10 Reading (for Week 11)

Actor Network Theory (ANT) has been mentioned in passing a few times this semester so let’s get our hands dirty here. This is Bruno Latour outlining via a very influential new media/internet studies email list, what ANT is. It is dense, difficult, full on high French post humanities theory. So, if you can’t get through it, it is imperative, essential, heck even demanded of you, to read the first section which runs over the first three pages and ends with the line “In this sense ANT is a reductionist and relativist theory, but as I shall demonstrate this is the first necessary step towards an irreductionist and relationist ontology.”

required reading

Schultz, Pit. Latour, Bruno: On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications 1/2. 11 Jan. 1998. E-mail. (PDF)

Unsymposium 0.7

Last week Brian left us with the intriguing “the 80/20 stuff isn’t what I think really matters in the chapter”, so we will begin this week with this prompt about what does then matter from the chapter.

And then:

  • We often forget that technological inventions are made within a society that has particular values. How does this context get embedded into the technology and shape the way it is used?
  • Does technique drive technology or does technology develop technique?
  • Are there limits to what we define as technology?
  • We’re used to the idea of the internet being characterised as a democratic, open, non-hierarchical technology and space: is Galloway arguing something that fundamentally challenges this?
  • Galloway notes that the future is already here but not uniformly distributed (paraphrasing William Gibson). How does this apply to a network like the internet?

Great questions, Buckley’s of getting through them in the 50 minutes.

Galloway, Protocol

Denham’s take away is:

I think this is the key point that I took out of this reading (most of it I didn’t fully understand), the idea that although the internet is commonly viewed as this chaotic, ruleless utopia/dystopia, there are still a very stringent set of protocols governing how we act on the internet and contribute to the network that it creates.

This is a good place to begin from. Galloway also argues from this that ‘protocol’ is how all of this is controlled, and that ‘protocol’ is how things get controlled today. He’d argue society, not just the internet, and at this point it is like the internet is the manifestation of a lot of other changes and ideas. Which I suppose begs the question of whether the internet has caused or accelerated this, or whether the internet responded to a cultural change?

Holly has an outstanding post that begins to think about protocol, lots of nice examples from outside the web to contextualise why and how protocol matters. Olivia picks up the tenor of ‘control societies‘ and worries about what that might mean.

Anna D has a fantastic post joining Galloway to the stuff about scale free networks, so that decentralisation doesn’t equal lack of strucure, and that what Galloway shows is how important protocol is (I’d suggest technical and social) to making this structure sensible to us. Protocol as an economy and ecology of control is ‘flat’, decentralised and possibly more democratic. I don’t know, but its structure is flat and there aren’t really centres, just processes of agreement that are in turn highly ordered (protocolesque) events. For instance anyone can write a RFC, and anyone can join the W3C and have a say in what protocols are defined for the internet. Anyone.

The Virtual

Danielle picks up the material parts of the internet and digital technology that I raised but thinks some of it must be virtual. We use ‘virtual’ to mean that we digitise stuff and once this was thought to make it ‘immaterial’ so what sort of media it was originally doesn’t matter to the system. A bit of video is the same as a bit of text to the network. That is true. Just data to be pumped around. But it is still stuff, and that is something that contemporary thinking in these areas is increasingly paying attention to. The other use is thinking that what is presented is virtual as an ersatz copy of something real. Except with digital stuff ubiquitous I’m not sure we gain much by thinking it is different. We don’t talk of cinema as virtual reality, and to my mind Second Life is anything but ‘real’!

Cultural Technology

Samuel, via Potts and Murphie, wonders where culture ends and technology begins. I think today, certainly in the first world, to think one is separate from the other has all the hallmarks of a myth of a golden age. Christopher uses the analogy of the city to think about technology and culture by making the city literally a CPU. Speculative thinking anyone? Rebecca on ‘technology as the habitat we live in‘. Georgia on how there is no clear definition available for culture or technology (which might suggest the best way to approach them is as systems, not objects).


Kate writes about the Potts and Murphie reading and wonders how we might even separate culture from technology. Increasingly I think the same thing, it just seems a romantic myth to think there is some ‘pure’ culture that lies outside of technology. What (seriously) would or could that be? Brittany makes the point that since technology is ubiquitous we live in technology, and is “an overarching system that we inhabit”. So, how over arching do you really think it is? Olivia pick up how the reading distinguishes between technique, technology, and culture. This is good as some key theorists in this area made a distinction between technique as a way of doing, and technology as machines that require techniques. Monika argues that culture is individual to the extent that “each individual following his [sic] own culture”. I’d suggest Potts and co don’t say this, and that culture to be culture has to be social and so shared. As individuals we might have ‘it’ but it is not an individual’s thing. We come into culture, we don’t create it as we wish it. Holly goes via the Romantic artists to think about technology (with a nod towards The Young Ones, what I would describe as punk TV) and culture. It’s a good way to approach it, and it also illustrates a range of political and cultural changes (the factories are now ‘somewhere else’, but technology is less of an outside evil than something well and truly inside). Denham provides a very good summary of the introduction, and yes, culture is a joyously dense word. Patrick recognises that the way we understand the word ‘technology’ has changed, as these things do, so an interesting question now is, in this sort of digital society, just what sort of work does the term now do for us? Why? Lina, as have several others, very much like Eno’s definition of culture as that which we don’t have to do. This is culture as what some others might define as luxury, not luxury as in a Rolex watch but luxury as in not essential to anything. Anna D has a summary of technology, technique, and culture. Alois wants to get into the details of older views of definition of culture that are premised on hierarchies. Good with that.