App-ed Out: Logics of Success and Failure in App Stores

Introduction ‘Tweets coming soon.’ ‘All movements have a beginning.’ These were the first two tweets published to the AppDeveloperUnion (@AppDevUnion) twitter account. They were published on Jun. 7, 2012, strategically timed a few days before Apple’s annual WorldWide Developers Conference. A dozen or so other tweets came from the account over the next four days, …

Regramming the Platform: Infrastructural Relations between Apps and Social Media

Introduction In May 2018, Instagram announced a new feature for users to share feed posts to their own Instagram Stories.1 This practice of ‘resharing’, as Instagram calls it, had already been introduced over six years prior in a third-party app called Regram,2 a popular app with over 500,000 downloads addressing the platform’s lack of support …

Dating Apps and Data Markets: A Political Economy of Communication Approach

Introduction Numerous and widely used, dating apps collect and connect detailed personal data across platforms. They have therefore been responsible for integrating intensive modes of personal data collection and computational decision-making into intimate social life, and, in parallel, for integrating these personal and intimate modes of communication into the platform-dominated digital media environment’s logics and …

Infrastructures of Intimate Data: Mapping the Inbound and Outbound Data Flows of Dating Apps

A Data Infrastructure Approach to App Studies In early 2018, as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook limited the types of data that third-party apps could access through its application programming interfaces (APIs). 1 Facebook one-sidedly implemented a new data governance model, 2 limiting access to the personal information – such as relationship …

Policing through Platform

Introduction The relationship between mobile technologies and policing in the United States is not a new one. In-car computers and scanners, hand-held recording devices, radios and cameras have been deployed in the field for decades. The last decade has been characterized by a steady rise of networked information technologies and resources that have co-constituted new …

Less Mutable, More Mobile: The Role of Twitter Apps in the History of the Retweet Button

Introduction Twitter is not only a platform for the circulation of all kinds of messages; it is simultaneously an interface that makes this very activity explicitly visible. It is a highly reflexive infrastructure, as it automatically produces dynamic accounts of its infrastructural activity. I assume that these accounts are in no way a secondary, ex-post …

Infrastructure of Vision: Envisioning the Future through Market Devices

Introduction Since Frank Rosenblatt’s Perceptron – a neural network processing ‘[visual] inputs impinging directly from the physical environment’1 developed between 1957 and 1961 – computer vision has been a defining function of machine learning. While the Perceptron never reached the level of accuracy at image classification tasks that its military funders were hoping for, the …

Section Editorial: Critical Approaches to Computational Law

Introduction The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, Regulation (EU) 2016/679) came into effect on 25th May 2018. The GDPR revises and extends the previous Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC) of 1995 but also introduces new areas of regulation relating to algorithmic processing and what it calls “Automated individual decision making.”1 Since the spread …

Software As Dispute Resolution System: Design, Effect and Cultural Monetization

Introduction Many artists are dependent on popular audiovisual distribution platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion and others. While Vimeo requires a paid subscription for fast streaming,1 Youtube has, until now, the largest participation since it offers free service for high speed streaming, (nonetheless with the insertion of advertisements). The platform has more revenue plans, …

Algorithmic Legal Reasoning as Racializing Assemblages

Introduction Predictive analytics use a variety of techniques (e.g., statistical methods, machine learning algorithms) to make predictions about future events. 1 Although predictive analytics have been used in many disciplines since the early 20th century (e.g., actuarial science, business intelligence, financial forecasting), increasingly, this computationally intensive technique has been employed by law enforcement and other …

Throbber: Executing Micro-temporal Streams

Loading webpages, waiting for social media feeds, streaming music, movies and other multimedia content are mundane activities in contemporary culture. Such mundane activity includes the involvement of network-connected devices from fixed desktop computers to portable tablets and smart watches, all involving data transmission and distribution across multiple sites—referred to as data. In these scenarios, data, …

The Socio-Technical Background of an Unconventional Software Architecture in OpenStreetMap: Understanding the Implementation of ‘Folksonomy’

