The Whole Is Greater Than the Part (Part 4)

Euclid Ave Pawn Shop © Mark Wolfe used with permission Mark Wolf Documentary Photography
Euclid Ave Pawn Shop © Mark Wolfe used with permission
Mark Wolfe Documentary Photography

While a fine-grained focus characterizes much of Code/Space, the final chapter  takes, at points, a panoramic vision.  The accumulation of the specifics of coded applications becomes Everyware.

Everyware is the notion that computational power will soon be distributed and available at any point on the planet…With everyware, life unfolds enveloped within software-enabled environments.   216 Taken together, it is envisioned that these various forms of everyware will generate “ambient intelligence” — objects and spaces that are sensitive and responsive to presence of people or other coded objects. 221

K&D analyze this using cost/ benefit binaries such as surveillance vs empowerment.  This enables them throughout the book to present codeness as a tool that we can use in either positive and negatives ways. This is different from the approach I outline in my Findable Cyborg posts Part 1 and Part 3 and imply in posting the DARPA video in Part 2.  These posts discuss pervasively rationalized environments in the context of the technological understanding of being.  Up to this final part of Code/Space, K&D deemphasize this kind of analysis preferring a mostly functional approach. While they do idenify code’s role in extending the negative aspects of neo-liberal capitalism, there is nothing up to this point like R Scott Bakker’s view:

Modern technological society constitutes a vast, species-wide attempt to become more mechanical, more efficiently integrated in nested levels of superordinate machinery. (You could say that the tyrant attempts to impose from without, capitalism kindles from within.) The Blind Mechanic II: Reza Negarestani and the Labour of Ghosts R. Scott Bakker

Yet something like this sentiment is there, in less explicit form.

Everyware promises new opportunities to monitor, link, and make sense of the interactions, transactions, and mobilities of people, goods and information at a spatial and temporal resolution previously impossible…to create a fine-grained net of automated management. 228

This anxiety becomes more explicit in their discussion of life-logging.  These practices take typical practices of human self monitoring beyond augmentation by coded devices to a pervasive and ubiquitous part of living.

The aim of life-log developers is to provide a record of the past that includes every action, every event, every conversation and every material expression of an individual’s life. 230

The combination of pervasive automated management and life-logging  “has the potential to create a society that never forgets…a detailed spatialization of the history of everything, everywhere.” K&D propose a solution that is both elegant and impossible, the converging of parallel lines of thought on the curved surface of code/space.

One path…is to construct an ethics of forgetting in relation to pervasive computing….[T]echnologies that “store and manage a lifetime’s worth of everything” should always be complimented by forgetting…So rather than focus on the prescriptive [ethics], we envision necessary processes of forgetting…that should be built into code, ensuring a sufficient degree of imperfection, loss and error. 253

Pervasive computing relentlessly increases the signal to noise, seeking to eliminate noise altogether.  Forgetting is purposely generating noise to reconstitute the human in the face of the totalizing machine.  Yet the machines must also be the agents of this forgetting, accepting as they become more and more powerful, “imperfection, loss and error.” Animal perception functions by filling in the gaps of its always incomplete sensory information.  That is why the expression, “The whole is greater than the sum its parts” makes any sense.  The perceived whole is always greater the parts we can perceive. Machine perception has the potential to vastly reduce the unperceived, unprocessed parts.  In such a situation though, the idea of the whole itself becomes  dispensable replaced by a stream of amorphous parts defined by their temporary function. Perhaps there would be hope for K&D’s strategy of forgetting if humans could first provide an example of accepting “imperfection, loss and error”.  It remains though a measure of the predicament we find ourselves in, and this alone recommends Code/Space.

See Also: The Whole Is Greater Than the Part (Part 1)
The Whole Is Greater Than the Part (Part 2)
The Whole Is Greater Than the Part (Part 3)

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