Anti-computing explores forgotten histories and contemporary forms of dissent – moments when the imposition of computational technologies, logics, techniques, imaginaries, utopias have been questioned, disputed, or refused. It also asks why these moments tend to be forgotten. What is it about computational capitalism that means we live so much in the present? What has this to do with computational logics and practices themselves? This book addresses these issues through a critical engagement with media archaeology and medium theory and by way of a series of original studies; exploring Hannah Arendt and early automation anxiety, witnessing and the database, Two Cultures from the inside out, bot fear, singularity and/as science fiction. Finally, it returns to remap long-standing concerns against new forms of dissent, hostility, and automation anxiety, producing a distant reading of contemporary hostility. At once an acute response to urgent concerns around toxic digital cultures, an accounting with media archaeology as a mode of medium theory, and a series of original and methodologically fluid case studies, this book crosses an interdisciplinary research field including cultural studies, media studies, medium studies, critical theory, literary and science fiction studies, media archaeology, medium theory, cultural history, technology history.
Anti-computing punctuates computational advances; the rush ahead, the demand to be wanted, the claims for progress, and for progress as automatically good. Anti-computing is a pause, a stop, a refusal, an objection, a sense, an emotion, a response, a popular campaign, a letter, an essay, a code-work, a theorist, a sensibility, an ambience, an absolute hostility, a reasoned objection, a glitch, a hesitation, an ambient dislike. It may be articulated by a human, a crowd, a network, or by a program that refuses to run. It may also be an element
In the 2020s we live in an era of automation anxiety and automation fever (Bassett and Roberts, 2020 ). There are rising concerns around extant computational cultures, near-horizon developments, and longer-term predictions about computational futures. Anti-computing of various kinds is back with a vengeance. A new moment of urgency arises. Once again the contemporary moment is proclaimed as the time of make or break, the time for decisive action. Once again it is argued that technology will in short order crystallize into a good or bad
; this came to seem essential to understanding and constructing anti-computing. But why look back? Following the turn of the decade, as I complete this book, there is abundant hostility to computing, anxiety about its impacts, and rejection of its visions in the here and now. Automation anxieties around the future of work are fuelling a new anti-computational turn, data-surveillance issues haunt formal politics, and there is rising concern over screen ‘addiction’ in the young. Limit points are being declared and last-chance saloons announced. The massacre in
This chapter undertakes a medium-theoretic analysis of the life of Harvey Matusow, Communist Party member, McCarthyite informer, and a man who famously recanted. Matusow described his early betrayals in terms of a need for recognition in a world of spectacle and in terms of automation – the camera and its distancing vision making the act of informing on his previous allies palatable. In later life he became a vocal opponent of computers and of the database society, founding an anti-computing league to fight against the tyranny of the automated
– something, some form of engagement, that is new. Human becoming is not machine emergence, but the two together might be something else again.
This invites reconsideration of what it means to be anti-computing, or even what it means that what we make with computers is often apparently in tension with what is conventionally assumed to be essential to the computational: its inescapable logico-rationality. The latter is in evidence, but also in evidence is an imaginary, a symbolic, a form of putting into practice, or becoming through
identify, even if it does inform contemporary hostility to new literary formations or approaches.
characterized as ‘residual’ those elements of a social structure that relate back to older forms that originally sustained them, now gone, but which remain active (Williams, 2009 ). The case I am going to make is that Leavis’ thinking on technology engaged with, and even contributed to the production of, the intellectual justification for a particular kind of anti-computing, but was
Arendt, automation, and the cybercultural revolution
she had a take on this. And it was hostile: Arendt was anti-computing.
Arendt's explicit engagement with cybernation was brief. By 1970, in On Violence , she would comment that if one motivation for student protest was ‘the simple fact that technological progress is leading in so many instances straight into disaster’ (cited in Young-Bruehl, 2006 : 149), she also added that the real issue was not unemployment. Rather, ‘the seemingly irresistible proliferation of techniques and machines, far from threatening certain classes with unemployment
This chapter explores singularity as a posited artificial intelligence future, with particular focus on the rise of various forms of post-human or anti-human being and native artificial intelligences, engaging with writings from three waves of science fiction, each of which judges various forms of life. Science fiction has long dealt in artificial intelligence, singularity, and the computational. Claiming a privileged relationship to the technological future, it explores, invents, and/or speculates on possible forms of life. Further, it can care about these lives in particularly intense ways, making it ideal grounds for exploring claims for and prospects for emerging forms of artificial being. Recognizing the tendency of utopian and dystopian accounts to reverse their charge, this chapter avoids polemical accounts (of artificial intelligence ‘life’ as simply for the good or as evil, for instance). The chapter explores aspects of the anti-computational, and considers judgements made on new forms of life, through the more ambiguous explorations of fictional future being in works by Gibson, Piercy, Mieville, and Rajaniemi spanning from the 1980s to the contemporary moment.