Marxian materialism in a nutshell:
The subject exists as constant adjustment to the extra-subjective.
Here’s a timely example. Think about how you value the substance of your secreted words when you posit them materially (chisel, paint, manually punch into paper) as opposed to how you value them when you “enter” them into a motherboard and behold them on a screen.
When materially posited, the ontological being of the word CAT is a marriage of outward effort and material resistance. Then word CAT comes to be on physical paper when I paint (handwrite) or stamp (manually type) it with a pen or metal shape. In the case of material production, the being of the thing in the thing is the negative or positive effect of my impact on reality.
My magick pushes my fingers, my fingers push a pen or key, and this stamps, scrapes, or smears a letter—say, C. My living will, in all its analog variation, incarnates via the indenting of paper, the scraping of wood, or the smearing of ink. My trembling and keyed up consciousness makes its way into the physical stuff of the symbol due to immediate contact. My fluid and meat press against the clay and through this the symbol arises as the negative mold of my action. I exist in the thing as its accidents.
Not so with the digital symbol. Every C is the same. It can be multiplied by trillion in a second. It does not actually exist, except as an abstraction—a set of bits. Each copy is original; there is no material descent, indeed no materiality.
It exists as an abstraction imputed upon another abstraction—a set. A set of bits, which are charges. Every letter is doubly empty, for the substrate of charges and the array of pixels displayed are independent.
It only occasionally manifests to visible appearance on the screen.
Does the C exist when stored in a flattened state? Its existence then is only functional and conditional. In this ontological rest-state the C exists as a potential pixel configuration, stored as a set of bits. But even that does not exist in the normal way, which is where particular existence is a necessary condition of its actual existence—because the same set of charges can exist in the same positions in a chip and never effect a C on a monitor.
Its other meaning comes from being a causal determinant inside a formal system of transformation rules. A number is tied to the factors (and result) of an arithmetic operation. And what about when it is not actually involved in an operation, or result, or being presented on the screen?
In all states and ways, the C exists as a unifying abstraction imputed on a substrate that is not a homogeneous foundation but in mode of pratītyasamutpāda (interdependent processual co-arising). If a thing had svabhāva (own-being: inherent or self-supplied existence) then it would arise from its own nature. A digital symbol is a collection of bits whose functional meaning rests on the network of its differential relations to other collections of bits in a machine where bits are both content and engine.
But symbols, like physical units, are actually nodes in an infinite network of dependencies on everything outside of it. Every unit exists embedded in a network of dependency relations with everything else in the system (and if we consider the matter in the motherboard, the universe).
Plus, all beings-in-time are descendants. Every “thing” is a cross-section of a knotty braided traces.
Anyway, because you know about this difference, your SELF changes according to whether you hack the symbol into existence or whether you flip its existence switch. Also, your SELF changes in tandem with the nature of the thing—whether its being is identical to the matter that presents it or if it has a functional (non-)existence that can be (re)produced everywhere.