Culture Digitally the Podcast Episode 3: Conversations on Algorithms and Cultural Production – Culture Digitally
I’m a little annoyed with myself that I’ve lost track of my path to finding ‘Culture Digitally’. It first appears in my work computer’s Chrome history on 24 March (but not this link, it was to The Relevance of Algorithms). Nothing was posted to the Lifestream on that day.. and reference to Gillespie’s work on algorithms came at least two weeks earlier. I like being able to picture my trails through the internet – little strings connecting and tying together some wanderings, starting new trails for others – but I’m lost on this one. It seems remarkably remiss in retrospect, as I really enjoyed the podcast and it’s likely that the source I got the link from (though it was probably to a different page in Culture Digitally) has links to other things I might like. This could be becoming an obsession though – and perhaps the volume of information has just exceeded my mental capacity – so I shall let it lie for now.
Right – the podcast. It is the type of transmission that causes several pages of sprawling notes, dotted with food if one happens to be cooking dinner, and multiple moments of vocalised agreement despite no chance the ‘author’ might engage. 2012, though, which means I’m only recently engaging in serious thought about topics Tarleton Gillespie was articulating with great finesse a good 5 years ago. Not to inflate my own insightfulness, how was I not concerned about the influence of algorithms 5 years ago? How is it that concern is not more widely felt today? I’ve digressed: the podcast.
The ‘conversation’ features Ted Striphas and Tarleton Gillespie, interviewed by Hector Postigo. Key things which came out of the discussion for me were:
- the role of the algorithm in knowledge generation
- the role of the algorithm in the creation of publics
- the cultural life of the algorithm
- materiality of the algorithm
- ethics of the algorithm
In terms of 1, in the recording Gillespie noted how dependent we are on algorithms for ‘knowing general things’, such as those ideas which are trending, and how this informs our understanding of the publics we exist in (2). Yet, this reliance is afforded despite algorithms being ‘malleable’ (4): how it decides what is relevant is based on the operator’s business interests, and can be changed to accommodate these, therefore casting doubt on the supposed legitimacy of the ‘knowledge’ produced. This leads into ‘the culture life of the algorithm’: what we expect it to do, what it does, and what its role is in business (3).
With such obvious conflicts of interest, concern about the ethics of algorithms (5) rise to the fore. Gillespie makes a really interesting comparison with journalism, and the ethics of journalism, which he separates (based on -reference given in recording) the promise of journalistic objectivity and journalistic practices. To the former Gillespie links the view of the algorithm as cold and objective. Of the latter – which he notes are messy in both fields – Gillespie asks, “What are the practices beneath the algorithm?” and “Where is the ombudsman of algorithms?” If we have no central authority, to which the culture of Silicon Valley is resistant, how can there be assurances that the tech companies employing algorithms are committed to their end users? Why would there be? And what are the consequence of the reification of informationalised worlds? What new dispositions are created? What new habits?
Very thought provoking questions. This ought to be more widely thought about now.