1. Introduction From the 1960s onwards, analogue cartography has been rapidly and comprehensively replaced. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were progressively developed to capture, process, analyze, and map digital geodata 1. With the emergence of the interactive internet, digital geoinformation and cartographic representations are undergoing another fundamental transformation 2. This transformation is often labeled with the …

geographies of (con)text: language and structure in a digital age

Introduction What happens when words become data? Now that almost all language is in some way digitised, ‘data-ised’ and submitted to computation, the ownership, control and organisation of linguistic and other data can have a profound, yet not always intentional or indeed predictable, impact on social, cultural and political discourse, and on personal freedoms and …

Editorial, Issue Six

Welcome to issue six of Computational Culture. We offer this issue at what is in some ways a particularly lively moment. The discussion of certain large scale software systems and the effects, in political and psycho-social terms, of the detail and scale of their design has become a matter for public concern. Facebook, Twitter and …

Mereotopology and Computational Representations of the Body

Introduction Husserl scholar Donn Welton asks 1 “how does one understand the relationship between a natural scientific description of the body and a phenomenological one?” In this essay I take this question in a computational context. This means asking for an understanding of the relationship between computational descriptions of the body from the natural sciences …

Putting Identity on Hold: Motion Capture and the Mystery of the Disappearing Blackness*

A happy penguin can be a good tap dancer, there is no doubt. Especially if the penguin is a 3D character moved by the steps of motion-captured African American tap dancer Savion Glover, in the Oscar-winning animation Happy Feet by director George Miller (2006). In fact, Mumble the penguin is not only an extremely talented …

Dance Becoming Data: Part One Software for Dancers

The starting point for this contribution to the special section of Computational Culture on Computing the Corporeal is a relatively small cluster of research projects starting in 2000, which explored various roles that software and software development might play in the context of contemporary dance creation and performance. The inaugural project for which four choreographers, …

Welcome to the Polygon: Contested Digital Neighborhoods and Spatialized Segregation on Nextdoor

Introduction Common-sense ideas about where a city’s neighborhoods begin and end rarely coincide entirely with the discrete and unyielding borders plotted on maps or entered into digital data structures. While paper maps depicting urban neighborhoods changed only incrementally and had a limited range of uses (navigation, tourism, government services), today neighborhood boundaries and names propagate …

Out of Bounds: Language limits, language planning, and the definition of distance in the new spaces of linguistic capitalism

Software challenges us to re-inscribe what we comprehend as inscription. And, most importantly, software challenges us to understand new forms of technological politics and new practices of political invention, legibility and intervention that we are only just beginning to comprehend as political at all … These orderings – written down as software – are becoming …

Artificial Rhetorical Agents and the Computing of Phronesis

Introduction On a cold night in Ulm, Germany on November 10, 1619, René Descartes received a series of dreams in which a ‘mirabilis scientiae fundamenta’ was revealed to him. As he recounts in his autobiography A Discourse on Method, this foundation for a wonderful science was to be built upon mathematics and promised to unite …

“One Damn Slide After Another”: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech

Introduction PowerPoint is installed on more than a billion computers.1 It is the indispensable medium for presentation, one of the most ubiquitous software applications in the world. It has likely been used to raise more money than any other tool in history.2 Teachers rely on PowerPoint. Elementary schoolchildren make presentations and so do researchers in …

Software Design in the “Construction Genre” of Learning Technology: Content Aware versus Content Agnostic

1. Introduction Since the introduction of LOGO in the 1960s, educators and technologists have been creating open-ended, “sandbox” style computational media; what Mizuko Ito has labeled the “construction genre” of educational technology. 1 Examples include MIT’s Scratch, CMU’s Alice, UC-Boulder’s AgentSheets, and a wide variety of similar systems that are designed to teach math and …

From WIMP to ATLAS: Rhetorical Figures of Ubiquitous Computing

Introduction “In the new millennium, and notably after 2005, as a citizen of more or less massively networked information societies, one has already been interacting enough beyond command-lines, menus, desktops, and GUIs to have realized that another set of models is operative, and that there is at this point an obvious need to pursue analyses …

‘Can We Name the Tools?’ Ontologies of Code, Speculative Techné and Rhetorical Concealment

