I spent the early part of the week researching algorithmic culture on youtube, vimeo and pinterest. This highlight the central position that algorithms occupy, both in practical terms (organising the vast quantities of data available on the internet) as well as their cultural significance, producing new forms of cultural expression e.g. forms of music co-created by humans and machines (see Electric Route’s – ThisOrder Algorthmic Sorting Experimental and Nicholas Nova’s ‘Adventure’s in Algorithmic Culture as examples).
Combined with the core reading for this week (especially Knox 2014) these highlighted the agency that algorithms have — shaping culture and interactions in ways that may not have been anticipated by their creators. I explored this further through my play with algorithms using my Audible account, demonstrating the ways that the identification of ‘appropriate’ cultural artefacts (in this case books) by machines, can contribute to shaping the users’ extended self.
Towards the end of the week, I took a more critical approach to the role of algorithms – especially their potential to serve as vehicles for social control. I found Sandvig’s observation interesting in this respect, that an algorithm can trace your browsing/purchasing history whereas it would be illegal to obtain a copy of an individual’s library record. I finished the week with an ironic play on the potential for algorithms to control, by using an example of a university library offering a struggling academic a list of dubious readings based on their poor annual performance review.
To what extent do algorithms facilitate communication, or impose blinkers on people? It seems to me like the former has been explored to a much greater extent, compared with the latter.
Knox, J. (2014) Active algorithms: sociomaterial spaces in the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. Campus Virtuales, 3(1): 42-55.