My interests in technology during this time have taken on a philosophical tone, exploring the calculations involved in predicting relevance, value, and (more problematically) serendipity. On a less public level, I’ve also been asking whether it is possible to calculate and predict relationships and identity. I have developed a digital literacy of software criticism that I feel is important in how we deal with technology in our everyday lives.
In the process, I have asked, again and again, whether it is possible for a binary, logical, calculating machine to reproduce these intrinsically human phenomena, and have noted, again and again, that – whatever the answer – we quite happily devolve the responsibility for these social and psychological constructs to computers.
My report on the last three years of research is published today. It includes a call to arms for people unwilling to be “technofundamentalists” in awe of and at the mercy of machines.
The Personal (Computer) Is Political outlines what I feel is the most important issue facing us as society as we continue to tangle our lives in with machines – and indeed, the cause for our greatest conflict with the new technologies: we know how to read a piece of media because we are taught this in school, yet we do not yet know how to read software. It remains a mystery; the answer lies with the man behind the curtain.
Embedded in code is the ideology of the developer who wrote it, the zeitgeist of the social environment in which is was inspired and fabricated. It displays the same tell-tale signs of other cultural artefacts – from films to fashion to art and architecture – yet we tend to blindly consume what it is we’re delivered, ignoring the agendas that lie under the surface.
At the end of the report, I propose several recommendations for developers, for policy makers, for educators and for everyday consumers. They call for a critical analysis of the software we use, to recognise that the person we are on screen is not the person we are off, and that little tweaks in code can fundamentally change who we feel we are, how we interact and what we have access to.
As Rebecca MacKinnon commented in her book Consent of the Networked: “We know how power works offline, but we don’t know how power works on the web.” So who are the architects of the 21st century? This report offers one view on this question, and challenges readers to question and demand.
To be able to fully participate in our physical and digital communities requires a range of actions and understanding. The value of the technical skills of coding and programming and the creativity of making and designing digital products are well understood, but at the heart of our ambition to support young people’s digital making is understanding how digital technologies are made. This understanding can come about through the process of digital making, or of tinkering with existing digital products, but it is this understanding that is so important.
In this paper, Dr Aleks Krotoski explores the importance of such issues, looking at how an understanding of how digital tools are made can help us recognise how they afford, constrain and mediate our everyday actions.
I would like to extend my thanks to Dan Sutch at The Nominet Trust for his support in this project.