When Technocultures Collide
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When Technocultures Collide


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111 pages

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When Technocultures Collide provides rich and diverse studies of collision courses between technologically inspired subcultures and the corporate and governmental entities they seek to undermine. The adventures and exploits of computer hackers, phone phreaks, urban explorers, calculator and computer collectors, “CrackBerry” users, whistle-blowers, Yippies, zinsters, roulette cheats, chess geeks, and a range of losers and tinkerers feature prominently in this volume. Gary Genosko analyzes these practices for their remarkable diversity and their innovation and leaps of imagination. He assesses the results of a number of operations, including the Canadian stories of Mafiaboy, Jeff Chapman of Infiltration, and BlackBerry users.

The author provides critical accounts of highly specialized attributes, such as the prospects of deterritorialized computer mice and big toe computing, the role of electrical grid hacks in urban technopolitics, and whether info-addiction and depression contribute to tactical resistance. Beyond resistance, however, the goal of this work is to find examples of technocultural autonomy in the minor and marginal cultural productions of small cultures, ethico-poetic diversions, and sustainable withdrawals with genuine therapeutic potential to surpass accumulation, debt, and competition. The dangers and joys of these struggles for autonomy are underlined in studies of RIM’s BlackBerry and Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website.



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Date de parution 25 octobre 2013
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9781554588992
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Cultural Studies Series
Cultural Studies is the multi- and inter-disciplinary study of culture, defined anthropologically as a way of life, performatively as symbolic practice, and ideologically as the collective product of varied media and cultural industries. Although Cultural Studies is a relative newcomer to the humanities and social sciences, in less than half a century it has taken interdisciplinary scholarship to a new level of sophistication, reinvigorating the liberal arts curriculum with new theories, topics, and forms of intellectual partnership.
Wilfrid Laurier University Press invites submissions of manuscripts concerned with critical discussions on power relations concerning gender, class, sexual preference, ethnicity, and other macro and micro sites of political struggle.
For more information, please contact:
Lisa Quinn Acquisitions Editor Wilfrid Laurier University Press 75 University Avenue West Waterloo, ON N2L 3C5 Canada Phone: 519-884-0710 ext. 2843 Fax: 519-725-1399 Email: quinn@press.wlu.ca
Innovation from Below and the Struggle for Autonomy
Gary Genosko
This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing activities.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Genosko, Gary, 1959-, author
When technocultures collide : innovation from below and the struggle for autonomy / Gary Genosko.
(Cultural studies series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-55458-897-8 (bound).-ISBN 978-1-55458-899-2 (epub).-ISBN 978-1-55458-898-5 (pdf)
1. Technology-Social aspects. 2. Technological innovations-Social aspects. 3. Technology and civilization. I. Title. II. Series: Cultural studies series (Waterloo, Ont.)
T14.5.G48 2013 306.4 6 C2013-903854-X C2013-903855-8

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For Hannah and Iloe, my crafty daughters
1 Beyond Hands Free: Big-Toe Computing
2 Cultures of Calculation: William Gibson Collects
3 Rebel with an IV Pole: Portrait of Ninjalicious as an Urban Explorer
4 Home-Grown Hacker
5 Hacking the Grid: Does Electricity Want to Be Free?
6 Whistle Test: Blindness and Phone Phreaking
7 In Praise of Weak Play: Against the Chess Computers
8 CrackBerry: Addiction and Corporate Discipline
9 WikiLeaks and the Vicissitudes of Transparency
O ver the course of the ten years that I ran the Technoculture Lab, I was fortunate to have a number of very talented graduate students who assisted me in several of the projects that appear as chapters in this book. I am indebted to the work of Scott Thompson (creator of the tables) during the period when I was writing about Mafiaboy, and to Andriko Lozowy, who helped me first define the issues around Crack-Berry abuse and really drill down theoretically into failure.
