It rests on your desk: a small, surprisingly heavy, aluminum rectangular brick with 47 switches and a USB cable connecting it to the computer (Figure 1). Having constructed it from a kit, you must now ensure that it works before affixing keycaps. A message appears on the monitor from the operating system: ‘your keyboard cannot be identified.’ So you exit the keyboard setup utility, copy the firmware code from GitHub, install the necessary drivers, and open a terminal to load a keymap via command line onto the keyboard’s microcontroller unit: make planck/rev4:default:dfu-util.1 If none of the available keymaps suit your typing style, then you write one from scratch.
This is the Planck, a programmable mechanical keyboard designed by Jack Humbert and first produced in 2014. He calls it an ‘ortholinear keyboard,’ which refers to the physical layout of the keys. A standard keyboard has staggered rows, whereas an ortholinear layout implements a grid. This design aims to eliminate awkward finger movements, the idea being that the fingers can curl and extend in a straight line more comfortably than along a diagonal.2 The ‘ortho-’ in ‘ortholinear’ thus expresses both of the term’s meanings: ‘rectangular’ or ‘perpendicular’ (as in ‘orthogonal’) and also ‘right, correct, proper.’3 With the option for either 47 or 48 keys, the Planck belongs to the class of 40% keyboards, so called because they have 40% of the footprint of full-sized boards. Even so, the Planck is capable of much more functionality thanks to the firmware on its programmable microcontroller.
The Planck typifies a small movement among keyboard enthusiasts and typists who want to develop the computer keyboard beyond its roots in typewriter technology. While many computer users appreciate the solid construction of a mechanical keyboard and enjoy its tactile and audible feedback, only a minor subset of users foster its perpetual reinvention. One does not simply use a Planck; one engages in a communal, technical activity. The Planck exists as much in code repositories, online discussion forums, and in-person meet-ups as it does in the embodied techniques of typing with their task-specific workflows and computational ecosystem. In other words, the Planck metonymically represents a technoculture, that is, a group of persons organized around the genesis of a technology. To be clear, this usage of ‘technoculture’ is more specific than the common meaning of a society suffused with technologies narrowly conceived as computational gadgets and machines. I define it on the basis of social relations that at once result from, and intentionally pursue, the development of a particular technology.
Participating in this community disrupts habitual norms and assumptions about ordinary computer technologies. Exploring an unusual variant of the computer keyboard challenges the uncritical familiarity many have with technology as a matter of course in their daily lives, thereby questioning an understanding of technology as so many static, instrumental objects. This particular encounter with the keyboard references a general feature of technological media: one does not need to be aware of the workings of a keyboard in order to be shaped by one, conditioned by its affordances, and accustomed to its role in daily activities. For example, the keyboard on the ADM-3A computer terminal from 1974 suggests the origins of some present-day conventions, most notably the arrows on H, J, K, and L. Bill Joy, author of the Vi text editor, used an ADM-3A. Vi and its successor Vim use those keys for moving the cursor left, down, up, and right, respectively.4 The QWERTY layout’s dominance, the staggered rows, dedicated number and symbol keys, and the large spacebar are ubiquitous from laptops to touch screens to office keyboards. The Planck discards all of these conventions.
Orientation of the Argument
This article does three things, though not in strict sequence. One: it describes the Planck, its firmware, some of the open-source community that contributes to it, and key aspects of contemporary mechanical keyboards. I situate this description in my own participation in the technoculture, including the adoption of an alternative key layout called Colemak. Analyzing my experience as a ‘critical technical practice’ defamiliarizes two nearly ubiquitous components of human-computer interfaces: the keyboard and typing. Michael Dieter appropriates the idea of ‘critical technical practice’ from Philip Agre’s work in reorienting AI research away from thought and toward activity.5 For Dieter, the combination of ‘craft and critique invites reflection on transformations in sense and perception that occur through a suspension of ‘means’ and ‘ends’ across sociotechnical experience.’6 Building and programming a mechanical keyboard like the Planck, and then relearning to type with it, performs a hands-on critique of some of the inherited, historically contingent forms taken by computational technology.
Two: the article reflects on what this technical activity says about understanding technology as a concept. The keyboard, when ‘naturalized’ as an external object vis-à-vis the human user, imparts a conception of technology as a bi-directional prosthesis.7 From one perspective, it extends the human’s symbolic activity into the computer; from another, it extends the digital computer’s processing toward the human’s experience. The keyboard may be readily conceived as a neutral conduit between two kinds of agents in computation: human and computer. However, an analysis of the Planck and its typing technoculture shows that the keyboard exists within a purposefully re-organized process of electronics, programmable data, human physiology, aesthetic sensibility, and cultural significance. Processes that compose each of these levels are modified and coordinated into an intentionally coordinated activity.
The Planck is a metonymy of this activity, which means a technological object indexes a process of intentionally reorganizing the material conditions of possibility. This process pertains both to building the Planck as well as to programming and typing on it. Technology, I argue, is not a static object that comes into existence as the result of a discrete invention or production process; yet neither do I identify it with an object that modulates in coordination with ongoing use. This reticence to delimit technology to physical objectivity is only partially rooted in scholarship that insists intellectual technique deserves the label technology as much as do tools and machines.8 With the concept of technology, I want, rather, to articulate a kind of process in which the relatively discrete abstractions of use, invention, object, and human have their primary reality. Technology is an intentional mediation of mediation, and its calling card is the superposition of disparate phenomena.
In this regard, the article contributes to the conceptual work by Eric Schatzberg in his history of the technology concept.9 Schatzberg’s own orientation toward the term adheres closely to American sociologist Thorstein Veblen’s seminal translation of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century German discourse of Technik as ‘technology.’ Veblen’s usage refers both to physical objects as well as to the principles of their design and operation. Prior to Veblen, Technik was often translated as ‘engineering,’ while ‘technology’ (to the limited extent it was used in the nineteenth century) referred to the study of the mechanical arts. German engineers combating their exclusion from Kultur by humanists in the early twentieth century helped to cement for Veblen the cultural and knowledge components of technology. Moreover, Veblen understood technological knowledge as a communal effort that would be meaningless without the material means to realize it.10 With this social attribution, Veblen echoes Karl Marx’s own identification of the bourgeoisie’s ownership of machinery with the alienation of social knowledge. For Schatzberg, then, technology ought to be understood ‘as an expression of human culture’ belonging to all humans and not just to elite technicians.11 Schatzberg concludes his 2018 book, Technology: History of a Critical Concept with a manifesto on ‘rehabilitating technology as a concept for history and social theory, with an eventual goal of shaping technologies toward more humane ends.’12 My article endeavors to advance this goal, particularly its component aim to ‘[r]eclaim craft as an essential element of technology’ as opposed to reducing technology to applied science.13
Schatzberg defines technology as: ‘the set of practices humans use to transform the material world, practices involved in creating and using material things.’14 A primary component of this article’s contribution to the technology concept details what precisely it is about these transformations and practices that qualifies them as technological. That they are ‘practices humans use’ is insufficient because, on one hand, not everything humans do with the material world is necessarily technological, and, on the other hand, nonhuman animals create and use material things—are not such practices accurately called technology?
