[Mirrored at hastac.org.]
For #acwrimo/#digiwrimo I’ve decided to read David Golumbia’s The Cultural Logic of Computation, and post about it here and on Twitter throughout the month (I’ll be using the hashtag #CLOCread.
I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. One, because I got into an interesting conversation on Twitter this morning about Simon C. Wong’s article in the NYTimes on whether technology was changing the way that students learn. Most teachers, according to the article, fear that tech is detrimental — it leads to situations where students spend class surreptitiously texting, and rush to uncritically harvest answers from Wikipedia.
Neither of these fears are new — but in the last couple of years, as I’ve studied and learned more about metacognition (and how to encourage it in course structure); and taken a good hard look at perfectionism and failure, and how I’ve been socialized to respond to them, my response to these fears has changed. I think it’s more complicated: to wit, if students are rushing to Wikipedia, it indicates how uncomfortable they are with not understanding instantly. The temptation to text constantly demonstrates just how unsocial our educational system has become — regardless of whether we’re sitting in classrooms with other people.
In short, tech may exacerbate those problems — but it’s not the cause of them. And thus, blanket statements to the effect of “technology is the answer!” or “technology will ruin everything,” are both problematic. And yet, they dominate edtech coverage in the mainstream media.
Golumbia’s book explores the far more complex middle ground. Here’s what the blurb from Harvard U Press says about it:
Do computers by definition set us free? Advocates make sweeping claims for their inherently transformative power: new and different from previous technologies, their widespread use constitutes a fundamental shift in our orientation towards established power, and by their very existence they effect positive political change in an “open,” “democratic” direction. Just keep in mind that the people who hold real power are probably OK with you thinking that.
In The Cultural Logic of Computation, David Golumbia, software-design veteran turned Professor of English, Media Studies, and Linguistics at the University of Virginia, confronts this orthodoxy, arguing instead that computers are cultural “all the way down”—that there is no part of the apparent technological transformation that is not shaped by historical and cultural processes, or that escapes existing cultural politics. From the perspective of transnational corporations and governments, computers enable the exercise of already-existing power much more fully than they provide the masses with means to distribute or contest it. Despite this, our thinking about computers has ossified into an ideology, nearly invisible in its ubiquity, that Golumbia dubs “computationalism”—an ideology that shapes our thinking not just about computers, but about economic and social trends as sweeping as globalization.
Driven by a programmer’s knowledge of computers as well as by a deep engagement with contemporary literary and cultural studies and poststructuralist theory, The Cultural Logic of Computation establishes a forceful and considered corrective to the glib, uncritical enthusiasm for computers that dominates the popular cultural discourse around them.
I’ve only just started reading the introduction (and written this blog post, twice now, since the HASTAC server ate it once, and my friend Matt Schneider pointed me to Lazarus) — but I’m impressed so far. I really wish I’d had this when I was teaching this quarter’s Demystifying Digital Humanities workshops at UW; and I’ll certainly work it into the winter and spring sessions.
Here’s the schedule I’m planning to post on for the rest of the month. If you’d like to join me, I’d love the company — whether you’re posting on your own blog, or here, or just commenting; or even just following along via the #CLOCread hashtag.
Nov. 1: Ch. 1: The Cultural Functions of Computation
Nov. 4: Ch. 2: Chomsky’s Computationalism
Nov. 8: Ch. 3: Genealogies of Philosophical Functionalism
Nov. 11: Ch. 4: Computationalist Linguistics
Nov. 16: Ch. 5: Linguistic Computationalism
Nov. 21: Ch. 6: Computation, Globalization, and Cultural Striation
Nov. 24: Ch. 7: Computationalism, Striation, and Cultural Authority
Nov. 27: Chs. 8-9: Computationalism and Political Individualism // Computationalism and Political Authority
Nov. 30: Epilogue: Computers without Computationalism