Given the number of texts that follow in this, the second issue of Computational Culture, it is, for the sake of readers, at least, incumbent upon an editorial to attempt the virtues of celerity and concision. We will do our best to satisfy such a requirement.
The developing field of software studies aims to engage with the fundamental reconstitution that computing has brought to contemporary life in all of its dimensions. This shift is characterized by the integration of computational objects, processes and mentalities into forms of governance, thought, modes of being and sensing, and forms of culture. At the same time, computation itself becomes increasingly determined by or involved with questions of experience, organization, understanding and other fields traditionally thought of as ‘belonging’, in terms of the disciplinary space allotted to reflection on such matters within the org-chart of the university, to the humanities, social sciences and arts.
The claim that this is a fundamental shift, akin but not identical to that involved in the inventions of writing and print, is echoed and registered here in a series of articles and it is with the means and consequences of understanding, analyzing and acting in such a condition that the journal is centrally concerned. Articles in this issue therefore address this condition in a number of ways, understanding that its problematic is complex, broad and varied to say the least.
Various different modes of research and enquiry articulate analyses of many of the particular kinds of entities and relations that computing introduces with developing accounts of the exigencies of the world as they are introduced to and re-articulated by the cultures of software. This issue thus includes detailed investigation of specific computational objects and processes in various different kinds of context; sustained reviews of the articulation of software in specific forms of discourse and power; the proposal and development of new technical and conceptual methods for the analysis of software; analysis of the enfolding of social, spatial, scientific and ecological processes into computational systems; propositions for modes of understanding the key ways in which computational forms give rise to and instantiate modes and objects of knowledge; and questions around different forms of technical, economic and sensory understanding in computing as a field.
Since this is not a ‘special issue’ we are not providing an argument that offers a full synthetic overview of the contents of this issue in this editorial, but rather a brief supplement to the index and the abstracts, in terms of a set of pointers towards them. The articles of course speak for themselves far more eloquently than could any such summary sketch, so we feel relatively confident in our inevitable failure to traduce them here.
Robert W. Gehl and Sarah Bell draw on John Law’s concept of heterogeneous engineering, a form of assemblage thinking, to trace the work involved in the making and marketing of the Windows Vista operating system, and relate it to the question of the development of the genesis of the idea of software engineering. By following software objects, marketing campaigns, public statements and internal corporate emails as well as the qualities of interfaces, imagined and actual functionality, alongside the minutiae of relations to retailers and customers they show how engineering, as well as being an attempt to apply rational methods to software, can also be simply an attempt to make things ‘hang together’ in a more or less convincing manner.
Annette Vee provides a highly developed overview of the metaphors used to describe software in the law of the United States of America. Appearing as text, speech and machine, and enjoying the rights pertaining to the different kinds of metaphorical and legal statuses implied by such conditions what software is and does, how it can be acted upon becomes crucially conditioned by what it can be said to be like. This essay works through a series of key cases to shows the ways in which law, often discursively linked to software as both metaphor and analogue, becomes active in software.
Bernhard Rieder proposes a genealogy for the famous PageRank algorithm underlying the Google search engine. Drawing on a history of related work in sociometry, citation analysis and algorithm design amongst other materials, this article places PageRank in the context of a wider frame of the means and metrics of evaluation. By means of a close analysis of this algorithm with the closely related HITS, the article also shows how small differences in software can, in relation to a wider network of ‘resources’, have significant consequences. This article therefore makes a case for a methodology of close analysis and of understanding the wider context in which its subject operates.
Jennifer Gabrys works with the use of sensors in environmental research, asking how such sensors imply a certain range of modes of the experience of the environment, looking at how they monitor, mediate and mobilise movement, the presence of certain chemicals, species, sounds and so on in developing an expanded sense of the experience and activity of a place. Her work is concerned with what and how such new kinds of understanding and agency of ecologies can be understood, and how are they in turn re-articulated as they provide evidence, information and the grounds for further experiment and experience and in turn imply a form of distributed agency.
Carlos Barreneche also works on issues to do with the computation of space, but in relation to the social media sites FourSquare and Flickr. His article discusses the data they carry about place and the means for its automatic evaluation in relation to formulations of relevance. The kinds of effects such indexing might have on the categorization, archiving, accessing and understanding of location and how such systems scale themselves becoming kinds of heterogeneous places are discussed in relation to the algorithms that arrange them. Such systems are often heavily ‘visualised’ as a means of both interface and enquiry, and this article importantly asks how such images come to be.
Shintaro Miyazaki works with a related thematic, that of sonification, and how techniques for deriving information manifest as sound can be used to understand algorithmic processes. Positing the methodology of algorythmics, this article draws on the history of sound as a means of understanding the stages and activities of a computing procedure, starting with the use of sound as a diagnostic in early mainframes. Coupled with the understanding of the loop in programs, and the interplay of functions, some of which may be disastrous, such an approach allows for the understanding via sound of the patternings of computational systems.
In this issue we also introduce a new section. In issue one we published peer-reviewed articles and reviews. Issue two brings ‘Comment’, named after the lines of more or less explicatory comment added to programs by developers. This is a space for articles that are not peer-reviewed but which add to the fundamental debates that this journal takes part in.
Bernard Stiegler delivered this article as a lecture in the World Wide Web 2012 conference in Lyon this April past. Here, he makes a full and cogent argument for the recognition of what he calls ‘Digital Studies’, a means of understanding what might constitute the form of Aufklärung or englightenment appropriate to the present era and proposes with it a form of philosophically inspired thought adequate to the kinds of memory, language and writing emerging in the present era.
As with the previous issue, Computational Culture is keen to maintain a lively section of reviews. In this issue we present reviews of books, ranging from accounts of ‘cybercrime’ to reflections on social media and search, contributions to software studies and histories of political electronics. In future issues we would like to include reviews of software, art, cameras, hardware, protocols, events, and would like to encourage readers to consider contributing such materials towards the joint development of the field.
Computational Culture Editorial Group