Nonetheless, so long as we consider the ‘material world’ and ‘material things’ to include human sensation and ideation of that world and its things, Schatzberg’s is a fine definition. For as this article will repeatedly emphasize, human feeling and cultural significance are no less open to becoming technological than are the chemical solids and electrons involved in the design, manufacture, and use of the Planck. However, such inclusion may go beyond Schatzberg’s intended meaning given that he maintains an ‘ontological distinction between words and things.’15 For instance, he explains that scholars have historically demoted the cultural standing of technology on account of themselves being preoccupied with language and discourse. But by resolving this exclusion by calling for the inclusion of technology as an equally valid object of inquiry for humanist scholars, Schatzberg accepts the premise that discourse and thought are not technologies. On the contrary, following the motivating premise of Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time project, philosophers and other intellectuals have been technological all this time, even in their self-classification as non-technological.16 Ruha Benjamin, for instance, shows how this kind of classificatory work is a technology inseparable from its material effects. Race is part and parcel of techniques of exclusion baked into supposedly objective computational methods for assessing and distributing human bodies, behaviors, and property.17 I suspect Schatzberg would agree with this insofar as words contribute to the ‘practices involved in creating and using material things.’ But he nonetheless emphasizes physical objectivity as an anchor for the scope of human practices that qualify as technology.
Three: in pursuit of points one and two, the article takes up a source not in Schatzberg’s wide-ranging history: the process philosophy of twentieth-century French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. His minor thesis, the shorter of two theses written to receive a doctorate in France at the time, is On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (1958), which is a touchstone for media theory. Most Anglophone readers likely know it secondhand through the work of Gilles Deleuze, Stiegler, or the handful of studies available in English.18 Given the book’s 2017 translation into English, Simondon’s minor thesis stands to gain in readers and anglophone scholarship. Simondon brackets the question of how technical objects are used so as to explore their ideal functioning. The technical object is static in relation to this functioning, which progressively evolves over a series of inventions. Simondon’s strict conception of technical functioning as a synthesis of physico-chemical causalities excludes the human and culture from participating in technology except as extrinsic, ergo non-technological, conditions. Cultural forces play a positive role in the creation of technology for Simondon, but that role is outside what makes something technological. The technical object in turn supports human individuals to engage in collective becoming.
In many ways, Simondon’s text contravenes Schatzberg’s approach: the proliferation of analytical terms with the adjective ‘technical’; the usage of la technique, which, translated into English as ‘technics,’ introduces an ambiguity between ‘technique’ and ‘technology’; the Encyclopedist-inspired reservation of la technologie (‘technology’ in English) for the study of technical objects; and arguably the teleological subordination of technical objects to scientific principles.19 Even when Simondon explicitly takes on his contemporary culture’s denigration of technics in a 1965 article, ‘Culture and Technics,’ so as to advocate for their integration, his paradigm shores up, in my reading, a self-enclosed instrumental nature of technology.20 I consider Simondon’s minor thesis to be useful for understanding what makes objects technological, but I side with Schatzberg’s consolidation around the concept ‘technology’ as encompassing practices and culture alongside how material things function.
What Simondon has to offer for a general concept of technology is what he excludes from it: individuation. Differences in scale and the intersection of disparate phenomena are essential to individuation, which makes it readily applicable to my conception of technology as first and foremost a process of purposefully re-organizing mediations between disparate phenomena. He writes in the introduction to his principal thesis, L’Individuation á la lumière des notions de forme et d’information[Individuation in Light of the Notions of Form and Information]: ‘The true principle of individuation is mediation, generally supposing an original duality of orders of magnitude and an initial absence of interactive communication between them.’21 The individual represents ‘a partial and relative resolution’ of this fomenting tension borne by individuation.22 For Simondon, the technical object stands apart from the interconnected phases of individuation, which are: physico-chemical, biological (or vital), psychic (or mental), and psycho-social. The technical object forms at the interstice of the physico-chemical phase and the human’s psycho-social “dilation” of the biological phase.23 A technical individual, such as a computer, a machine, or the artisan-tool pair, functions analogously to the functioning of a living being.24
Not only do I emphasize the process of becoming technological over the ‘partial and relative’ individual technical object, I consider the primary referent of the term ‘technology’ to be a particular kind of individuation. In the following discussion of building, coding, and typing with the Planck, I will unpack some of Simondon’s theory of individuation in concert with his more schematic remarks on the technical object and technicity, taking note when the former can be brought to bear on the latter. Ultimately, Simondon helps articulate a process-based theory of technology and clarify the adjective ‘material’ in Schatzberg’s definition of the technology concept.
Technocultures of Typing and Mechanical Keyboards
Using a Planck requires a transformation of the human-computer interface relation. It takes some time for a new user to adjust to the Planck. Some adopters learn to touch type at the same time. Others switch to an altogether different arrangement of keys such as either Colemak or the more popular and older Dvorak. A change in typing habits is a ‘biologico-sociological phenomen[on]’ that Marcel Mauss would call a technique of the body.25 Touch typing relies on the cognitive modification of bodily practice, which in turn is shaped by social forces like classroom instruction, workplace demands, and historically variable gendering of typing. Today, communities of typists and keyboard tinkerers offer various layouts and rationales for using them on such websites as Deskthority, GeekHack, and subreddits like r/olkb (‘olkb’ being short for ‘ortholinear keyboards’). Following Mauss, learning to touch type on any layout is therefore a socially enabled ‘intervention of consciousness’ into nonconscious habits. This intervention is one of several that contribute to a whole technological activity of which the computer keyboard is but a representative element.
Developing and implementing alternative keymaps engages with a technology often taken for granted in mainstream computer use: alphanumeric character input by typing (as opposed to dictation). To recognize typing as a technology in its own right means intentionally placing digital computing and human use on equal footing in terms of design values as opposed to subordinating one to the other. At stake for alternative typists is realizing the potential for a more balanced human-computer interface, one that accounts for the affordances of the human body because it is among the computer’s own affordances to do so. Yet, to then shift from QWERTY to another layout, one must confront a sociotechnical tradition that shapes a multitude of activities.
Promises of increased typing efficiency and improved comfort motivate users to invent and adopt alternative keyboard layouts. Colemak concentrates letters commonly used in English on the home row, the central row of keys where a touch typist keeps their fingers, in order to reduce finger movement and row jumping relative to QWERTY.26 For example, when typing on QWERTY, words with ‘c,’ ‘e,’ and ‘d,’ such as ‘succeeded’ and ‘decade,’ require one finger (the left middle) to press keys on three different rows in succession. Not so in Colemak, which I reproduce here as it is commented in my Planck ‘keymap.c’ file:
/* Colemak * ,-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------. * |Esc` | Q | W | F | P | G | J | L | U | Y | ; | Bksp| * |------+------+------+------+------+------|-------+------+------+------+------+------| * | Tab | A | R | S | T | D | H | N | E | I | O | " | * |------+------+------+------+------+------|-------+------+------+------+------+------| * |SftLck| Z | X | C | V | B | K | M | < , | . > | /? | SftEnt| * |------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------| * | Del | Cmd | Ctrl | Alt | Cmd | Space | Raise |Left | Dwn | Up | Rght | * `------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------‘ */
Occupational therapist Janice Polgar and engineer Albert Cook explain in their medical textbook Assistive Technologies: ‘The QWERTY keyboard layout[…] was originally designed more than 100 years ago to slow down 10-finger typists using a manual typewriter so the keys would not jam. The QWERTY layout requires much excursion of the fingers.’27 This genealogy is a common refrain among alternative key layout users, as is the claim about QWERTY’s inefficiency.28 Extrapolating from QWERTY’s ‘excursion of the fingers,’ Cook and Polgar relate a supposition often expressed by advocates for alternative keyboard layouts: ‘Redefining the layout[…] may reduce fatigue and the likelihood of an individual’s incurring a RSI[Repetitive Stress Injury].’29 The premise behind Colemak is to minimize finger movement, a premise the Planck takes to a logical endpoint by excluding all keys beyond the reach of fingers at the home row.
