How can anthropology contribute to an understanding of the impact of new digital technologies? This session explores topics ranging from how digital technologies become part of everyday life to their role in the development of new infrastructures within both commerce and the state.
A key component of many peoples sense of crisis today is the impact of digital technologies that appears to constitute a loss of control over the world. For example, one theory of the recent financial crises is that too many financial instruments were set to automatically sell when shares reached a certain level so the crisis was an integral effect of digitisation itself. People's imagination of the digital seems to bifurcate as something that, on the one hand, lies at the keyboard at the tip of their fingers but at the same time appears as an abstraction from traditional analogue modes of representation. This bifurcation is often what makes the digital appear to be either the cause or the solution of impending crises. Often this imagination is fed from science fiction and images of humans losing control of the planet to the new technologies themselves. This is perhaps the moment when anthropology has to choose how to respond to digital technologies. Whether to demonise them as a form of alienation, to romanticise them as open-source utopias or get to grips with the way they speedily become part of everyday life. To resist this bifurcation we need to link the study of ordinary people's consumption of social networking sites and Google Earth with an appreciation of deeper infrastructural developments such as the digitalisation of financial systems, geographical positioning systems and the impact upon both state and commerce. This is the task to which this workshop will be dedicated, beginning with an introduction by the co-conveners.