2018-2019 HTDTWT Seminar Ana Teixeira Pinto - Feedback Forms
We call our age the information age; Bill Gates talks about the digital nervous system; we tend to describe the internet as if it were a sentient being, endowed with agency; our hetero-affective devices double as control mechanisms whilst curating our browsing activities; our material objects are permeated by information flows, from the DNA code to financial algorithms; we fantasize about immersive environments in which our neural activities would be directly linked onto networks.
Digital technologies provide us not simply with the tools but also with the body of metaphors we use to describe our situation. Within this planetary fusion of surveillance and spectacle, communication is a source of control. The cultural logic of the information age is predicated on an inversion of the gaze: The screen or interface, as Jonathan Crary noted, ‘is both the object of attention and (the object) capable of monitoring, recording and cross-referencing attentive behaviour’.(1)
This nexus of communication and control, which is by now ubiquitous, was first articulated by behaviourism, cybernetics and information theory. Cybernetics is a science of prediction, it models future actions based on past-behaviour ––like the NSA, credit rating agencies or health insurance providers. For cybernetics control means prediction: as such the theory implies a model of temporality within which the past is a standing reserve of information, waiting to be mined.
By literally conflating the nervous system with financial, social and political systems, cybernetics was also the first discipline to correlate neural nets and computer networks, confounding the meaning of information and life. These are the epistemic materials our current lifeworld is made of, and in the present seminar we will survey its history, starting with behaviourism, the theory from which cybernetics borrowed its physiology.
Coextensively with this historical survey, we will also look into current developments, of a political rather than technological nature. The ethos of the tech industry transmogrified in recent years, shifting from the market-besotted optimism championed by Bill Gates to the digital feudalism represented by Big Data. The most salient feature of the far-right movement, which became known as the alt-right is its relation with IT, rather than with the diminished expectations of the post-industrial working class. If every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution,(2) the rise of cryptofascist tendencies within the tech industry could be said to bear witness to the failures of the “digital revolution,” whose promises of a post-scarcity economy and socialized capital never came to pass.
Kerry W. Buckley, Mechanical Man—John Broadus Watson and the Beginnings of Behaviorism(New York: Guilford Press, 1989)
John A. Mills, Control—A History of Behavioral Psychology(New York: NYU Press, 1998)
Mindell, Segal and Gerovitch, “Cybernetics and Information Theory in the United States, France and the Soviet Union,” in Science and Ideology: A Comparative History(London: Mark Walker Ed. Routledge, 2003)
Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak—A History of Soviet Cybernetics(Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 65.
Paul N. Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997)
Orit Halpern, Beautiful Data: a History of Vision and Reason since 1945(Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 200
Varela, Thompson and Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, The MIT Press, 1992
Katherine Hayles, How We Became Post Human-Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, The University of Chicago Press, 1999
Orit Halpern, The Smart Mandate, in Nervous Systems-Quantified Life and the Social Question, Spector Books, 2015
Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999)
Philip Mirowski Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science, (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
Zakiyyah Iman Jackson,Outer Worlds: The Persistance of Race in Movement Beyond the Human, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Queer Inhumanisms, Edited by Mel Y. Chen and Dana Luciano (Volume 21, Numbers 2-3, June 2015)
Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings, Chapter on Paranoia (Harvard University Press, 2005)
Colin Campbell, The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularization(AltaMira Press, 2002)
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, The Californian Ideology(Mute, Issue 3, Autumn 1995)
David Golumbia, Bitcoin as Politics, Moneylab Reader, Ed. By Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures 2015)