|The Cultural Logic of Computation|
by noteworthy at 5:53 pm EDT, Apr 5, 2009
Lisa Gitelman on David Golumbia's new book:
Golumbia's argument is that contemporary Western and Westernizing culture is deeply structured by forms of hierarchy and control that have their origins in the development and use of computers over the last 50 years. I look forward to pressing this book on friends and colleagues, starting with anyone who has ever recommended The World is Flat to me.
Bill McKibben on Thomas Friedman:
Thomas Friedman is the prime leading indicator of the conventional wisdom, always positioned just far enough ahead of the curve to give readers the sense that they're in-the-know, but never far enough to cause deep mental unease.
You can read an excerpt from the first chapter.
|The Cultural Logic of Computation | Excerpts I|
by noteworthy at 5:54 pm EDT, Apr 5, 2009
This book is not about computers. It is instead about a set of widespread contemporary beliefs about computers -- beliefs that can be hard to see as such because of their ubiquity and because of the power of computers themselves. More specifically, it is about the methods computers use to operate, methods referred to generally as computation.
It wasn't just some silly adding machine or slide rule. Leibniz actually thought about symbolic logic and why it was powerful and how it could be put to use. He went from that to building a machine that could carry out logical operations on bits. He knew about binary arithmetic. I found that quite startling. Up till then I hadn't been that well informed about the history of logic and computing. I hadn't been aware that anyone was thinking about those things so far in the past.
In a time of the most extreme rhetoric of cultural change -- which does not, at the same time, accompany a concomitant recognition of the possibilities for radical cultural difference -- the need for resistance to the rhetoric of novelty seems especially pressing, not least when such claims are so often based on willful avoidance of the existence of analogous phenomena in the recent historical past. Networks, distributed communication, personal involvement in politics, and the geographically widespread sharing of information about the self and communities have been characteristic of human societies in every time and every place: a burden of this book is to resist the suggestion that they have emerged only with the rise of computers. In a familiar phrase whose import we sometimes seem on the verge of forgetting: the more things change, the more things stay the same.
From the archive:
It is ironic: people don't notice that noticing is important!
I am convinced that from the perspective of the individual, and maybe even from the perspective of informal social groups, the empowering effects of computerization appear (and may even be) largely salutary. But from the perspective of institutions, computerization has effects that we as citizens and individuals may find far more troubling. Here, computationalism often serves the ends of entrenched power despite being framed in terms of distributed power and democratic participation.
From the archive, on the culture of the new capitalism:
The widespread use of enterprise systems has given top managers much greater latitude to direct and control corporate workforces, while at the same time making the jobs of everyday workers and professionals more rigid and bleak.
|The Cultural Logic of Computation | Excerpts II|
by noteworthy at 5:55 pm EDT, Apr 5, 2009
I argue that we must also keep in mind the possibility of de-emphasizing computerization, resisting the intrusion of computational paradigms into every part of the social structure, and resisting too strong a focus on computationalism as the solution to our social problems.
PowerPoint doesn't kill meetings. People kill meetings. But using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it.
The wave of upbeat "democratization of information" writers seem to look almost exclusively at what one might think of as the "good side" of the web, and in so doing nearly ignore the countervailing tendencies that undermine the movements they champion. These writers also endorse a radical populism that around the world only sometimes aligns itself with democratic social justice.
I beseech you, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, to think it possible you may be mistaken.
How do we guarantee that computers and other cultural products are not so pleasurable that they discourage us from engaging in absolutely necessary forms of social interaction? I see the current emphasis on the "social web" as not so much an account of a real phenomenon as it is a reaction to what we all know inside -- that computers are pulling us away from face-to-face social interactions and in so doing removing something critical from our lived experience.
Chimerica is really the key to how the global financial system works, and has been now for about a decade. Both sides stand to lose from a breakdown of Chimerica, which is why both sides are affirming a commitment to it. The Chinese believe in Chimerica maybe even more than Americans do. They have nowhere else to go.
It is legitimate and even necessary to operate as if it is possible that computationalism will eventually fail to bear the philosophical-conceptual burden that we today put on it. We have to learn how to critique even that which helps us.
Noam Cohen's friend:
Privacy is serious. It is serious the moment the data gets collected, not the moment it is released.
For at least one hundred years and probably much longer, modern societies have been built on the assumption that more rationality and more techne (and more capital) are precisely the solutions to the extremely serious problems that beset our world and our human societies. Yet the evidence that this is not the right solution can be found everywhere.
Rationality will not save us.