advent of computing and data that we have entered a Saussure++ phase of semiotics where Sign and Signified are now interacting with a dynamic System? Or, alternatively, does it merely expose the previous system in ways that Derrida and Foucault might have already hinted?
And why do we as thought machines insist on a broken paradigm to prop up the vestiges of a broken paradigm? Does exposing the Real versus Digital expose a (Foucault) system of power pitting the digital as somehow "less real" or "unreal"? Is this othering the digital?
Is it vertigo from the turtles all the way down?
 For interested parties, Nathan Jurgenson over at Cyborgology has been deconstructing the notion of the Digital Dualism and has a large body of interesting thought on the matter.
 Another discussion that probably involves Derrida and deconstruction of constructed realities is in order but beyond the scope of this post.
 Of course the transport of said data could be seen as a critical aspect of this semiotic system. Mr. Mcluhan and Mr. Baudrilliard's words probably would need to invoked within that context.