We launched the Codex for Algorithmic Studies with a joint presentation, Emoji-Con: Coding the Economy of Affect, at the 2015 Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (Bios, Techné and the Manufacture of Happiness), 30 June 2015. Please click below for a sound recording of our lecture and the Q&A which followed.
Algorithms more or less invisibly drive today’s everything-portable, thing-entangled, 4G-networked world. The reach for and promise of happiness shapes much of the pervasiveness and necessity of the algorithm to make life easier, more efficient and more effective for us. For instance, we no longer need to drive cars, subjecting our safety to fallible human judgment, error, and inconvenient if not disastrous accidents; the cars will move for us with its algorithms working out effectively regulated speeds, instantaneous response time and maximum fuel efficiency. We take “perfect” photographs with every shot prompted by the algorithms in our digital cameras to increase sharpness, brightness, and the vividness of color, and by image-editing software to remove all imperfections, if not also to recreate what we failed to capture in the shot-making. The Internet of Things is becoming central to all this as its algorithms run the lives of things to manage our almost every minute and action.
Entangled as we are with things, the IoT algorithms ultimately also tap the rhythms of our days and hum the cadences of our nights; our lives start to turn with number crunching and data processing. This offers a powerful narrative, where the systematic organisation of the algorithm is taken to echo the utilitarian ideal of happiness in a society of consummate efficiency, with the freeing up of self-defining time for each and every one of us to do more of the things we enjoy or want to do. The algorithm thus supposedly makes us happier by making life easier, more efficient and more effective, liberating us from labour and the quotidian, enabling us the freedom for self-actualizing leisure.
But algorithmic states themselves become determining. Of social life and its idealizations, of the dominance of the economic, the totalization of the informational economy, of renewed and extended inequalities, of the teleological linearity of the temporal and its present-future tense, of the thingification of being itself, the economization of emotions, and of the confining of happiness to the pleasure horizons of the techno-defined, -refined and -produced. If information is to make us free, freedom is reduced to nothing left to know, experience, and be, but the informational and its economies of production, circulation, and distribution. Information lives up to its conceptual mandate and mission to form and fashion, but now in nothing but its own auto-immunizing terms.