During his regular visits to the Lab, Paul Hegarty worked with me on redirecting concepts from Bataille and Baudrillard towards info-tech objects and systems, especially the big toe as a way of productive disabling. Our Bletchley Park scavenger hunt was a catalyst ( http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=613 ). I am also grateful to Roberta Buiani with whom I collaborated on a postdoctoral project concerning Italian Yippies (for the journal Cultural Studies ). Working on a book, and making a film with Franco Bifo Berardi ( After the Future ), proved to be transformative for my thinking about the direction in which technoculture is headed, and about the fuzzy destinies of post-autonomist thought and practice. Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois, and Alessandra Renzi at the Infoscape Lab at Ryerson University were especially generous with their support during Bifo s visits to Toronto. I first aired my electrical dreams of utility hacks there. The participants in my WikiLeaks graduate seminar enthusiastically embraced the challenge of trying to make sense of a developing story and to analyze whistle-blowing. I will be revisiting the latest instalments of the WikiLeaks saga in a further seminar as it undertakes some of the tasks the US government once promised it would address. Information, like electricity, wants to be free.
Much of the research for this book was made possible by the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Foundation for Innovation programs. The final stages of the manuscript were prepared and corrected at UOIT.
T echnoculture appears to be a relatively recent coinage dating from the 1960s. In its blandest deployment, it simply makes note of the mutual influences of technology and culture, often drawing on one or more media to establish points of contact. Writing within the sweeping parameters of medium theory, American neologist Henry G. Burger wrote in a letter to the editor of the journal Technology and Culture that it was the availability of cheap Bibles (hence print), not to mention demand for them, that suggested to him the need for a new area of study that names the mutually supportive dimensions of technology and culture: I propose the discipline be named technoculture (1961: 261).
Far from constituting a new discipline or even sub-area, technoculture quickly became associated with technocratic ideology in which technology dominates cultural formations, via shifts in social organization, and determines their possibilities. It seems that the descriptive interdependence thesis, which is still in circulation today, and the technocratic hypothesis, also still much in evidence in the critical literature, together continue to influence the approaches available in technoculture studies.
The interdependence thesis is expressed by Debra Benita Shaw (2008: 4) as an enquiry into the relationship between technology and culture and the expression of that relationship in patterns of social life, economic structures, politics, art, literature It is also a quintessentially post-modern study in that it is a reflexive analysis from within, as it were, the belly of a beast that has grown to monstrous proportions. Word processing and publishing about technoculture within the belly of the technocultural beast requires reflexive awareness in the description of technoculture s expressive features in social and political life and how this very thesis is generated, relayed, and reproduced. Shaw is very clear on this point. The relative clarity of the grammar of this thesis-that a relationship exists between technology and culture the expressions of which are observable and describable-has also been troubled by critics for whom the postmodern and reflexive do not vouchsafe such ease of access. Sadie Plant (1997: 45-46), in her contribution to the discussion, points out that in both the study of culture and technology the former cannot be determined by a single coherent factor and the latter exerts a power that is riddled at all scales by turbulence and uncertainty; hence, whatever it is that is called technoculture is unstable and its interdependency difficult to access and to assess. Description is not so easy. There is a certain degree of convolution between culture and technology and a lack of givenness in the foliations.
On the other hand, the technocratic articulation of technoculture has become less focused on large-scale determinism and more nuanced over time. A good example is the work of Jodi Dean (2002). Dean does not wish to collapse technocracy and technoculture, despite the identification of the ideology of technoculture with one of the key features of technocracy, namely, publicity. Rather, the point is to expose how and what this ideology obscures, and the implications this holds for processes of subjectification. Dean s ideology critique acknowledges that technocracy in the age of info-capital relies on secrecy and esoteric knowledge, especially in the realm of information, which may be disturbed by counter-elements such as computer hackers and format pirates (2002: 99). It is the ideology of technoculture that interpellates subjects as celebrities (known for being well known) and conspiracy theorists (enthralled by cynicism and paranoia) in support of info-capitalism. However, there are other alterifications and counter-elements that capital cannot entirely absorb into its dominant modalities. For Dean, technoculture is not a nightmarish technocracy ruled by an autocratic Big Brother It is a new power formation in which the ideals of publicity, of equal access, free information, and non-stop, multichanneled communication support the digital networks of communicative capitalism (2002: 112). Subsumption (formal) flirts with totality, and it is in the constitution of spaces of self-valorisation that capital cannot entirely absorb, to follow Antonio Negri (2008b: 43) on this point, that technoculture is contested, resignified, counter-produced, and even retreated from. The difficult question is whether or not the kind of subsumption (real) in which capital expands intensively into processes of subjectification is in the long run and in terms of cognitive and affective capture of immaterial labour and production more Orwellian than Big Brother or his many younger siblings.
