Living with Algorithms
Agency and User Culture in Costa Rica
A nuanced account from a user perspective of what it's like to live in a datafied world.
We live in a media-saturated society that increasingly transforms our experiences, relations, and identities into data others can analyze and monetize. Algorithms are key to this process, surveilling our most mundane practices, and to many, their control over our lives seems absolute. In Living with Algorithms, Ignacio Siles critically challenges this view by surveying user dynamics in the global south across three algorithmic platforms—Netflix, Spotify, and TikTok—and finds, surprisingly, a more balanced relationship.
Drawing on a wealth of empirical evidence that privileges the user over the corporate, Siles examines the personal relationships that have formed between users and algorithms as Latin Americans have integrated these systems into the structures of everyday life, enacted them ritually, participated in public with and through them, and thwarted them. Sometimes users follow algorithms, Siles finds, and sometimes users resist them. At times, users do both. Agency lies in the navigation of the spaces in-between.
By analyzing what we do with algorithms rather than what algorithms do to us, Living with Algorithms clarifies the debate over the future of datafication and whether we have a say in its development. Concentrating on an understudied region of the global south, the book provides a new perspective on the commonalities and differences among users within a global ecology of technologies.
“Living with Algorithms is much more than a study of algorithms in Costa Rica. Siles deftly demonstrates the invaluable role of Latin American media theory and practice for our understanding of contemporary technologies.”
Heather A. Horst, Director of the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; coauthor of Digital Anthropology, Digital Ethnography and The Moral Economy of the Mobile Phone
“Too often, critical studies of data and algorithms remain focused on the global north. Living with Algorithms breaks out of this paradigm, providing a fascinating and subtle account of how people in Costa Rica use, imagine, and resist digital platforms.”
Angèle Christin, Assistant Professor, Stanford University; author of Metrics at Work
The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding and support from MIT Press Direct to Open