Introduction /* No one is born happy. */ pcity -> ppl_happy [0] = 0; city.c, FreeCiv In her essay ‘Should We Name the Tools?’ Carolyn R. Miller identifies a contradictory impulse within the history of rhetoric. On the one hand, a rhetor strives to conceal the deliberate use of rhetorical art (techné) in order to …

The World of Edgerank: Rhetorical Justifications of Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm

Introduction: From hidden power to explicit vision Edgerank is an algorithm that composes the sequence of posts on a Facebook user’s News Feed, which is the first page one meets after logging in to Facebook. The name and existence of Edgerank is relatively well known, but in comparison to Google’s Pagerank algorithm1, very little research …

Graph Force: Rhetorical Machines and the N-Arization of Knowledge

To exist is to be indexed by a search engine. Introna & Nissenbaum, 20001 Figure 1: Google’s Knowledge Graphs for Stokely Carmichael, c. March, 2014 (Left) and c. September, 2015 (Right) On May 16th, 2012, Google officially announced the launch of its Knowledge Graph. In the announcement, Google wrote that the Knowledge Graph was introduced …

The ‘FizzBuzz’ Programming Test: A Case-Based Exploration of Rhetorical Style in Code

Introduction For the last several decades, rhetoric has increasingly been understood to play a significant role in communication occurring not just in discursive speech and writing acts but across numerous modes of meaning-making, including image, color, gesture, spatial arrangement, aurality, and procedure. For rhetoricians, recognizing that meaning is created and communicated across these modes serves …

Incomputable Aesthetics: Open Axioms of Contingency

Prologue: Gödel and Turing In 1936, Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society published a paper authored by a young Cambridge Fellow, Alan Turing. This essay, ‘On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem’,1 is considered today to be momentous for having stripped what was then the purely mental activity of computation down to its …

What Do Metrics Want? How Quantification Prescribes Social Interaction on Facebook

Introduction During a scene in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street film sequel, titled Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,1 the young trader Jake Moore asks investment bank CEO Bretton James a question: “What’s your number? The amount of money you would need to be able to walk away from it all and just live happily-ever-after. See, I find that everybody …

Reflections on the MP3 Format: Interview with Jonathan Sterne

Used by hundreds of millions on a daily basis, there is finally a comprehensive study out on the MP3 audio standard. Sound theorist Jonathan Sterne not only describes the political economic background of how this technology came into being in the early 1990s but also provides the reader with an interesting history of sound and …

Field Report for Critical Code Studies, 2014


Field Report for Critical Code Studies, 2014 Over the past seven years since the publication of the manifesto on Critical Code Studies (CCS), 1 the early explorers have established that examining code using humanities-style interpretive methodologies is a valuable part of the analysis of software and programming culture and have shown the first signs of …

Modelling biology – working through (in-)stabilities and frictions

Introduction Computation is giving rise to new scientific practices and, specifically, new capacities for investigating the complexities of the physical and natural world. The grand claims sometimes conflate computation and science, and go so far as to imagine a ‘computational science’ replacing science as we know it (cf. Carlson, 2011). Looking past the heady rhetoric, …

No SQL: The Shifting Materialities of Database Technology

Introduction Databases make the world. They do so in at least two ways. The first and more trivial of these is that the world is increasingly made up of databases, as digital technologies continue to supplement, surround, or displace other forms of record keeping. The second and more consequential way in which databases make the …

Divide and Share: Taxonomies, Orders and Masses in Facebook’s Open Graph

Introduction ‘Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life,’ according to the equally euphemistic and oddly reserved self-description of the most popular social media platform. If this slogan is taken seriously – which certainly seems opportune in the light of the ‘mass’ of a billion users – then the questions arise …

Not just another database: the transactions that enact young offenders

Introduction Government practices from social work and criminal justice to health care and taxation rely on administrative databases to identify, track, monitor, evaluate, govern and intervene in the life chances and trajectories of people. 1 While governments have long compiled such databases their proliferation and the uses to which they are being put are being …

Relational and Non-Relational Models in the Entextualization of Bureaucracy

Introduction This paper addresses data management practices of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, specifically in the context of their use by large formal organizations. The most significant processual development in this period is the rise and subsequent dominance of data management systems using the relational model. 1 Such relational database systems—which organize information …

Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API

Introduction The past decade has seen a staggering rise of social media – online services that facilitate social interaction between its users. We live and breathe social media, as services like Facebook and Twitter have not only become household names, but something like actual households themselves – places people choose to live and socialize. Whilst …

Critical Codes – from forkbomb to brainfuck

Speaking Code is a book about language – and in particular, the languages of digital technology. The notion of the programming “language” has always acted as a provocation to critical commentary, since the earliest speculations on giant electronic brains and their apparent potential to participate in human society. But increasingly pervasive digital media mean that …

Algorhythmics: Understanding Micro-Temporality in Computational Cultures

Introduction Algorithms are mathematical and thus abstract structures, but should not be mistaken for algebraic formulae, since assignments or instructions operated by algorithms are non-reversible. They are vector-dependent and have built-in time functions. Their ties to machinic reality and operability make algorithms time-based and as such part of rhythmic procedures, which are able to cause …

Sensing an Experimental Forest: Processing Environments and Distributing Relations

Environmental Sensing Surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest and situated within the San Jacinto Mountain Range in California, there is one particular patch of woods that is distinct in its ecological processes. This forest is equipped with embedded network sensing that digitally detects and processes environmental phenomena, from microclimates to light patterns, moisture levels …

The Order of Places: Code, Ontology and Visibility in Locative Media

‘To govern, it is necessary to render visible the space over which government is to be exercised’ (Rose, 1999). ‘From the national postal service to the public telephone to the license plate on every registered vehicle, media are at work replacing people with their addresses.’ (Kittler, 1996). Introduction Long before the arrival of popular geo-services …

What is in PageRank? A Historical and Conceptual Investigation of a Recursive Status Index

1. Introduction When asking the question ‘what is an algorithm?’, computer science offers numerous definitions, such as Knuth’s classic ‘a finite set of rules which gives a sequence of operations for solving a specific type of problem’1. From there, we are frequently directed to the underlying principles of mechanical computation, and to the foundational work …

Text, Speech, Machine: Metaphors for Computer Code in the Law

As computer software has become increasingly central to commerce and creativity, lawmakers have retrofitted it into preexisting legal regimes to regulate its production and distribution. Currently in the United States, software is eligible for protection under patent law, copyright law, trade secret law and the First Amendment. Legal determinations of technology such as software do …

Heterogeneous Software Engineering: Garmisch 1968, Microsoft Vista, and a Methodology for Software Studies

The foreword to MIT’s Software Studies series suggests its purpose is to “make critical, historical, and experimental accounts of (and interventions via) the objects and processes of software.”1 Methodologically diverse, the international field of software studies welcomes perspectives from the arts and humanities, the social sciences, as well as computer science and engineering. Recent proposals …

Nerves of data: the neurological turn in/against networked media

Over the last year or so, a loose idea, albeit one with ‘hard’ evidence, has been gathering speed – ‘the neurological turn’ in humanities and social science discourses, particularly in analyses of screen and new media technologies and reception. The neurological turn refers mainly to the resorting to neuroscience by non-neuroscientific scholars, journalists and commentators …

Inside Photoshop

Contemporary media is experienced, created, edited, remixed, organized and shared with software. This software includes stand-alone professional media design and management applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, Final Cut, After Effects, Aperture, and Maya; consumer-level apps such as iPhoto, iMovie, or Picassa; tools for sharing, commenting, and editing provided by social media sites such …

Extended Carbon Cognition as a Machine

Introduction Carbon matters. And it is computed. In a culture. Underlying calculations are configured; and they could be configured otherwise. To open a space for conceptual discussion about carbon, this article attempts to reconstruct the extended and distributed practices of knowing carbon emissions with the help of scholarship from the field of Science and Technology …

Thinking Beyond the Brain: Educating and Building, from the Standpoint of Extended Cognition

We have the Technology In a widely reported article published recently in Science, 1 a series of experimental results were described which together indicate that, in an era of laptops, tablets, and smartphones that come armed with powerful Internet search engines, our organic brains often tend to internally store not the information about a topic, …