Dean (2002) picks up from the point to which cultural studies brought the study of technoculture, that is, the domain of resistant countercultures partially defined by their technological practices. This approach was explored by editors Constance Penley and Andrew Ross in an influential collection under the title Technoculture (1991) in which honourable mentions of modern technocultures are many-ham radio operators, hackers, video activists, community radio stations, fanzine producers. Penley and Ross pursue the goal of furthering conditions that can lead to the creation of technological countercultures at home in the US (rather than valorizing foreign examples) that contest the dominant technocultures of Western capitalism from the largest scale of mass corporate ideology to the smallest fantasies of everyday, quasi-private life. Eschewing both the na vet of viewing nonpassive uses of technology as heroic and Orwellian dystopias about surveillance and control, Penley and Ross admit the odds are stacked against their goal. Burdened with an ossified model of communication in which the West sends technocultural products and their ideological instructions in a one-way flow to receivers in the non-West, who refunction foreign technologies, valorizing piracy despite its ambivalent lessons, the editors resist a tendency which is their own tradition: The critical left often spends more time debating and lamenting the effects of Western technoculture in other countries than it devotes to the conditions for creating technological countercultures in the West (1991: xi). Penley and Ross s volume is an act of overcoming the fatalism that considers Western technoculture to be thoroughly colonized by corporatism and itself colonizing, and hence devoid of worthwhile signs of resistance. They also want to resist falling prey to the lament for any liberation movement that might arise because of the eventuality of its accommodation by its former enemies. The examples they are willing to accept range widely-from AIDS activism to protopolitical technocultures of independent sense-making-but there are other homegrown examples that are dismissed rather roughly, as I will discuss in chapter 5 .
Technoculture may be located in unexceptional everyday thought all the way to the most contemporary forms of capitalist production, and likewise contestation of it in the name of greater democracy may arise anywhere, with the proviso that the emphasis on countercultural activity suggests the scale will be limited, and the effects unpredictable. The project of bringing it all back home to the US as it were makes technoculture activism a laudable goal as long as the figure of the American activist is not troubled. Surely, this is a fault line that requires nothing less than a reconceptualization of the process of resistance itself. As Franco Bifo Berardi (2011: 147) puts it, we have to disentangle autonomy from resistance in terms of refusal, withdrawal, dissociation, and most importantly, newly emergent forces of singularization that subjectivity undertakes to creatively recompose its enunciative sphere (including big markers like nationality). Bifo advises us that today resistance lacks the cultural antibodies that once made it possible: that the activist is a depressive. Given this condition, Bifo turns to poetry, self-respect, and love, a therapeutic re-eroticization of life, and the construction of autonomous zones based on experiments with any medium and method whatsoever: minor television, print, radio. Resistance is dynamically recomposed by innovative experiments with autonomy, or what remains of it. Obviously, this is not the autonomist theory of the 1970s in which the desiring-production of workers took centre stage in political praxis. Yet, it is autonomy nevertheless as it still seeks to understand the composition of political subjectivity- When I say composition, I mean a form of shared respiration: cospiration, conspiracy, growing together, conjoined expectations, coalescing lifestyles (Berardi 2012: 127)-and to valorize technocultural experimentation across media.
