The Whole is Greater Than The Part (Part 2)

9780262525916[1]Continuing my consideration of Kitchin & Dodge’s Code/Space I want to focus on their treatment  of code.  They describe how the scale and scope of code’s ability to process information makes a qualitative change from previous human tool bearing.

 In common with  earlier technological enhancement like mechanical tools or electrically powered motor, software enjoys all the usual machine-over man advantages in terms of speed of operation, repeatability and accuracy of operations over extended durations, cost efficiencies and ability to be replicated.  Software thus quantitatively extends the processing capabilities of electromechanical technologies, but importantly it also qualitatively differs in its capacity to handle complex scenarios (evaluating capta, judging operations), taking variable actions, and having a degree of adaptability…. Software can also deal with feedback, or being able to adjust future conduct on the basis of past performance.  Code/Space (39) Kitchin & Dodge

Code then  possesses a degree of agency, the ability to “shape to varying degrees how people live their lives”.  This agency is relational.  It arises both from its interactions with objects and humans, and from its ability to adapt to evolving conditions to form a “technological unconscious”.

This relational sense of instrumentality combined with a vision of space itself produced by social relations and material practices creates code/space.  Each element is necessary for its functioning.

When code and space are both present, but not intertwined the result is coded space.  Here code provides an augmentation to the space’s functioning.  The space retains its functionality (less efficiently perhaps) even if its coded objects stop coded operation.

Most homes in the developed world are coded spaces to some degree, but they still function as dwellings even if a coded coffee maker and all other coded objects in it fail.  An airport is a code/space.  “[Its] various coded infrastructures and process entangle and fold together to form a vast coded assemblage that defines the practices and experiences of air travel.”

Code/space then might be thought of in terms of the converging parallel lines I discussed in Part 1 of this series.  The development of coded infrastructure and practices have achieved an informational mass, a gravity, that curves the space in which it occurs.  This has enabled the lines of code and space to converge and interact as code/space.

This informational mass, K&D argue, result from a variety of “discursive regimes”, each underpinning a particular coded application.  Such regimes include “safety, security, efficiency, antifraud, empowerment, productivity, reliability, flexibility, economic rationality, and competitive advantage.”

In the book, K&D discuss code interacting with all of these discourses  in a variety of ways.  In following posts I hope to sketch out at least some of them.


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