Back in June I blogged here about “Algorithmic Culture,” or the sorting, classifying, and hierarchizing of people, places, objects, and ideas using computational processes. (Think Google search, Amazon’s product recommendations, who gets featured in your Facebook news feed, etc.) Well, for the past several months I’ve been developing an essay on the theme, and it’s finally done. I’ll be debuting it at Vanderbilt University’s “American Cultures in the Digital Age” conference on Friday, March 18th, which I’m keynoting along with Kelly Joyce (College of William & Mary), Cara Finnegan (University of Illinois), and Eszter Hargittai (Northwestern University). Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be joining such distinguished company at what promises to be, well, an event.
The piece I posted originally on algorithmic culture generated a surprising — and exciting — amount of response. In fact, nine months later, it’s still receiving pingbacks, I’m pretty sure as a result of its having found its way onto one or more college syllabuses. So between that and the good results I’m seeing in the essay, I’m seriously considering developing the material on algorithmic culture into my next book. Originally after Late Age I’d planned on focusing on contemporary religious publishing, but increasingly I feel as if that will have to wait.
Drop by the conference if you’re in or around the Nashville area on Friday, March 18th. I’m kicking things off starting at 9:30 a.m. And for those of you who can’t make it there, here’s the title slide from the PowerPoint presentation, along with a little taste of the talk’s conclusion:
This latter definition—culture as authoritative principle—is, I believe, the definition that’s chiefly operative in and around algorithmic culture. Today, however, it isn’t culture per se that is a “principle of authority” but increasingly the algorithms to which are delegated the task of driving out entropy, or in Matthew Arnold’s language, “anarchy.” You might even say that culture is fast becoming—in domains ranging from retail to rental, search to social networking, and well beyond—the positive remainder of specific information processing tasks, especially as they relate to the informatics of crowds. And in this sense algorithms have significantly taken on what, at least since Arnold, has been one of culture’s chief responsibilities, namely, the task of “reassembling the social,” as Bruno Latour puts it—here, though, by discovering statistical correlations that would appear to unite an otherwise disparate and dispersed crowd of people.
I expect to post a complete draft of the piece on “Algorithmic Culture” to my project site once I’ve tightened it up a bit. Hopefully it will generate even more comments, questions, and provocations than the blog post that inspired the work initially.
In the meantime, I’d welcome any feedback you may have about the short excerpt appearing above, or on the talk if you’re going to be in Nashville this week.