8 Mar

Week 8 Synthesis

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.


5 thoughts on “Week 8 Synthesis

  1. Pingback: Week 9: learning analytics and calculating academics | MSc in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh

  2. Nick, I really enjoyed reading your thoughtful synthesis with Electric Route playing in the background. Cheers, PJ

  3. Really liked the Electric Route stuff here, thanks for sharing! Reminded me of my undergraduate years, where I used an early version of the Max/MSP software to programme various sound effects and other strange bits of software.

    Your algorithmic play artefact was great too. The difference between your wish list and purchase lists is quite interesting – its reminded me of the Netflix article (http://www.wired.com/2013/08/qq_netflix-algorithm/), in that they seem interested in what people *say* they watch compared to what they actually watch. This seems like quite a typical psychology experiment – so is are those theories and disciplinary areas dominant amongst ‘web scientists’ and ‘algorithmists’, I wonder. And what implications might that have for the ways algorithms are set into motion?

    Great to pick up on the use of the term ‘inspired’ in reference to the algorithmic operation – particularly given the ‘you loop’ and filter bubble arguments that might interpret these recommendation systems as offering predictability and providing no inspiration at all!

    Interesting as well that you cannot say what you actual ‘like’. So it presumes that a purchase is the same as an endorsement. So, is that just a case of the algorithm needed to become more nuanced? a better algorithm?

    Like your points about the extended self in your Storify too. I wondered if you could also say that you *become* algorithmic – in the sense that you chose the options given to you by the algorithm. The algorithm influences your behaviour so that you act in an algorithmic way. I wonder then if the notion of an ‘extended’ self is enough? Doesn’t the algorithm also extend into us? Which is the core, and which is the extension?

  4. Jeremy, to your masterful elaborations on Nick’s invocation of James’ notion of the “extended self,” my sense is that the notion of ‘extension’ may be too linear and positivist in describing our relation with algorithms; as in ‘extending our boundaries’ or ‘expanding to full capacity.’ Perhaps, ‘entangled’, ‘entanglement’, the ‘entangled self’ is more descriptive of the relationship between the human actor and the algorithmic machine. The human initiates the symbiotic relationship, but it becomes increasingly difficult, problematic to get ‘disentangled.’ Cheers, PJ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>