Some advocates have introduced methods for calculating the relative strain of different layouts. For example, one project represents the most frequently pressed keys with a heatmap layered over a keyboard diagram.30 Another approach assigns a value to each key location, setting the home row positions for index and middle fingers to a baseline value of 1.0 and weighting the inner columns and pinky finger keys as the most difficult.31 This system also assumes that an ortholinear layout diminishes the strain of certain key positions due to decreased distance from the home row. Then, by assessing a text sample representative of what one typically types, one may calculate an estimated effort index. Far from making a definitive claim as to efficiency, the maintainer of this ‘ColemakMods’ repository on GitHub acknowledges, ‘Scoring systems are highly subjective,’ and qualifies the scores with a parenthetical ‘(in my view).’ Indeed, this project stems from a personalization of Colemak called Mod-DH, which moves the ‘D’ and ‘H’ keys to a position that is more comfortable for them. The point here is less that digital electronics and minimal programming knowledge afford personalization than that typing technology includes subjective experience as an integral component to its existence.
Relearning to touch type involves intervening in the coordination of media that support typing: namely, muscle memory, habit, the scancodes transmitted by key switches, and how the computer’s operating system interprets those scancodes.32 Most operating systems can remap a QWERTY keyboard to alternative layouts; or a computer program can be installed to mediate what each key does. As an example of the latter, those already familiar with touch typing QWERTY can adapt to Colemak via a multistep approach called Tarmak.33 Its transfer of key placements over five steps unlearns the socially standardized discipline of computer input and replaces it with another. In other words, the assimilation of a new layout means creating new embodied knowledge. Like Mauss’s example of the child overcoming the fear of opening their eyes underwater before even learning to swim, the novice touch typist must first suppress the reflex to look at their fingers and instead look to a keyboard diagram either on screen or printed out nearby.34 It is a technological individuation that takes practice and can be facilitated by its own techniques. Neither the typist nor the keyboard are targeted on their own. Rather, this intervention re-organizes the relation by which either pole co-exists.
Simondon’s concept of individuation puts the focus on tensions felt in the body of the typist as a result of this newly organized relation: namely, the discrepancies between the intended characters and those that appear on screen, between competing cognitive models of old and new layouts, and between the printed diagram perceived by the eyes and the keyboard perceived through the fingers. Individuation is sparked by the communication of heterogeneous domains of phenomena, which of course is what computer use entails, and it persists through the partial, temporary resolution of these tensions. Here, the individual resolution is not only the touch typist but the event of touch typing. A technological individuation involves an intervention on the grounding conditions for the overarching activity; the mediation of those individuating systems is itself made the object of modification. Hence my shorthand definition of technology as the intentional mediation of mediation.
Like the non-QWERTY niche of typists, the broader mechanical keyboard technoculture is also motivated by beliefs regarding what a computer keyboard should be. And as with the subjective preference of typing comfort, what a keyboard should be depends on typists’ individual preferences. It centers on an aesthetic cultivation, which incorporates an appreciation for the mechanical keyboard’s longstanding attributes as well as active developments in mechanical keyboard parts and styles. As the Deskthority website’s wiki explains, ‘mechanical keyboard’ has come to denote keyboards with robust key switches rather than a specific design of a switch’s resistance to pressure and its actuation. A switch is the component beneath the keycap that, when pressed, allows electric current to pass through a point in a conductive matrix, with each point corresponding to a keycode assigned in the firmware. By ‘robust’ is meant that the switches will operate reliably tens of millions of times. Here the discussion will be restricted to the Cherry MX, a popular lineage of switches that feature metal contacts for actuation and a combination of a plastic stem and springs for resistance.35
One of the chief reasons for mechanical switches’ popularity is expressed in the following line from the abstract for Cherry GmbH’s 1983 patent filing: ‘The plunger body resists sliding movement and therefore provides a perceptible pressure point which indicates actuation of the switch.’36 Since its inception, the mechanical switch’s actuation signals both the circuit board’s conductive matrix and the typist’s finger in a sensuous manifestation of the hyphen in human-computer interface. By contrast, a membrane keyboard, like the one on most laptops, must be depressed completely in order to connect two thin conductive layers at the base of the keyboard—called ‘bottoming out.’ This is not the case for mechanical keyboards, since they actuate at a middle point along the stem’s travel path. Some typists therefore aim to type with as light a touch as possible in order to avoid bottoming out and thereby prevent finger fatigue.
Different springs and stems provide a variety of tactile and audible feedback, with smoothness being among the most commonly sought after qualities. A recent trend has been for a strong tactile bump, one which leaves the older Cherry MX switches feeling mushy by comparison (see Figure 2). After an initial sharp bump building and dropping off at actuation, the spring continues to resist downward pressure like a cushion. Conversely, linear switches lack a tactile bump, their force graph instead shows a constant rate of resistance from the spring—hence the adjective ‘linear.’
Aftermarket keycaps of various colors, typefaces, symbols, and shapes (called a ‘profile’) can be applied, many of which are designed by community members and collectively ordered in group purchases.38 As an extreme example of DIY mechanical keyboards, Matt Adereth designed a keyboard called the Dactyl (Figure 3).39 Inspired by such split ortholinear keyboards as the Maltron, Kinesis Advantage, and ErgoDox, its concave contour intensifies the effect created by using a keycap profile with sculpted rows. Adereth used a 3D-printing service for the case and wired the components himself (Figure 4).
Building with Simondon
Building a mechanical keyboard brings these various elements of the technoculture into explicit contact in a way that resonates with Simondon’s own understanding of the technical object as a ‘synthetic schematism.’ In L’individuation, Simondon describes the ‘implicit forms’ borne by particular materials as ‘a certain schematism.’40 This likely invocation of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason can be read as imbuing physical individuation with the spontaneity and form-giving operation that Kant grants the transcendental subject. Unlike a scheme, which is a blueprint or plan with a form to be implemented, a schema or schematism is an ordering principle by which a form comes into existence. For Simondon, ‘the physical world is already highly organized,’ such that the concept of matter implies a perspective that abstracts from the system of formative activity that is individuation.41
In Simondon’s now classic example of the technical operation that produces a clay brick, the clay is prepared at the level of its ‘implicit forms’ so that it will evenly take to the wooden mold’s explicit form.42 As he makes clear in his critique of the hylomorphic division of form and matter, these forms that characterize the clay’s propensity to individuate when put into communication with the mold are ignored only by the master who gives the order for the worker to create the brick. However, Simondon does not reject the hylomorphic abstraction out of hand. He explains its genesis and the contexts in which it applies. For the worker producing the brick, these forms are not at all implicit: they characterize the ‘information’ of the clay brick through the communication between clay, wood, and human fingers. Information for Simondon is a relation that sparks a process and not a discrete message, as in: in-formation. In another example, Simondon again shows that the implicitness of forms is perspectival: when a person works to produce timber out of trees, the techniques ‘must respect these topological forms’ evident in the wood grain.43 For woodworkers such forms are explicit, as made evident by the specialization of tools and terms designating the blade’s orientation relative to the wood’s fibers (e.g. edge cut vs. rip cut vs. cross cut). Form refers to how a medium will bear out its structural operations on phenomena that intervene from a heterogeneous process and/or a different order of magnitude. A technical operation transforms those structures into a technical object.
