Programmed Visions: Software and Memory

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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 approaches the concept of programmability through the surprising materialization of software as a “thing” in its own right, tracing the hardening of programming into software and of memory into storage. She 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 less we know, the more we are shown. This paradox, Chun argues, does not diminish new media’s power, but rather grounds computing’s appeal. Its 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.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262015424
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 4/29/2011
  • Series: Software Studies
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature.

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Table of Contents

Series Foreword vii

Preface: Programming the Bleeding Edge of Obsolescence xi

Introduction: Software, a Supersensible Sensible Thing 1

You 13

I Invisibly Visible, Visibly Invisible 15

1 On Sourcery and Source Codes 19

Computers that Roar 55

2 Daemonic Interfaces, Empowering Obfuscations 59

II Regenerating Archives 97

3 Order from Order, or Life According to Software 101

The Undead of Information 133

4 Always Already There, or Software as Memory 137

Conclusion: In Medias Res 175

Epilogue: In Medias Race 179

You, Again 181

Notes 183

Index 233

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