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Materialities of Software: Logistics, Labour, Infrastructure [extended version]

13-Feb-14

This chapter brings digital humanities research into the domain of logistical industries. The primary task of the global logistics industry is to manage the movement of people and things in the interests of communication, transport and economic efficiencies. The software applications special to logistics visualise and organise these mobilities, producing knowledge about the world in transit. Yet for the most part the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software remains a black box for those not directly using these systems as a matter of routine in their daily work across a range of industries, which include but are not limited to logistical industries. Healthcare, medical insurance, education, mining and energy industries along with retail and service sectors also adopt ERP systems to manage organisational activities. One key reason for the scarce critical attention to ERP systems is related to the prohibitive price of obtaining proprietary software, which often costs millions of dollars for companies to implement. The aesthetics of ERP software is also notoriously unattractive and the design is frequently not conducive to ease or pleasure of use. More…

Locative Media as Logistical Media: Situating Infrastructure and the Governance of Labor in Supply-Chain Capitalism

05-Feb-14

The German based company SAP is one of the largest developers of software that drives global economies, offering leading enterprise software solutions – specifically logistics software – that makes possible movements of people, finance and things that coalesce as global trade. In its 2012 Annual Report with the not especially modest title, Helping the World Run Better, SAP declares that “63% of the world’s transaction revenue touches an SAP system.”1 SAP specializes in software development and web-based services associated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in the logistics industries among many others, including mining, health, finance, medical, insurance, oil and gas, retail and higher education. This means companies can integrate and automate the majority of their business practices in real-time environments that share common data. So goes the sales pitch. More…

  1. SAP, Helping the World Run Better, 2012 Annual Report, 4.

Privacy is Theft: On Anonymous Experiences, Infrastructural Politics and Accidental Encounters

28-Nov-13

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Urban piracy, data piracy, cultural and media piracy, oceanic piracy, ecological piracy – piracy abounds across the world today. Whether analyzed in terms of property violations or acts of resistance, invoked by commercial monopolies or citizen alliances, addressed through strategies of criminalization or the invention of new rights, analyses of piracy delineate the boundaries and (il)legitimacies of specific regimes of power. Across legal, governmental, social, cultural and affective articulations of power, piracy involves a wide array of actors in contestations of ownership, new forms of use and alternative politics of the common. More…

Organised Networks: Weak Ties to Strong Links

28-Nov-13

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

Sloganism for late 2013: “I feel protected by unpublished Suite A algorithms.” (J. Sjerpstra) – “I am on an angry squirrel’s shitlist.” – Join the Object Oriented People – “When philosophy sucks, but you don’t.” ­– “See you in the Sinkhole of Stupid, at 5 pm.” – “I got my dating site profile rewritten by a ghost writer.” – “Meet the co-editor of the Idiocracy Constitution” – The Military-Entrepreneurial Complex: “They are bad enough to do it, but are they mad enough?” – “There really should be something like Anti-Kickstarter for the things you’d be willing to pay to have not happen.” (Gerry Canavan) – Waning of the Social Media: Ruin Aesthetics in Peer-to-Peer Enterprises (dissertation) – “Forget the Data Scientist, I need a Data Janitor.” (Big Data Borat) More…

Toward a Politics of Anonymity: Algorithmic Actors in the Constitution of Collective Agency

27-Apr-13

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

The widespread adoption by users of social network media has increasingly rendered the border between life and labor indistinct. The human soul has been put to work, formatting its informatic expression in clouds without freedom.1 Some of the most radical political events witnessed over the past few years – the Arab Spring, the European Austerity Protests and the Occupy movements – have been notable in their choice of commercial social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to facilitate techniques of organization. How these political mobilizations sustain themselves over time remains an open question, but one that nevertheless requires concepts and models of organization to take into account the politics of code. Beyond a political economy of user-as-product approaches, we contend that it is the figure of anonymity that most effectively identifies the stakes of a new protocol politics. The question of anonymity is at the heart of an emergent politics of information governance, addressing the role of protocols, policies and practices in systems of networking. More…

  1. See Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.

Dirt Research

27-Apr-13

‘Dirt is the stuff that makes a system jump’.
Born, Furján, Jencks, 2012

The phrase ‘dirt research’ described the ‘direct’ method by which Canadian political economist and communications theorist Harold A. Innis (1894-1952) collected material for his research on economic history in Canada. The result of extensive travels across Canada, where he gathered oral testimonies on the staples industries (fur trade, cod fisheries) and transport systems (rivers, railways) combined with exhaustive archival research, Innis’ method of dirt research sought to establish a ‘general organizing principle’ by which patterns of economic and social development could be understood ‘beyond the basic data’.1 More…

