More on intended uses

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I heard some anarchists had some feedback my post about intended uses of technologies. They disagreed with my claim that we don’t know the original intentions of Facebook. So let me expand a bit on the previous post.

I have this slightly mystical idea that humans can’t fully and perfectly understand what a certain media is (following Kittler). So I don’t think we should go all anthropocentric and claim that we know exactly what this is, like objectively dude. Maybe aliens know it better? Eh, for example. Our understanding of something as “simple” as a Commodore 64 clearly changes over time, as we discover previously unknown details. So we should at least be a bit humble and keep an open mind about the media’s substance.

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That is not to that say some media aren’t made with specific intentions from its human inventors, which might be obscured from the end user. It’s a very important discussion too, but a somewhat different one. Maybe Facebook was intended to become what it is today already from the beginning, as these anarchists claim to know, but how can we be sure? Spotify is easier to speculate about, because we know that it didn’t start with the idea of streaming music. They wanted to stream something. Whatever. Peer-to-peer something. But they knew that they wanted to sell ads. So maybe that was the original intention?

We can and should speculate about these things. Especially when we talk about the politics of media. After all, Spotify becomes something else when its history doesn’t start with “let’s revolutionize the music industry in our underwear” but instead “let’s sell ads by streaming stuff” (in Swedish). But I’m not sure that we should put too much focus on the origin.

In the end, it feels like a particularly Western thing to look for an “original intention”. A singular origin. The “one man, one idea” kind of thing (yeah, those stories are mostly about men). It’s probably more complex than that, right? Lots of people involved, economic interests, unexpected events, failures, power struggles, ideology, and so on. Even if we can define one point of origin, it seems pretty unlikely that any intended uses would be so firmly embedded in an object or in a company that it would withstand the pressure from decades of political and economical changes. Or, you know, from your friend Steve who turns your computer company into a walled garden.

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To me it seems fairly obvious that a human-made object can take on a “life” of its own that the inventors cannot anticipate or explain, and that the inventors don’t own. And it’s also fairly obvious that there are psychopath inventors and structures that don’t care/know about what they destroy.

Gif from Black Flags by William Forsythe. Just-in-case disclaimer: I don’t dislike anarchists.

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