A lingering problem with the cultural studies inflection of technoculture is the degree of separation that results between semiotic and material dimensions. A technomaterialist analysis of technoculture wants to keep the semiotic flush with matters, machines, and media, all along the continuum of resignification: from semiotic relocation of meanings and redefinitions of use value-through the poaching, plundering, and reconfiguring of received texts, to the more technological practices of sampling- quotations, digital reconfigurations, elastic misrecognitions-and semiotic disobediences associated with the jamming, rerouting, and turning around of corporate messages; and finally to the manipulated samples, mash-ups, remixes, and digitally dense reworkings that every new advance in software seems to encourage. On the far side of the continuum of resignification is a realm of a-signifiying semiotics in which the semio-matters of automated connectivity have no need of meaning but respond to automated triggers that initiate routines and protocols of recombination that exploit connectivity in the generation of new assemblages through mutational effects. One sees these kinds of effects in computer virsues and in processes that put into play a-signifying fragments-rhythms, colours, noises, machinic traits of all kinds- regardless of meaning. The shift towards a-signification is also perilous when it is captured by connectivity without meaning (for example, in the use of click marks that students can accumulate for simply depositing a trace of their attention in the wired classroom). The a-signifying interchange is a post-critical commonplace in today s university classroom and is governed by precarious labour, coolness quotients, and non-stop ratings (see Godard 2011). A-signification can be a force of subjection that yokes social communication to the financial algorithmic chain, as Bifo (Berardi 2012: 35) puts it.
Resignification gives way to repurposing, to the production of alternative scenes; this is not to separate the imaginary solution to socio-economic constraints in subcultural practices from the institution of a local, or even trans-local, autonomous network of radio or television, for instance, that assists in changing social relations and thus interactions. Perhaps the repurposing of the soldering iron in the free radio movement is a good example. A neutral tool can be transferred from the field of socio-technical networks in a science-based soldering culture intent on building HeathKits and the like (amateur ham radio, etc.), giving to it a radical political inflection, a new techno-social assemblage in which the semiotic remains flush with the material and thus political in an unfixed form (favouring movement and relation of position between otherwise fixed coordinates-neither social movement nor tactical media practice), like a pirate radio or television station or networked infrastructure that is multi-componential and whose potential for forging transversal relays remains soft and pliable. F lix Guattari s (1996: 72) example of his son Bruno s interest in free radio is illustrative of the contrast between meaningful discourse and a-signifying machinic interactivity: My son is into politics. Not so much through discourse, but with his soldering iron: he sets up free radios, where technical discourse is hooked right into the political rationale of free-radio broadcasting; he got it right away. A more contemporary example may be found in the artistic practices of media archaeologists who circuit bend and hack discarded technologies, reanimating them by rewiring and reconnecting toys and personal electronics as zombie media (Hertz and Parikka 2011). Here aesthetic and political concerns are closely aligned in the re-animation of e-waste in an ecopolitical project of creative recycling. A-signification can also be invested with a resistant politics of escape at the solder-face of matter and semiosis.
Autonomous sign/matter fluxes provide new opportunitites for subjectification beyond the dominant formations that capital (technocracy) typically provides to consumers: standardized individuals, linked to one another in accordance with hierarchical systems, value systems, systems of submission (Guattari 2008: 22). Today s autonomy is Guattarian in its emphasis on the desire to find new pathways to autonomous subjectification (Berardi 2012: 151). Against capital s apprehension of subjectivity as the most basic raw material for any kind of production-as well as the modelization, serialization, and registration of individuals, and the data doubles of persons as dividuals -are irreducible, singular aspects of subjectivity that are not susceptible of being totalized or centralized in the individual (Guattari 2008: 43-44). This kind of resistant subjectivity-resistant in the first instance to a semiotic strip-mining of enunciative range and the machinic subjugation of the dividual by credit through technologies like ATMs and debit cards (Lazzarato 2012: 148)-does not presuppose the assemblage of heterogeneous components of semiotic and material matters, but, instead, is produced by the assemblage and finds expression in its enunciations. Critical attention to singular deviations and dissident vectors of subjectification in the creative handling of technomaterials is a hallmark of my approach to technoculture. Guattari, Bifo, and others like artists (the aforementioned Hertz) and media theorists (such as Tony Sampson, who analyzes the non-cognitive dimensions of capitalism; see 2012) have taught us to look for the surprising and unclassifiable in self-modelling activities in order to appreciate the subversion of existing values not only through the rejection of capital s subjective modes (infantile, incessant self-promoter, conspiracy theorist, guilty debtor), but also in the affective aspects as well: a warmth of relations, in certain ways of desiring, in a positive affirmation of creativity, in a willingness to love, in a willingness to live or survive Desire can only be lived in vectors of singularity (Guattari 2008: 63-64).