  1. John Watson, Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008, 123.

Acts of Translation: Organizing Networks as Algorithmic Technologies of the Common

27-Apr-13

By Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Exodus from the General Intellect

Defined by the informatization of life and labor, the networked condition is characterized by the comprehensive connection of users to circuits of capital via predominantly corporate communication and information infrastructures. The economic value of these engines of entry into a world of communicative commerce is largely determined by the very acts of communication they elicit, structure and sustain. And as the proliferation of proprietary mobile devices separates a new generation of users from previous, more localized generations of personal computing, the corresponding establishment of cloud computing as the primary infrastructural paradigm of storage and service delivery aimed at efficient data-mining establishes a new techno-centralism that should give the evangelists of decentralization-as-democratization pause for thought. At stake is, once again, the ‘authority to act’ and with it the question of action itself.1 More…

  1. For an example of such a gloomy extrapolation of contemporary trends, see Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008. Needless to say, such an explicit exaggeration of contemporary trends is not meant to obscure the many creative uses to which such infrastructures have been put, or deny that corporate and military infrastructures can also provide public goods, but to counter the unbearable evangelism of decentralization-as-democratization. As Benkler notes: ‘For the first time since the industrial revolution, the most important inputs into the core economic activities of the most advanced economies are widely distributed in the population. Creativity and innovation are directly tied to the radical decentralization of the practical capability to act, on the one hand, and of the authority to act, on the other. The critical policy questions of the networked environment revolve round the battles between the decentralization of technology and the push of policy to moderate that decentralization by limiting the distribution of authority to act’. Yochai Benkler, ‘For the First Time Since the Industrial Revolution’, in Richard N. Katz (ed.), The Tower and The Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing, Boulder, CO.: EduCause, 2008, 52, http://www.educause.edu/thetowerandthecloud. On the transformation of action, see the discussion on Arendt and Lazzarato in Soenke Zehle and Ned Rossiter, ‘Organizing Networks: Notes on Collaborative Constitution, Translation and the Work of Organization’, Cultural Politics 5.2: 2009: 237-264.

The Logistical City: Software, Infrastructure, Labour

12-Apr-12

The logistical city is a city of peripheries. These peripheries are occupied by intermodal transport terminals, warehouses, IT infrastructure, container parks and shipping ports.1 The interconnection of peripheries on a transnational scale comprises a special kind of globality, one in which the complex network of distribution systems – roads, rail, shipping, aviation – makes concrete the otherwise mysterious abstractions of capitalist operations. Yet for all this materiality, the logistical city goes largely unnoticed in the metropolitan imaginary precisely because the margins of cities tend to be overlooked and made invisible by more spectacular elements – magisterial feats of architecture, harbour views, cultural festivals and so forth. We long ago resigned ourselves to not needing to know how things work or where things come from. And we are in no rush for a reminder. The logistical city ticks along in the background as we get on with our busy daily lives. More…

  1. Such logistical facilities do not stand isolated, of course, but are interspersed with suburbs, green belts, roads, railways, water systems and barren land.

Materialities of Software: Logistics, Labour, Infrastructure

02-Apr-12

By and large the digital humanities has been notable for its adherence to traditional research objects and rehashing of old methods. There is a concept-free zeal about the capacity for digital methods to verify some kind of hitherto unobtainable empirical truth. Historical literary texts are digitized to revise assumed economic patterns and social forces. Geographers scan topographic maps to produce information layers and digital elevations that reveal new frontiers for research. Google earth is traversed to uncover obscure archaeological curiosities in a dirt free manner. Even cutting edge research in the field of digital media cultures tends to transpose established humanities and social science methods to conduct ethnographies of Facebook, complex visualisations of networks and content analyses of the Twittersphere. More…

“Seriality for All”: The Role of Protocols and Standards in Critical Theory

20-Sep-11

By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter

Recommended music track to play while reading this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6Xae9jsqxU

Tomorrow the world. ‘Whoever sets the standard has the power’. Strangely enough, this view has few disciples. If we talk about power, and dare to think that we can take over and be in charge, we rarely take Voltaire’s advice to focus all our attention on victory and instead indulge ourselves in self-criticism over how time and again we fail. Mention the word power and we will almost intuitively think of the political class and our revulsion for this profession. We prefer to believe media-savvy opinion makers control the political agenda. It is tempting to think that content, and not form, determines our lives. Those of us who publicly discuss protocols are easily dismissed as cynical techno-determinists or boring bureaucrats. The standard height of a computer table is 72 cm. But who gets bothered about that? Isn’t it the quality of the work that comes out of the computer on that very table which counts? An easy-on-the-eye font for a novel is nice enough, but what really counts is the writer’s gift to entertain us. More…

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