The term Simondon uses to abstract from particular technical objects and their various human uses is technicity. He defines it as a ‘pure schema of functioning,’ or ‘a physico-chemical system in which reciprocal actions take place according to all the laws of science.’44 By way of the ‘symbolic representation of the object’s technicity in the imagination,’ the human inventor organizes a new ‘synthetic schematism.’45 Technicities ‘can be thought of as stable behaviors[…], they are powers, in the fullest sense of the term, which is to say capacities for producing or undergoing an effect in a determinate manner.’46 Technical objects ‘result from an objectivation of technicity’ and are not themselves the individual pole within an individuation.47 I characterize Simondon’s theory of the technical object as an inversion of Marshall McLuhan’s characterization of technical media as ‘extensions of man’ since, for Simondon, technical objects are like extensions of nature; they expand on the physical mode of existence and extend it into culture.
Assembling a keyboard coordinates a sequence of acts—mostly heating electronic components to affix them with solder—one over the other into a composition of technical schemas, thus realizing a synthetic schematism. Simondon writes, ‘The technical schema, which is a relation between several structures and a complex operation taking place through these structures,[…] leads to a circularity of knowledge, a synergy of elements of knowledge that are still theoretically heterogeneous.’48 In a later text, ‘Naissance de la technologie’[Birth of Technology] (1970), Simondon expands on this causal synergy and heterogeneity with regard to machines. A machine’s component parts are both operated on and operator in a chain or series.49 ‘The logos of technology is this series or sequence.’50 With a machine, ‘mediation is organized in a chain, each element being a tool and operator, automation is implicitly contained in the essence of mechanization, since[this] essence resides in the transductive sequence[l’enchaînement transductif].’51 By this ‘chain of media, the man-operator is put into effective relation with nature (wind, water, fire); nature can also be put in relation with itself on different levels.’52 Just so, a keyboard’s assembly and functioning coordinate the electrical and chemical capacities of silicone, copper, and solder; the switch’s mechanical functions borne by plastic stems, metal springs, and electrical contacts; and the thermal capacities of a soldering iron and the dexterity of its handler (either individual hobbyist or automated machine). Building a mechanical keyboard chains together purposeful re-organizations of the physical world, bringing the physico-chemical phase of individuation into the psycho-social phase. Every time a keyboard operates, its synthetic schematism transduces a sequence of causal relations.
Using Simondon’s vocabulary, the mechanical switch is a ‘technical element’ with its own technicity, as are the circuit board, microcontroller, USB port and cable, and keycaps. Is, then, the keyboard a ‘technical individual,’ that is, ‘a stable system of the technicities of elements organized,’ and ‘not the elements themselves taken in their materiality’?53 Here Simondon’s focus on the ideal or pure functioning of technical objects helps to see through the keyboard’s detachability, and apparent individuality, as extraneous to what it does: receive input via switch actuation and transmit a scancode, which the computer operation system interprets as a keycode.54 While mechanical switches can be linked in any number and applied to a diversity of uses, its function both remains the same and requires further integration with a computer. After all, computer terminals and laptops have keyboards built in. And a mechanical keyboard is only detachable because it has its own computer onboard, i.e. the microcontroller. Beyond the technical individual, a network of computers, servers, programs, and the industrial infrastructure that supports their functioning form a ‘technical ensemble.’55
Lastly, Simondon acknowledges that ‘technicity can be understood only through the integration with the activity of a human user,’ but such activity remains outside technicity proper.56 A strictly Simondonian analysis of the keyboard excludes the aesthetic cultivation that defines the mechanical keyboard technoculture and proliferates its objects. According to Simondon, a mechanical switch is the objective existence of its schema of functioning: that is, the actuation of an electrical circuit. A typist’s experience of that actuation, including the shape and texture of the keycaps, is immaterial to the technical object insofar as it is technological. Instead, extrinsic or non-technical factors condition the production of certain technical objects and configure their implementation.57 Even legends on keycaps, which serve as reminders for the typist or, as is often the case for mechanical keyboards, as decor, are boondoggles that contribute nothing to the technicity of the keyboard.
What exactly do we gain from this approach of Simondon’s beyond a classificatory vocabulary to aide in a comparative analysis of various technologies? On one hand, Simondon’s characterization of technicity as a ‘synthetic schematism’ foregrounds what makes something technological. It provides a prerequisite step toward my own definition of technology as an intentional re-organization of the world’s conditions of possibility. To understand technology, one must seek out the points of intervention into ‘already highly organized’ processes and trace the causal chains between heterogeneous phenomena and orders of magnitude.58 On the other hand, I note the lack of connection between the technoculture of mechanical keyboards I have discussed thus far and Simondon’s concept of technicity in order to draw attention to all that Simondon’s framework leaves out. Were I to follow Simondon’s example, then the preceding discussion would have had a lot less description of the human motivations behind Colemak and a lot more circuit diagrams, force-travel graphs, and comparative analysis of different keyboards that fit into a lineage of objectivations of an evolving technicity. Inquiring into the technicity of a technical object provides a necessary but partial understanding of technology. Simondon wanted to articulate the necessity of technical objects in a manner analogous to the necessity of natural phenomena, thereby contravening the Aristotelian division between episteme, which attributes necessity to nature, and techne, which is contingent and lacks internal purpose because it is human made.59 Technical objects, on the contrary, have a finality both in their functioning and in their technicities’ evolution, or ‘concretization,’ toward greater synergy of their elements. He sought to re-integrate culture with its technologies by treating the latter with an equal measure of intellectual rigor and appreciation.
My analysis of the Planck and mechanical keyboard technoculture aims to get beneath this framework of ‘integration’ because it maintains a division between technology and other human domains. ‘Technical being[L’être technique] becomes an object,’ writes Simondon in a 1960 lecture, ‘not only because it is material, but also because it is surrounded by a halo of sociality.’ Every object ‘is always partially overdetermined as a psychosocial symbol.’60 Again, cultural factors contribute toward the realization of technical objects in Simondon’s study but only as a supplement. This is why my operative concepts are technology and individuation and not one that Simondon deploys in his work on technical objects like technicity or concretization.
As an example of expanding on the latter options, Simon Mills argues that the associated milieu ought to include social aspects in addition to physical ones.61 The ‘associated milieu’ mediates between technical and natural elements in order to stabilize the environment in a way conducive to a technical functioning.62 Just as the locomotive must be ‘mutually adapted’ to the ‘distribution grid’ of electricity (the ‘technical milieu’) as well as to the terrain (the ‘geographical milieu’), so must, Mills argues, the software in social media and financial networks be adapted to psycho-social activity.63 Mills focuses on the back end for Web 2.0 applications like Twitter as well as the screens used by traders in foreign exchange markets. For instance, the ‘namespaces’ that structure and identify a tweet include such information as the user’s ID, the platform used to tweet, and the geographical location of the tweet. I agree with Mills’s criticism of Simondon for leaving out psycho-social transindividuation from the associated milieu that adapts technical elements to non-technical elements.64 However, Mills stops short of recognizing that a technology’s synthetic schematism may itself include a re-organization of the systems of vital and psycho-social individuations, opting instead to extend to computationally networked platforms Simondon’s framework of the technical object as an objective support for psycho-social transindividuation.
