Unpacking Software Studies

Terrified that I was about to sit down and read through a technological dictionary of sorts, Fuller’s Software Studies: A Lexicon is far less technical than I was expecting and instead works to expose the “stuff of software.” But what is ‘stuff”? Clarifying in his introduction that the book would not be a set of x-ray goggles, a large deep breath ensued.

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*phew* While x-ray goggles seem like effortless work— you just put them on and suddenly you see it all— I knew that such a metaphor would mean really getting at the nuts and bolts of grasping “software.” Instead, Fuller and his lexical team work toward highlighting our experiences and interactions with software. 

Yes, my humanities-centric brain can handle this.

Or at least try to.

Getting into some of the lexicon’s most compelling discussions of our relationship with software, I’ll touch upon a couple key chapters:

ALGORITHMS

algorithm

My understanding of algorithms prior to this was very minimal and narrow. Oh hm some string from long forgotten algebra? calculus? geometry? Oh right, the thing that Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg scribbled on his Harvard dorm window in that movie? Oh yes that omniscient thing that tells Google everything about us?

But there’s more to it than that. Despite their cold, hard scientific appearance, and obvious relation to software, algorithms have a social and cultural side too. By bringing in the ideas of Foucault, we come to see that algorithms “operate transversally.” This is to say that, the effect of algorithms is not merely machine-to-machine, but machine-human as well. Sound familiar? (Rhizomes! Assemblages!)

So not only does Google/Facebook/whoever have all this data on us, but their utilization of it has real human effects. The data lives on and exerts power outside of the mathematical formulas it was born of. Unsurprisingly, this chapter really got me for its simple understanding of how close-knit algorithms and human behavior can be. Unsettling stuff.

BUTTONS

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Buttons! Who knew this mindless way to get from one place to another signified so much? As “buttons signify a potential for interaction,” the design of buttons have infinite possibilities for setting the tone of that interaction, should you have some imagination. This realization certainly made me feel like Squidward trying to learn about the vast possibilities of imagination. It pushed me to think more about the organization of my own webpage and the incredible amount of possibilities for my nav bar and its buttons. Every aspect of design codes for so much! It’s overwhelming.

CLASS LIBRARY

use constant SATISFIED => NEVER;

Reading this hyper-complicated, poetic, and coded essay felt like listening to a spoken word poem. It’s use of technical language to critique the technical world says a lot about form and content. This essay inspired me to think deeply about the most compelling and effective way to send a message.

COPY

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With our recent contemplations of Creative Commons Licenses, this chapter was particularly intriguing. It highlighted that copying is inherently intertwined with not only creating, but circulating. In order for the power of what you’ve created to reach its full potential, it must also be vulnerable to copying and reproduction. And here is where things start getting tricky. In opening up this area of discussion, this chapter pushed me to consider where my ideas and work may be coming from, as well as what kind of ideas and work my own work could inspire. Copying and connecting are so much more closely related than they first appear! In order to propel a creative community, I’ve decided on a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. This allows my work to be ‘copied’ in that it inspires and lives on in others’ evolutions.

In these ways, Fuller’s collection of works challenged me to apply these understandings to my own work and think critically though the ways that software and digital can push beyond the technical and through to the social and cultural.

~*~ Brianna ~*~

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~ by bk1347 on February 22, 2016.

2 Responses to “Unpacking Software Studies”

  1. Overall: First of all, I thought all of your GIFs and Images were perfectly chosen. They totally fit with the mood of the chapters and were nicely placed to break up the text. Second, I am just so impressed that you tackled the “Class Library” chapter because I felt petrified after the third time trying to get through it! I really liked what you had to say about it though because you’re right, it wasn’t necessarily about trying to make sense of it but rather to think of the infinite amount of ways to get a message across.

  2. I think that this post had the best content- I liked the terms that you chose to focus on since I also found those sections particularly interesting. I also liked your explanation of algorithms since I spent a lot of time trying (unsuccessful) to unpack and make sense of it.

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