Inheritance of the digital: ethnographic approaches to everyday realities in, of, and through digital technologies

Coppélie Cocq (Umeå University)
Robert Glenn Howard (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Start time:
23 June, 2015 at 10:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

The mobile devices that keep us continually networked together are the hybrid of two visions: a utopia free from institutional control imagined by early computer entrepreneurs and the U.S. military's vision of bomb-proof institutional power. What is the inheritance of these divergent visions?

Long abstract:

In 1975, thirty-two computer hobbyists met in a garage in what would become California's Silicon Valley. This "HomeBrew Computer Club" imagined a future utopia of individually owned computers that would grant everyone access to the technologies that were, at that time, only institutions could afford them. Club member Bill Gates developed "software" while other members, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, developed the "personal computer". In 1977, the U.S. military successfully sent "packets" of on-and-off power fluctuations between computers. Their project was born of a different vision. They wanted a distributed communication system that could survive the imagined nuclear battlefields of the Cold War. The computer code they used, TCP/IP, is still the basis of all digital networks today. Born of the unlikely coupling of these two very different visions, the handheld mobile devices that keep us continually networked together are the inheritance of both a vision of individual freedom and a vision of bomb-proof institutional power. Today, expressive culture and everyday practices are infused with, mediated by, and experienced through digital network technologies. The Internet has become mundane, and, in its mundanity, its power is expansive. Through ethnographic studies of everyday digital culture, this panel would explore our shared heritage of these early digital visions. What realties do networked computing devices help materialize? How do they circulate and who is authorized to narrate and practice them? What is the heritage of the digital revolution and what is it doing to the heritages that came before it?