Perhaps the obstacle for Simondon and the ‘integration’ approach to recognize the technological existence of the human and culture is that the human is the privileged subject, when it might make more sense to treat it as just another object. Or, to split the difference in terms: let us consider the human as another subject matter for invention to organize. With regard to the aesthetic cultivation of the mechanical keyboard enthusiast, human feeling provides another object of functioning. No less than any physico-chemical process, cultural forces and biological conditions are part and parcel of such technological experiments—not as externally determining factors but as intrinsic components no less integral to the technology than the physical and electronic components. Proprioceptive preference, customization, visual taste, materials quality, consumer fads, community belonging, and personal expression all factor into the individuation of this technological activity. They are technological insofar as they result from and act upon the intentional interventions made on disparate supporting media and component processes. Applying a chemically inert, thick grease to the springs and stems of a mechanical key switch intervenes no less in the conditions of human experience than in the plunge mechanism of the key switch. Such a modification targets the entire process of the keyboard technology including tactile and audible feedback experienced by the typist.
Programming the Technolinguistic
Technology is therefore not in principle restricted to particular materials and processes in its intentional reorganization of the interaction between heterogeneous media and supported phenomena. Its synthetic schematism invents an ontogenetic phase of its own—where, per Simondon, ‘ontogenesis,’ replaces ontology both as a philosophical discourse and as the ultimate grounds of existence, as the becoming of being.65 Programming the Planck’s microcontroller illustrates that seemingly the most technical aspect—in a strict, engineering sense—of setting up and using the keyboard coordinates the typist and encompassing technoculture as part of a technological individuation. To invoke Gaston Bachelard’s analysis of the history of science, programming a computer keyboard in the context of one’s own use performs a ‘dialectic of an interaction between objective understandings and rational understandings.’66 The typist’s everyday knowledge of the keyboard interface is ‘modified’[rectifiée] by and contributes to a collective labor of computational systems, electronics, and values pertaining to the keyboard’s operation.67 To build, code, and type on the Planck is to participate in a ‘cogitamus’: a ‘thinking coexistence.’68
The Planck combines two tendencies in the custom mechanical keyboard subculture: ‘robust’ components plus ergonomic invention. Regarding the former, the Planck’s machined aluminum case and plate share a lineage with the bulky keyboards from the 1980s and 90s, such as the IBM Models M and F or Data General’s Dasher. As for ergonomics, the ortholinear grid of keys is marketed (and sometimes proselytized) as a more comfortable and therefore less straining layout than the standard staggered rows. Where alternative layouts like Colemak try to concentrate the most common typing movements on the home row, the Planck does away altogether with keys out of reach via its implementation of QMK, the Quantum Mechanical Keyboard firmware, which is the software that controls the board’s microcontroller.69 Instead of relying on a layout of dedicated keys, the Planck takes advantage of QMK’s capacity for programming shortcuts and multiple layers. When shifting to another layer, keys’ positions on the circuit matrix then send different scancodes. On my own keymap, when pressing the ‘Raise’ key with my right thumb, the top row outputs numbers, the home row outputs symbols, and the two lower rows control volume, screen brightness, and some navigational functionality. A layer in QMK can be momentarily toggled while pressed or set as a permanent base layer until pressing a key or sequence of keys to revert to another. This can be useful for specific tasks, like photo editing or gaming, which have particular and frequently used key combinations. Users who want to avoid using a mouse and keep their fingers on their keyboard can map a layer with mouse controls. For examples of shortcuts, double tapping my left Shift key toggles Caps Lock, while the right Shift key outputs Enter when tapped and Shift when held.
As with building and touch typing, coding a keyboard’s firmware links any one typist and any one keyboard to a technoculture, a thinking and feeling coexistence in technological process. Developing one’s own personal keymaps introduces a further layer of intervening mediation that contributes to the mechanical keyboard individuation. A media-theoretical analysis of QMK puts into relief how the apparent stability of the keyboard as a technical object rests on a bedrock of instability. The composite process I refer to with the shorthand of ‘the Planck’ perpetually intervenes in its own conditioning media. In this way, the Planck intensifies a longer history of inventing ways to mechanically produce linguistic characters. Historian Thomas S. Mullaney provides some historical and theoretical context. In The Chinese Typewriter: A History, Mullaney takes a cue from recent ‘cultural techniques’ (Kulturtechniken) scholarship in German media theory to discuss how the Chinese character ‘is nested within further dimensions of writing that are largely invisible, inaudible, and unconcerned with meaning.’70 Mullaney refers to these dimensions as ‘the technolinguistic,’ or ‘the infrastructure of language that[…] enables the language to work in the first place.’71 Typewriters, when in wide use, composed but a part of this subsemantic infrastructure alongside such logistical formations as Morse code and the postal system. Today, building, coding, and typing on the Planck contributes in its own way to the technolinguistic horizon of character-based creation.
Mullaney has in mind Wolfgang Ernst, whose brand of media theory is worth exploring so as to address the nonhuman materiality of technical media. Ernst is a prominent representative of media archaeology, an umbrella term for media theorists who feature the workings of technical media front and center, especially media that are no longer in widespread use, as opposed to constructing human narratives of the past. Although inspired by Friedrich Kittler and not Simondon, Ernst’s methods can be said to double down on Simondon’s own focus on the physico-chemical functioning of technical objects. As he writes in Sonic Time Machines: ‘The media-archaeological ideal is that an accurate picture of the world only arises via the knowledge and poetics disclosed by true, non-human archivists of present and past: media objects, operations, and sonic articulations.’72 Ernst pays attention to the operation of technical artifacts in the present, rather than contextualizing them in their cultural heyday through historical narrative. Ernst further differentiates his approach from both cultural studies and the history of technology by ‘applying techno-mathematical analysis.’73 A media archaeologist, in Ernst’s view, considers sound-generating media from vinyl records to ultrasound medical devices in their silence by way of Fourier analysis, which decomposes any periodic pattern into a series of sine waves.74 One could imagine Ernst saying to McLuhan that the adage ‘the medium is the message’ does not go far enough to formulate the structuring role of technical media on culture: an electro-technical medium (like the digital computer) has no message beyond its physical operation. For a media archaeologist inspired by Ernst, the medium is the medium—full stop. Sonics, for example, pertain to sound’s latent, ‘non-human embodiment within electronics.’75 Without ‘explicit sonification’ for human ears, sonics operate solely on the level of ‘the frequency domain as an epistemological object.’76 In the case of playing a monochord as would have been done in Ancient Greece, what matters for the media-archaeological perspective is the capacity to reenact a founding articulation of ‘musicological knowledge.’77 In a provocation reminiscent of Kittler’s own style, Ernst asserts that the machine is the better cultural analyst than the human because of how granular a timescale is the machine’s operation78 Technical media are themselves media archaeologists.