The technomaterialist focus of my approach to technoculture arises from a belief, as Guattari and Bifo have maintained, that the singularities of subjectification involve a fundamentally machinic process that takes place in and beyond the use of technical tools. Guattari did not much like tool talk, no matter how much the language of the cybernetics and new information technologies underwriting new communalism in the spirit of the Whole Earth Catalogue ( access to tools ) would have supported his claims (Turner 2006), or even that the tools (either imaginary or real projections) for transversality may be compatibly derived from radical pedagogical theory, either that of Freinet or Illich (Genosko 2009). For Guattari subjectivity is already machinic because humans and machines are component parts that combine together with one another and other parts by means of recurrence and communication on a machinic phylum; machines are more ontologically basic than tools, and all projections (fantasies or tools) presuppose machines. Guattari shows great sensitivity to a telephonic phenomenon enjoyed by phreakers ( phone trippers ) in explaining how desiring-machines (every break in a flow is itself a connective flow) are carved out within the margins of technical social machines. One dials an unassigned number and is routed to an automated message ( the number you have dialled is not in service ), but this is where one can hear the overlay of an ensemble of teeming voices, calling and answering each other, criss-crossing, fading out, passing over and under each other, inside the auomatic voice (1995: 123). This is not only a machinic deterritorialization that serves the interests of a perverse artificial group as a readily available source of leaky connectivity and muted cross-talk, but a voice-machine assemblage of components interacting (self-cancelling) by chance through the automated message. For Guattari, such artificial margins are places where perverse groups develop and sustain themselves, where they reboot desire.
Contrast this approach with today s insistence on participatory culture s (Jenkins et al. 2006) lessons for pedagogy, democracy, and social relations in the digital era, stripped of alterity, embedded in a consumerist paradigm, and waiting for the tools with which to provide the content necessary for new media s model of info-asset exploitation (Andrejevic 2011). What is lost is the diversion of a technical machine towards an autonomous project that creates new universes of reference for an increasingly machinic subject; in this process resistance is constructively rerouted, defected, and subtracted. Unhappy a-signification may be seen in the analytics-based interactive marketing platforms widely used today for exploiting user activity patterns in order to choke off such activity for the sake of less amateurish content, as in the case of YouTube, but also to channel user behaviour and induce their desires by returning to them the congealed result of their own activity in the form of corporate advertising (Andrejevic 2009: 421). This is an adequate definition of what Bifo calls semiocapital-creative capacities congealed in semiotic artifacts like online adverts tailored for you that, ultimately, anticipate and co-produce your subjectivity. Largely immaterial, inactual, and in flux, networked semio-commodities coagulate like fat or blood, but they are not devoid of potential for reapplication and redirection. Such potential coalesces in semiotic artifacts. Thus the creativity of immaterial labour harbours a potential to be otherwise that coalesces as a tendency in the very process of coagulating semio-commodities. Coalescence coexists with coagulation. Coalescence s temporality is potentiality. Having arrived from no determinate place, that is, not from a quantifiable standing reserve, it comes as a surprise. As a non-resource, it cannot be exploited as such, but as a species of sudden arrival it resists specific renderings yet holds much hope and difficulty to channel into the cultivation of autonomy.
