oppression in software

Adam Greenfield responds, and anyone who uses the BOAC speedbird as their avatar is probably worth listening to:

“But that becomes a political problem, something almost all geeks seem incapable of understanding, probably because its a social rather than a technical problem.”

Well, “geeks” may be incapable of understanding that, Cian, but that happens to be where we start. I mean, you guys’d know this if you actually bothered to look into what happens at a walkshop instead of taking the lazy way out and slagging it as a “kool kids” thing. The whole point, as far as I’m concerned, is to take a good close materialist look at how communities, institutions and individuals contest public space and the public sphere.

In this case, sure, the lens we’re using is technological. But the concerns predominantly have to do with accountability, agency and control, and the language is everyday. Come join us on a walkshop sometime and contribute your insight, and I think you’d be hard pressed to come away with any other conclusion.

I think what I’m getting at here is that in many ways, the power-relationships in our cities aren’t embedded in architecture some much as in software, as it were. Sometimes it really is software, too – the social services’ disastrous computer system that played a role in the death of Baby P, and did so by imposing a sort of dysfunctional and extreme-Taylorist workplace on the social workers, or the systems that allocate tax-credits and then sometimes demand repayments that essentially amount to the recipients’ entire economic surplus.

But it’s broader than that – it’s about people’s expectations, levels of economic security, and the strategies they adopt to cope with life. After all, everyone adapts in some way, it’s just that some local optimisations cut off more options than others.

It’s also about how institutions adapt to people; one difference between having visible, hardware favelas and having them in software is that it’s easier to think that it’s just another damn fool, or someone who is In Need of Care, although the flip is that it’s also easier just to adopt a hardware fix and build a fucking great wall…

In Victorian England, the poor risked going to debtors prisons. In contemporary America, the poor face a different form of lockup.

Its walls are built out of predatory mortgage loans, rent-to-own contracts, payday lending, instant tax “refunds,” the repo man, the old-fashioned pawn shop, bait-and-switch debt consolidators and a rogues’ gallery of scam artists.




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