Examining QMK source code and the community’s keymaps on GitHub code repositories suits such an archaeological perspective as much as if not more than a linear, historiographical one. With Git’s version control system, each iteration of the firmware as well as the branches started by others can be revisited and used in the present. Although a historical narrative may be constructed out of the commit messages, for the technological individuation of which the Planck is but one individual moment, these repositories’ accrual of changes compose a reservoir of technical schemas for further individuation. As Kristoffer Gansing points out in a reading of Ernst: when ‘the past increasingly takes on the form not of a collective cultural memory but a computationally archived resource for future production,’ one can say that ‘we are all now media-archaeologists.’79 However, there is a problematic implication in how Ernst frames his project, evident in Gansing opposing ‘collective cultural memory’ against ‘computationally archived resource.’ More strident than Simondon’s separation of humans from technicity, Ernst introduces too strong a bifurcation between ‘human textual products’ and ‘expressions of the machines themselves,’ that is, between semantic meaning and ‘physically real signals.’80 The notion of the ‘physically real’ provokes an implicit derealization of consciously understandable symbols. For Ernst to claim that his work addresses ‘the very materiality of culture’ implies that cultural analysis has been incorporeal, less than material, all this time, as if humans are not themselves real-time signal processors.81 In short, Ernst exemplifies the trajectory of media theory invested in the nonhuman; for he privileges the microtemporal operations of certain technologies and ‘physical realities that are often inaccessible to human senses’ to the denigration of a fuller sense of technology and human involvement in it.82 The engineer wins out over the philosopher.
It is worthwhile, to be sure, for humanists to explore the functioning of technical media at such a specialized and physically precise level. The key is to maintain the humanities’ interpretation of human experience and cultural formations. It would not suffice to explain how the HID (Human Interface Devices) usage specifications for USB sets hex values to correspond with keyboards’ scancodes.83 These specifications provide one part of the technical milieu in which QMK, and thus the mechanical keyboard technoculture writ large, exists. One may accept Ernst’s contention that ‘cultural techniques that generate discourses[…] are not already discursive effects’—as is the case with the Planck’s many components—without, however, cutting them off from human meaning.84 As Ernst himself argues, the point of ‘expos[ing] the technicality of media’ is ‘not to reduce culture to technology but to reveal the techno-epistemological momentum in culture itself,’ which entails that consciously accessible meaning has never been exclusively human.85 Instead of pursuing Ernst’s ‘nonhuman challenge’ to culture, I contend that the concept of technology should be expanded to designate not the obverse, physically effective side of culture but the general characteristics of an individuation that would explain the generation of technical objects, human users, synthetic materials, and cultural meaning as so many partial resolutions of that process.86 This difference in focus can be illustrated by a sentence in Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900, which distinguishes technological media from other forms of recording: ‘The snow that helped trackers was an accident; Edison’s tin-foil roll or Francis Galton’s fingerprint archive were purposefully prepared recording surfaces for data that could be neither stored nor evaluated without machines.’87 The phrase ‘purposefully prepared recording surfaces’ expresses a kernel of my own conceptualization of technology as an intentional mediation of mediation; whereas media archaeology focuses on the concluding specification: ‘data that could be neither stored nor evaluated without machines.’ A media archaeologist or Simondonian technologist wants first to know how the object functions; the philosopher of technology wants first to know how the world becomes technological.
The technolinguistic has many branches, and—contrary to Mullaney’s assertion—many of them are indeed invested with meaning in the forms of cultural and aesthetic values. The repository accessible at https://www.github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware qualifies as both computational archive and collective cultural memory. A programmable keyboard explodes the standard ‘technolinguistic imagination’ of key-based symbolic technology with the inclusion of multiple layers.88 At the physiological and mechanical domains, there remains a single keyboard. Between coding the keyboard’s microcontroller and the typist’s embodied scheme of its operation, there opens up the capacity for a layout with dozens of layers. In addition to the Raise key, the Tab key according to my keymap.c file outputs Tab when tapped, and, when held, it toggles a layer with navigation keys including arrows and macros for swapping between windows, web browser tabs, and applications. The difference in code for that key’s position in the keymap’s matrix is between ‘KC_TAB’ and ‘LT(2, KC_TAB),’ where the layer toggle function ‘LT()’ is defined in a separate dependency included with the QMK firmware, and ‘2’ has been previously defined as the shorthand for another layer mapped to navigation keycodes (‘#define _NAVIGATION 2’).89 Tapping it sends the hex value 2B for Tab. Holding it and pressing another key per the navigation layer sends the hex values E3 and 2B for Command+Tab. What I am typing on is not so much the keyboard as the keymap diagram—mocked up in code comments, debugged during the firmware’s compile process, printed out as a memory-support, and finally incorporated as habit. The technolinguistic does not stand opposed to the semantic domain as a material support that conditions cultural meaning from outside. Technology incorporates, and reconstitutes, those conditions and their supported cultural phenomena as participant processes.
Accounts of personal builds on blogs; forum discussions about switches and design philosophies; archives of commits made to the GitHub repositories for firmware and PCB, plate, and case design files; and troubleshooting code on the OLKB subreddit altogether realize a superposition of heterogeneous operations that are purposefully synthesized again and again within a composite individuation. Programming a keymap changes a keyboard’s operation at multiple dimensions and physical scales: the typist’s mental map of a keymap; their cumulative embodied knowledge and feeling of repeated patterns of key presses; their manipulation of computational processes; the microcontroller’s correspondence of scancodes with the diode matrix on the keyboard’s circuit board; and the operating system’s device drivers for interpreting hex codes as keycodes. It is this intentional superposition, this rendering commensurable of incommensurable phenomena through a purposeful re-organization of ontogenesis, that I deem technological. Expanding what technology’s synthetic schematism comprises, the Planck’s ortholinear layout, construction, and functioning incorporate diverse knowledges and practices including materials science, electrical engineering, human physiology, computer programming, and marketing, as well as such personal and cultural factors as visual taste, proprioceptive preference, and ideals of what makes a good mechanical keyboard circulating among the community. I do not consider the mechanical keyboard to be a case where culture enters into technology or vice versa, or one in which culture subsumes the natural properties of material objects but, rather, one where any of these categories can only be dissociated after the fact as more specific abstractions of a technologically invented reality. Invention synthesizes heterogeneous domains of reality into a composite reality without effacing the constitutive differences between those domains.
‘Building, coding, typing,’ as the moniker for a technical reality in which I and my Planck participate, refers to nested individuations informed by mutual communication in Simondon’s sense of what sparks ontogenesis. This characterization of technology differs from Simondon’s concept of technicity, according to which inventions iterate on the design of technical objects so as to perfect their realization of an ideal technical schema. As an individuation rather than a progressive concretization, the technology concept eschews this telos of technical perfectibility. Human and technical object are but moments in an individuation that is itself technological, which only ever pauses, and does not conclude, with the crystallization of an individual like a keyboard or typed document or the transmission of a scancode and its interpretation by the operating system as a keycode. So long as the media theorist maintains the technical object as a privileged concept, their perspective will obscure from technology the intentionally organized transactions between heterogeneous domains of reality. In short, it will be what Bachelard calls an epistemological obstacle: a concept so central to a theoretical system as to produce its constitutive blind spot.90 Accordingly, I have argued that a more flexible and productive approach is to consider technology as a generic category of process.
Agre, Philip. Computation and Human Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Bachelard, Gaston. Le rationalisme appliqué. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1966.
–. The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind. Translated by G. C. Waterston. New York: Orion Press, 1968.
Benjamin, Ruha. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Cambridge: Polity, 2013.
Hayward, Mark, and Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan, eds. “Catching up with Simondon.” Special issue, Substance 41, no. 3 (2012).