Attention to prospects for autonomous developments in technoculture settles on non-traditional and improper modes of engagement with networks and practices of self-valorization within an alternative social and technical infrastructure which provides opporuntities for the exploration of new compositions of subjectification. Critical appreciation of the surprising and perverse semiotic and material fluxes of technocultural experimentation in both their escape modes and collision courses with technocratic cultures and toxic subjectifications defines the field for the investigations in this volume. Of course, the kinds of infrastructures that are mounted are often marked by fragility and display DIY elements. Many small-group explorations have been short-lived and may be located historically through texts about them or in their surviving productions such as zines and websites and videos; others point toward what might appear in the future in imagined outsides. The examples in this book are far from perfect and exemplary, and that is what makes them worthy of critical study. Technoculture clashes have a wide variety of results, and collisions born in and of resistance may drain much-needed energy away from the tasks of innovation; at the same time, collisions may be either disabling or enabling in terms of providing something valuable for the work of instituting self-organization and singularizing difficult-to-compare processes of sociality. This kind of labour can be exhausting: escaping from the standardized subjectivities of technoculture and the automated a-signifying routines of machinic enunciation is no easy task. Perhaps this is why the very idea of labour and productivity is called into question by today s autonomy. Bifo s recourse to poetry, irony, sleep, and insolvency as a right mark new twists in his tactical diagram of non-compliance.
In the first chapter, Beyond Hands Free: Big-Toe Computing, I provide an unlikely example of a surrealistic concept working flush with computing history and subcultural experimentation that has both contemporary and historical dimensions while pointing forward to a difficult-to-imagine future. What I would like to rehabilitate is the big toe for computing beyond the hand-held era. In the process I will reconstruct a historical asemblage as well as speculate on the big toe s potential for breaking through and connecting with an outside that barely exists.
In 1982 inventor Floyd P. Ganyard filed with the US Patent Office a plan for an alarm toe switch that would allow the user to covertly signal duress and, through design innovation surpassing previous models from the 1970s and earlier, avoid false alarms. Ganyard s invention of a better big-toe alarm employed a reed switch activated by a magnetic field when the toe was scrunched rearwardly. Ganyard is vague about the destination of the wire lead that runs from the unit to an alarm, someplace on or beyond the body of the wearer. Nevertheless, ingenuity in the design of big-toe devices triggered by controlled movement and pressure has a decades-long history in the twentieth century. Operationalizing a big toe is a technical dream of wearable technology that persists in the era of personal computing and wireless communications.
My first chapter outlines a theory of big-toe computing beyond the keyboard and mouse pad and the world of fingers, palms, hands, and hand-held devices: from turf toe to Black-Berry thumb, there exist techno-indignities of digits, but the human dimension of the big toe and infotech is my point of focus. Following the theory of French writer Georges Bataille, chapter 1 posits that the interface of the most human yet base part of the human body and wearable computing confounds the low with the high and produces a condition in which the computational intervenes to overcome the horror evoked by the lowly, flat, dirty foot with chipped nails by means of regaining the big toe s ability to move, though not convincingly grip. For Bataille, having lost its prehensile character, the human big toe is idiotic, especially compared with fingers, which are long, light, nimble, and intelligent. Yet for all the nobility of the human, whose head is elevated and distant from its feet which are still stuck in the mud, the big toe imposes its ignobility when least expected. The toe mouse is one example that I explore. However, the larger context of interpretation is given by the work of Toronto-based engineer, and master of sousveillance, Steve Mann.
In his creative explorations of counter-surveillance technologies and personalization of computing in the development of wearable webcams, Mann reminds us of one of the key reference points of smart clothing: embedded within the history of timing circuits designed in the 1960s and 70s to win at casinos (primarily against roulette wheels), the shoe designed and tested in the field by the Eudaemons, whose exploits were described in Thomas Bass s The Eudaemonic Pie (1985), remains inspirational. Photographing the original shoe through his own WearComp system, Mann describes an epiphany in which humanistic technology frees the spirit of the risk-taking, inventive individual, perhaps standing on his or her head with feet raised in the air. While I have elsewhere criticized Mann s philosophies as homespun, sociologically naive, and misdirected when it comes to conceptualizing power relations (Genosko 2005), his enthusiasm for the big-toe-triggered shoe is genuine and insightful and I share in it wholeheartedly. His eye is neither on whether or not it worked, even in its single functionality, nor on whether it recouped its costs; in the spirit of his own early inventions his question concerns the degree to which the human was given the opportunity to inject himself into an otherwise predetermined, and often unfriendly and sterile environment [of the casino] (Mann and Niedzviecki 2001: 58). With reference to the concept of lightspace -using illumination to change sensory experience of objects (84)-he photographed the shoe in a purple videographic glow in keeping with the light-mediated cyborg sight he cultivates through cybernetic photography. Mann knows his shoes, and returns to them periodically, reporting his disappointment at the discourse of futurity that couched the so-called smart shoe or Schmoo presented by designer Karim Rashid in 2000 (Mann and Niedzviecki 2001: 94) Long before Mann found inspiration in a shoe that had long since abandoned its foot, French avant-garde photographer Jacques-Andr Boiffard (1902-61) contributed his surreal big-toe photographs (enlarged for dramatic effect) to the journal Documents to accompany Bataille s radical theorization in 1929.
