Anti-computing explores forgotten histories and contemporary forms of dissent – moments when the imposition of computational technologies, logics, techniques, imaginaries, utopias have been questioned, disputed, or refused. It also asks why these moments tend to be forgotten. What is it about computational capitalism that means we live so much in the present? What has this to do with computational logics and practices themselves? This book addresses these issues through a critical engagement with media archaeology and medium theory and by way of a series of original studies; exploring Hannah Arendt and early automation anxiety, witnessing and the database, Two Cultures from the inside out, bot fear, singularity and/as science fiction. Finally, it returns to remap long-standing concerns against new forms of dissent, hostility, and automation anxiety, producing a distant reading of contemporary hostility. At once an acute response to urgent concerns around toxic digital cultures, an accounting with media archaeology as a mode of medium theory, and a series of original and methodologically fluid case studies, this book crosses an interdisciplinary research field including cultural studies, media studies, medium studies, critical theory, literary and science fiction studies, media archaeology, medium theory, cultural history, technology history.
This chapters asks what happens when technophilia falls out with its object. It tells the story of ELIZA, an early chatbot developed by the computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum as a rudimentary artificial therapist. The reception accorded to ELIZA and what it might presage led Weizenbaum to reappraise his thinking on artificial intelligence and human reason and to call for limits to the expansion of computational thinking in human culture and society. This chapter explores these arguments by focusing in particular on the question of the therapeutic – set aside by Weizenbaum and yet central to questions about the limits of computational reason and computational being. Contemporary discussions of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the increasing use of bots in everyday life resonate with these issues, while the contemporary rehabilitation of behaviourism produces once again a demand to consider the tensions between modulation (computational nudges, for instance) and forms of therapy based on an increase in the individual capacity for decision making.
When Britain left the European Union in January 2021, it set out on a new journey. Shorn of empire and now the EU too, Britain’s economy is as national as it has ever been. A decade or so since globalisation seemed inevitable, this is a remarkable reversal. How did this happen? Britain alone argues that this ‘nationalisation’ – aligning the boundaries of the state with the boundaries of the nation – emerged from the 2008 global financial crisis. The book analyses how austerity and scarcity intensified and created new conflicts over who gets what. This extends to struggle over what the British nation is for, who it represents, and who it values. Drawing on a range of cultural, economic, and political themes – immigration and the hostile environment, nostalgia and Second World War mythology, race and the ‘left behind’, the clap for carers and furloughing, as well as SuperScrimpers and stand-up comedy – the book traces the complex nationalist path Britain took after the crash, demonstrating how we cannot explain nationalism without reference to the economy, and vice versa. In analysing the thread that ties the fallout of the crash and austerity, through Brexit, and to the shape of lockdown politics, Britain alone provides an incisive and original history of the last decade of Britain and its relationship to the global economy.
The conclusion explores the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown for the nationalising thrust in British politics. It argues that the future of Britain will be defined by shifting the configuration of state and nation rather than just by state and market.
This chapter maps out the landscape of the current moment of anti-computing through an informal experiment in a form of distant reading drawing on digital humanities methods and approaches. Using a machine-recommendation system, it identifies over sixty publications linked to anti-computing themes which together point to the outlines of the contemporary anti-computing moment. This is explored for itself, but is also considered in relation to earlier forms, and specifically in relation to the earlier and more general taxonomy – enabling identification of new categories of dissent, new elisions and dominant forms, and the recurrence of older tropes. Identifying accelerating tendencies to respond to anxiety and hostility to computational saturation with personal ‘cures’ rather than with demands for political or public responses, it then returns to consideration of what might constitute a fully critical mode of anti-computing, this latter constituting the conclusion of the work.
This chapter considers the temporal dynamics of anti-computing, focusing on the tendency of tropes of dissent and anxiety around the computational to rise and fall but also to return and trouble the present. The goal of the chapter is to produce a form of thinking the technological that is apt for the consideration of anti-computing formations – taking cognisance both of their material underpinnings and the ideological heft of computational capitalism and its claim to be compulsory. The route taken goes first by way of a critical but appreciative engagement with media archaeology, approached by way of Foucault’s discussion of the sleep of history. Media archaeological approaches, drawing on this, but exchanging the document for the technical material, and focusing on disjuncture and on non-linear accounts are then explored, and deployed to develop a sense of anti-computing as non-continuous but recurrent. The focus then shifts to consider systemic factors that media archaeology largely sets aside in its concentration on the material effects of technical media; this demands a consideration of anti-computing as a formation produced by and within computational capitalism – and produces the conundrum of resistance within what has become compulsory. Finding a way through these conflicts it is argued that anti-computing itself can present a challenge to strongly new materialist forms of media archaeology whilst also making evident the need for forms of cultural materialism that continue to reach beyond representation and that find new ways to grapple with the specificity of digital media.
Chapter 4 shows how a particular meaning of inequality became salient in the post-crash years. Scandals over undeserving poor and rich groups, coupled with new evidence of increasing income and wealth inequality, gave sense that a majority ‘squeezed middle’ were suffering and losing out from a rigged system. This imagined hierarchy created the conditions for the racialising ‘left behind’ representation that helped justify the Brexit project and coalesce its unusual coalition of support – an essential move in the nationalisation process studied in this book.
Chapter 5 compares the two most significant nationalisation projects to emerge from this context: the referendums on Scottish independence and Britain’s EU membership. The chapter shows that it is not simply a coincidence that these two key questions of Britain’s constitution – Scotland and the EU – became urgent enough for referendums within eighteen months of each other. Both projects were nationalist backlashes against the British state, one from England, the other from Scotland. The chapter explores what an English revolt against the EU through nationalising Britain means.
The Introduction outlines the key puzzle of the book: how and why has Britain found itself with its formal economic authority as limited and national as it has ever been? The chapter outlines the main concept that the book uses to address this puzzle: nationalisation. The term is commonly used in a limited way to refer just to the public ownership of industry, infrastructure, utilities, etc, but here it is used to characterise the process in which the state is made more national. Through this lens, we can start to see how Britain was historically an empire-state-nation and only starting looking like a nation-state in the post-war era. That nationalisation process, however, looks quite different to the nationalisation seen in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
Chapter 7 explores how the lockdown in response to the coronavirus interacted with these nationalising moves. The key debate of the initial lockdown period saw the health of the nation pitted against the wealth of the nation, which ended up in unprecedented interventions such as furloughing that brought together nation and state. Coupled with displays of patriotism – clapping for carers, and rallying around that classic symbol of post-imperial Britishness, the NHS – one might expect this to be nationalising. Yet the response also further exposed the tensions in Britain’s constitutional set-up, pushing it further towards break-up.