Software and Memory
256 pp., 7 x 9 in, 27 figures
- Published: April 29, 2011
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: January 11, 2013
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A theoretical examination of the surprising emergence of software as a guiding metaphor for our neoliberal world.
New media thrives on cycles of obsolescence and renewal: from celebrations of cyber-everything to Y2K, from the dot-com bust to the next big things—mobile mobs, Web 3.0, cloud computing. In Programmed Visions, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun argues that these cycles result in part from the ways in which new media encapsulates a logic of programmability. New media proliferates “programmed visions,” which seek to shape and predict—even embody—a future based on past data. These programmed visions have also made computers, based on metaphor, metaphors for metaphor itself, for a general logic of substitutability.
Chun argues that the clarity offered by software as metaphor should make us pause, because software also engenders a profound sense of ignorance: who knows what lurks behind our smiling interfaces, behind the objects we click and manipulate? The combination of what can be seen and not seen, known (knowable) and not known—its separation of interface from algorithm and software from hardware—makes it a powerful metaphor for everything we believe is invisible yet generates visible, logical effects, from genetics to the invisible hand of the market, from ideology to culture.
Programmed Visions is an entirely fresh and original piece of scholarship—lyrically written, uncompromisingly rigorous, and full of surprising and provocative insights. Chun demonstrates convincingly that programmability is an 'ideological belief,' and in so doing challenges received ideas about digital media's supposedly objective relation to truth, noncontingency, and operability. This book is of tremendous importance to gender studies, digital media studies, history, and science and technology studies.
Lisa Nakamura, Asian American Studies Program and Institute of Communications Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In a move of stunning originality, Wendy Chun argues that belief in 'programmability' fuels the current organization of the modern liberal state. Computer code, she tells us, is fetish—a magical entity thanks to which individuals believe themselves agents of causality and sovereignty. In truth, though, power lies elsewhere—most importantly in the social, political, and economic relations embedded within and materialized in the software and hardware that render us desiring subjects. Essential for students of science and media studies.
Timothy W. Lenoir, Kimberly Jenkins Chair for New Technologies and Society, Duke University
Once again, Wendy Chun proves herself to be the indispensable critic of Internet and computer cultures. We learn how the computer thinks us and the implications of that thought in terms of race, gender, and visuality. Chun creates a new and flexible terminology that displaces our sense of the computer as a transparent WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) servant into a twinned relationship of causality and ignorance. From here, neither the computer nor visual culture will look the same again.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University