Following in the footsteps of Bataille, the question of the big toe s role in seduction is heightened by its starring role in personalized wearable computing in the technopoetic imaginary. In this first chapter, then, I review the largely failed exploits of the Eudaemons and attempt to regain big toes with eyes wide open to their prospects for computing beyond hands-free devices. These big toes are not pedicured, pampered, and painted for the business world, or even for evening wear. Rather, they are subversive and technoculturally transformative. Yet such big toes are not imaginary, either. They are not like the big-toe penis that the young female protagonist of Rieko Matsuura s novel The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P (2009) finds one post-dream morning on her right foot. This big-toe p gets her into many sticky situations in her personal and professional relationships and becomes a burden, a remarkable one to be sure, and transformative in terms of her erotic adventurousness. While the toe penis allows her to connect with a range of new partners both male and female, and participate in the life of the troupe of sexual abnormals that she joins, called the Flower Show, the seductive play of this big toe is linked less to its role as a sexual tool -it doesn t have a foreskin, for instance, or produce ejaculate-but in the incredible sock-play that accompanies its exposure and enclosure, the limits it places on walking around barefoot, and wearing pointy shoes. These are, however, akin to the footfalls of the big toe s operationalization in technologically disobedient gambling that I will discuss at length.
In a detailed confession written for Wired , cyberpunk novelist William Gibson (1999) described in great detail his eBay obsession. In particular, he came out as a collector, for a brief period at least, of mechanical wristwatches. Through the eBay bidding process-which now, many years later, is much more streamlined than it was in the late 90s-Gibson sought out his precious objects, providing loving attention to detail, and conveying the excitement of formulating a winning bidding strategy, as well as his attempt to self-medicate through binge buying.
What is most interesting about this piece of confessional writing is how it points to a pre-digital aesthetic of the mechanical, excessively manual, wind-up, stainless steel, crystal, and poetically postwar. The point is that Gibson s collecting opens a door to the universe he describes in his novels, and we can read off the objects of his fascination in their pages, not only his capacity to be affected by them, but his ability to transform this into prose, which is precisely the strategy I want to adopt in chapter 2 , Cultures of Calculation: William Gibson Collects. This strategy has, however, less to do with wristwatches, and more to do with calculators and the affects that cling to them.
My focus will be on Gibson s novel Pattern Recognition (2003). The novel contains some brilliant aper us concerning watches. Note how character Cayce Pollard is so attentive to watches (the Rolex Daytona she declines to purchase from a street vendor in Tokyo near the Shinjuku Hyatt, and the same brand of watch owned by Gibson s father, inherited from him, and traded under extreme duress) or how Pamela Mainwaring, the travel agent for Blue Ant agency for which Cayce does contract work, wears an Oakley Timebomb slightly wider than her left wrist (2003: 116-17). This attention to wrists is important for someone like Gibson (1999: 2), who has described himself as having wrists like pipestems and once mistakenly bought a boy s watch on eBay. Collecting and commenting on watches is one thing, but collecting calculators and communicating about this subculture is quite another. The connection between watches and calculators is not about collecting culture as such, but about the role of the mechanical in the Gibsonian parallel universe. It s not eBay this time around, but an imagined Portobello Road and Camden Town in London, where the market trading mostly takes place, with a grudging nod to a high-end Bond Street address. The calculator in question is not the kind ennobled by Krautrock legends Kraftwerk in Pocket Calculator ( I m the operator with my pocket calculator / I am adding / and subtracting / I m controlling / and composing / by pressing down a special key it plays a little melody ) but a much earlier non-melodic, pre-electronic model, the highly collectible Curta. It is a hand-held, not a pocket, calculator. Thus, in this chapter, we return to hands, to a retrotech calculating device and the role it plays in post-obsolescent collecting culture. Gibson transports his readers to a universe of calculator collectors into which it is possible to disappear and seek the refuge it offers.