Chabot, Pascal. The Philosophy of Simondon: Between Technology and Individuation. Translated by Aliza Krefetz and Graeme Kirkpatrick. Bloomsbury, 2003.
“Colemak Mod-DH – Comparing Layouts.” Accessed May 14, 2020. https://colemakmods.github.io/mod-dh/compare.html.
Combes, Muriel. Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual. Translated with an afterword by Thomas LaMarre. MIT Press, 2012.
Cook, Albert M., and Janice Miller Polgar. Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice, 4th Edition. St. Louis: Mosby, 2015.
Crawford, J. B. “Blame the ADM-3A for Vim and Emacs.” Accessed May 5, 2020. https://jbcrawford.us/history/computers/adm3a.
De Boever, Arne, Alex Murray, Jon Roffe, and Ashley Woodward, eds. Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology. Edinburg University Press, 2012.
Denson, Shane. Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2014.
Deacon, Terrence W. The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1997.
Dieter, Michael. “The Virtues of Critical Technical Practice.” differences 25, no.1 (2014): 216-230.
Donald, Merlin. Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.
“The Dvorak Keyboard – a Primer,” https://www.dvorak-keyboard.com.
Ernst, Wolfgang. “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media.” In Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, 239255. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
–. “From Media History to Zeitkritik.” Translated by Guido Schenkel, Theory, Culture & Society 30, no. 6 (2013): 132-146.
–. “Toward a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations.” In Digital Memory and the Archive, edited with an introduction by Jussi Parikka, 172-183. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
–. Sonic Time Machines: Explicit Sound, Sirenic Voices, and Implicit Sonicity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016.
Gansing, Kristoffer. “The Transversal Generic: Media-Archaeology and Network Culture.” The Fibreculture Journal 18 (2011): 92-117.
Iliadis, Andrew. “Two Examples of Concretization.” Platform 6 (2015): 86–95.
“Keyboard Profile.” Deskthority. https://deskthority.net/wiki/Keyboard_profile.
Kittler, Friedrich. Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Translated by Michael Metteer, with Chris Cullens. Stanford University Press, 1990.
Marx, Leo. “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept.” Technology and Culture, vol.51, no.3 (July 2010): 561–577.
Mauss, Marcel. 1973. “Techniques of the Body.” Translated by Ben Brewster. Economy and Society 2, No.1: 70–88.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994.
“Mechanical Keyboard.” Deskthority. https://deskthority.net/wiki/Mechanical_keyboard.
Mills, Simon. “Concrete Software: Simondon’s Mechanology and the Techno-Social.” The Fibreculture Journal 18 (2011). http://eighteen.fibreculturejournal.org/2011/10/09/fcj-127-concrete-software-simondon’s-mechanology-and-the-techno-social/.
Mullaney, Thomas S. The Chinese Typewriter: A History. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017.
Murmann, Gunter, and Gunter Bauer. “Low profile switch.” U.S. Patent
06512927, filed August 6, 1982, and issued July 12, 1983. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.google.com/patents/US4467160.
“ortho-, comb. form”. OED Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.oed.com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/view/Entry/132788?rskey=lZNRmV&result=3&isAdvanced=false.
PG1511F Keyboard Switch, KH-PS1806-01. Kaihua Electronics. May 25, 2018. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/3099/8088/files/Hako_Royal_Clears.pdf?3105166978475858157.
Simondon, Gilbert. “Culture and Technics.” Translated by Olivia Lucca Fraser, revised by Giovanni Menegalle. Radical Philosophy 189 (2015): 17–23.
–. L’invention dans les techniques: cours et conférences. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2005.
–. L’individuation á la lumière des notions de forme et d’information. Grenoble: Millon, 2013.
–. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects. Translated by Cécile Malaspina and John Rogove. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2017.
–. “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis.” Translated by Gregory Flanders. Parrhesia 7 (2009): 4–16.
Stiegler, Bernard. Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus. Translated by Richard Beardsworth and George Collins. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
‘Universal Serial Bus (USB) HID Usage Tables,’ Version 1.12. USB Implementers’ Forum, October 28, 2004. https://www.usb.org/sites/default/files/documents/hut1_12v2.pdf
Woelert, Peter. “Idealization and external symbolic storage: the epistemic and technical dimensions of theoretic cognition.” Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 11 (2012): 335–366.
Yasuoka, Koichi, and Motoko Yasuoka. “On the Prehistory of QWERTY,” ZINBUN 42 (March 2011): 161-174.
David Rambo is a Postdoctoral Associate with the Program in Literature at Duke University. His research and teaching span contemporary fiction and media, the technical nature of human experience, process philosophy, and phenomenology. Rambo’s essays have been published in Process Studies, Discourse, Angelaki, and Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film (REFRAME 2016). His current book project, Inventing Media, argues that technology should be understood primarily as inventing new worlds, which is investigated through such concept-creating and sense-organizing practices as speculative philosophy, Dungeons & Dragons, queer cyberpunk fiction, and electrical guitar effects pedals.
- Git is a version control system developed by Linus Torvalds (known for creating Linux). Git keeps track of updates made to files. To ‘clone’ a repository copies all the files so that they may be changed separately prior to ‘merging’ those changes with the source. A ‘fork’ refers to a repository that has developed in a different direction than the repository from which it was cloned. For example, QMK is a fork of the TMK firmware, which runs on the Teensy 2.0 USB-based microcontroller: https://github.com/tmk/tmk_keyboard. ↩
- In their Occupational Therapy textbook, Assistive Technologies, Cook and Polgar explain: ‘Standard keyboards place the hand in an unnatural position with the forearms pronated and the wrists extended and ulnarly deviated causing strain on the tendons and nerves’ (145). ↩
- “ortho-, combing form”. OED Online. December 2020. Oxford University Press (accessed February 20, 2021). According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s “Glossary of grammatical terms,” “The difference between a combining form and a prefix or suffix has been drawn in different ways by different authorities. In the OED, a combining form carries full meaning on its own and typically functions like a noun or an adjective. Combining forms are often Latin or Greek in origin.” ↩
- J. B. Crawford, ‘Blame the ADM-3A for Vim and Emacs,’ accessed May 5, 2020: https://jbcrawford.us/history/computers/adm3a ↩
- Philip Agre, Computation and Human Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 23; qtd. in Michael Dieter “The Virtues of Critical Technical Practices,” differences 25, no. 1 (2014): 213. ↩
- Dieter, “Virtues,” 218. ↩
- For a synopsis and discussion of how Edmund Husserl’s concept of the ‘natural attitude’ applies to technology, see Shane Denson’s development of Don Ihde’s post-phenomenology of human-technology-world relations in Postnaturalism: Frankenstein, Film, and the Anthropotechnical Interface (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2014), 56-57, 74-75. ↩
- See Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991); Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1997); Peter Woelert, ‘Idealization and external symbolic storage: the epistemic and technical dimensions of theoretic cognition,’ Phenomenology and Cognitive Science 11 (2012): 335-366. ↩
- Eric Schatzberg, ‘Technik Comes to America: Changing Meanings of Technology before 1930,’ Technology and Culture 47 (July 2006): 486-512; Technology: Critical History of a Concept (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). ↩
- Schatzberg, ‘Technik Comes to America,’ 504. Cf. Veblen’s ‘On the Nature of Capital (Part 1),’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 22 (1908): 517-52, esp. 525-526, 534 ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 3-5. ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 235. ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 236. ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 2. ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 14. ↩
- Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998). ↩
- Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Cambridge: Polity, 2013). ↩
- Gilbert Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, trans. Cécile Malaspina and John Rogove (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2017). Texts in English that address Simondon’s examination of technology include Pascal Chabot, The Philosophy of Simondon: Between Technology and Individuation, trans. Aliza Krefetz and Graeme Kirkpatrick (Bloomsbury, 2003); Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, trans. with an afterword by Thomas LaMarre (MIT Press, 2012); a special issue of Substance Vol. 41, No.3 (2012) called ‘Catching up with Simondon,’ eds. Mark Hayward and Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan; and the collection Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology, eds. Arne De Boever, Alex Murray, Jon Roffe, and Ashley Woodward (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). ↩
- Schatzberg likes how technology (translated from Technik) avoids the ambiguity between technique and technology in the French la technique. ‘Technik Comes to America,’ 497. ↩
- Gilbert Simondon, ‘Culture and Technics,’ trans. Olivia Lucca Fraser, revised by Giovanni Menegalle, Radical Philosophy 189 (2015): 17-23. ↩
- Gilbert Simondon, L’Individuation á la lumière des notions de forme et d’information (Grenoble: Millon, 2013), 27. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 310. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 152, 250. ↩
- Gilbert Simondon, L’invention dans les techniques: cours et conférences (Éditions du Seuil, 2005), 226. ↩
- Marcel Mauss, ‘Techniques of the Body,’ trans. Ben Brewster, Economy and Society 2, no. 1 (1973): 86, 78-79. ↩
- See https://colemak.com for a short history. ↩
- Albert M. Cook and Janice Miller Polgar, Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice, 4th Edition (St. Louis: Mosby, 2015), 149. ↩
- Historical evidence has been shown to disagree with this ‘legend.’ Koichi Yasuoka and Motoko Yasuoka, ‘On the Prehistory of QWERTY,’ ZINBUN 42 (March 2011): 172. ↩
- For a list of Colemak’s claims to ergonomic efficiency over other layouts, see https://colemak.com/Ergonomic. ↩
- See https://www.patrick-wied.at/projects/heatmap-keyboard. ↩
- ‘Colemak Mod-DH – Comparing Layouts,’ accessed May 14, 2020, https://colemakmods.github.io/mod-dh/compare.html. ↩
- For documentation, see https://docs.qmk.fm/glossary.html#scancode. ↩
- For an explanation and discussion, see https://forum.colemak.com/topic/1858-learn-colemak-in-steps-with-the-tarmak-layouts/. ↩
- Mauss, ‘Techniques of the Body,’ 71. ↩
- In addition to Cherry GmbH manufacturing a variety of MX-style switches, numerous off-brand ‘clones’ exist, as do custom variations made by combining components from different switches. ↩
- Gunter Murmann and Gunter Bauer, ‘Low profile switch,’ U.S. Patent
4467160A, filed July 12, 1983, published August 21, 1984, https://patents.google.com/patent/US4467160A/en. ↩
- PG1511F Keyboard Switch, KH-PS1806-01, Kaihua Electronics, May 25, 2018, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/3099/8088/files/Hako_Royal_Clears.pdf?3105166978475858157 ↩
- For a frequently referenced picture, see https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=68550. ↩
- Files and build guide for the Dactyl are available at https://github.com/adereth/dactyl-keyboard. Adereth gave a talk on his development of the Dactyl at a conference for the functional programming language Clojure, viewable at https://youtu.be/uk3A41U0iO4. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 41. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 159. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 41. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 41. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 45, 39. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 74. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 75. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 176. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 125. ↩
- Gilbert Simondon, ‘Naissance de la technologie,’ in Sur la technique (Presses Universitaire de France, 2014), 131. ↩
- Simondon, ‘Naissance,’ 132. ↩
- Simondon, ‘Naissance,’ 132. ↩
- Simondon, ‘Naissance,’ 133. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 74. ↩
- ‘How Keyboards Work,’ QMK Firmware, accessed May 12, 2020, https://docs.qmk.fm/#/how_keyboards_work. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 66. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 245. ↩
- Jean-Yves Chateau’s introduction to L’invention dans les techniques, 11-72, summarizes Simondon’s distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic conditions. ↩
- Simondon, L’individuation, 159. ↩
- Schatzberg, Technology, 20-21. ↩
- Simondon, Introduction to the course ‘Psychosociologie de la technicité’ (1960-1961), in Sur la technique, 29. ↩
- Simon Mills, ‘Concrete Software: Simondon’s Mechanology and the Techno-Social,’ The Fibreculture Journal 18 (2011), http://eighteen.fibreculturejournal.org/2011/10/09/fcj-127-concrete-software-simondon’s-mechanology-and-the-techno-social/. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 59. ↩
- Simondon, On the Mode, 54-55. For a similar treatment of Simondon’s philosophy of technics, see Andrew Iliadis, ‘Two Examples of Concretization,’ Platform 6 (2015): 86-95. ↩
- Mills, ‘Concrete Software,’ 101. ↩
- When Simondon first uses ‘ontogenesis,’ it refers to ‘the genesis of the individual,’ as Barthélémy explains in a footnote to the Parrhesia translation of L’individuation’s introduction. Second, ‘it will designate the becoming of being in general.’ Third, ‘ontogenesis’ will name the theory, replacing ‘ontology’ and thus replacing as well the notion of ‘an ob-jectifying logos.’ Gilbert Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis,’ trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia 7 (2009): 14, n. 2. ↩
- Gaston Bachelard, Le rationalisme appliqué (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1966), 53. ↩
- Bachelard, Le rationalisme appliqué, 34. ↩
- Bachelard, Le rationalisme appliqué, 57. ↩
- See https://docs.qmk.fm/glossary.html#firmware. QMK is written in the C programming language. ↩
- Thomas S. Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter: A History (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017), 17. ↩
- Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter, 23. ↩
- Wolfgang Ernst, Sonic Time Machines: Explicit Sound, Sirenic Voices, and Implicit Sonicity (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016), 16. ↩
- Wolfgang Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media,’ in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, eds. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011): 240-241. ↩
- Ernst, Sonic Time Machines, 30. ↩
- Ernst, Sonic Time Machines, 23. ↩
- Ernst, Sonic Time Machines, 22-23. ↩
- Wolfgang Ernst, ‘Toward a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations,’ in Digital Memory and the Archive, ed. Jussi Parikka (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 176. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 255. ↩
- Kristoffer Gansing, ‘The Transversal Generic: Media-Archaeology and Network Culture,’ The Fibreculture Journal 18 (2011): 97. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 242. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 244. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 242. ↩
- ‘Universal Serial Bus (USB) HID Usage Tables,’ Version 1.12 (USB Implementers’ Forum, October 28, 2004), 53-60, https://www.usb.org/sites/default/files/documents/hut1_12v2.pdf. ↩
- Wolfgang Ernst, ‘From Media History to Zeitkritik,’ translated by Guido Schenkel, Theory, Culture & Society 30, no. 6 (2013): 134. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 253. ↩
- Ernst, ‘Media Archaeography,’ 253. ↩
- Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer, with Chris Cullens (Stanford University Press, 1990), 237. ↩
- Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter, 54. ↩
- For my complete layout in the QMK GitHub repository, see: https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware/blob/master/keyboards/planck/keymaps/ ↩
- Gaston Bachelard, The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind, trans. G. C. Waterson (Viking Press, 1968), 5. ↩