The residual as resistant to the new (Acland 2007) asks us to focus attention on living dead media that acquire cultural value through insertion into material practices and specialized economies. The object as Gibson embeds it in his fiction is an attractor of affective flows in the narrative, especially among the characters who are collectors, but affect also sticks to those who come into contact with these precious things. The value of these objects is influenced by modulations of affect among the men and women who buy and sell them, as well as those who click through online lists of them. Affect is sticky, as Guattari (1989: 251-52) maintained, and holds together sign and object in a viscous atmosphere of collecting; it has a transitivist character that is not limited to bodies, but includes things that carry it and other unanchored intensities as well. Obviously, Geert Lovink s insight that we no longer watch film or TV; we watch databases we search one list after another (2008: 10) figures the list as an affect-distributing device. But affect s stickiness can entrap or slow down those who come into contact with it, hooking them into a hitherto unimagined world, at least for a time since it also has the capacity to melt. For a time, then, a collecting subculture can maintain an atmosphere through which affect can move and speak through certain objects, like the Curtas Gibson describes; indeed, Gibson s eBay experiences undoubtedly made it plain to him how technology assists affect s circulation, as well as heightening its effects through image and text and the bidding process.
In chapter 3 , Rebel with an IV Pole: Portrait of Ninjalicious as an Urban Explorer, I study the subcultural practices of urban explorers through an analysis of the accomplishments of Canadian Jeff Chapman, known as Ninjalicious to his friends. Using a complete run of his black-and-white zine Infiltration as a resource (and a considerable multimedia accomplishment in its own right in print, online, and eventually as an independently published book), I revisit his key sites of exploration, two active downtown Toronto hospitals, where he was a patient, which he used as models for urban exploration and an original rethinking of the city. In this light, then, Chapman s illness is metonymic, not metaphoric, and this informs his style of urban exploration. While I situate Chapman s investigations in terms of driftworks, surrealist strolls, situationist perambulations, and Michel de Certeau s counter-panoptic urban walks, the non-theoretical character of Chapman s ethico-aesthetic preoccupations is allowed to shine through in his homespun non-mastery of exploration and displays of personal courage as he rambled around closed and open hospital wings in his patient s gown along with his intravenous pole. As his notoriety grew, and his zine became better known internationally among urban explorer subcultures in the US and Australia, Chapman was taken up by journalists and urbanists alike as a local icon and inspiration for utopian fantasies about another Toronto. For example, his infiltrations of Gooderham and Worts-an abandoned distillery recently renovated and gentrified-as well as Will Alsop s (then-unfinished) addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design appeared in Utopia: Towards a New Toronto (Chapman 2005b). Chapman s accounts of his ramblings are anti-heroic and highly convivial, but their blow-by-blow diaristic nature, augmented with amateur photographs, provide contact points with forbidden sites and an unintentionally ethnographic-grade description of the lives of security guards. The buildings are almost always nearly deserted, but the threat of security provides drama for the quasi-illicit events. Here, collisions between denizens of a lively subculture and security bureaucracies appear as games of cat and mouse and flirt mischievously with illegality; yet the transgressiveness of these explorations can also be celebrated in more mainstream venues.
For those who don t recognize the name, Michael Calce is Canada s most notorious hacker, whose online handle Mafia-boy mesmerized the global press, the RCMP, and the FBI in February 2000. The then-fifteen-year-old temporarily disabled the blue chip websites of Yahoo!, CNN, E*TRADE, Dell, eBay, and Amazon over the course of a week. As a young offender, he was sentenced to eight months in open custody, a year s probation, and a small fine. His legal defence failed as the court did not accept that he was running tests of the security of the sites he bombed with unmanageable numbers of requests. Like the phone phreaks that came before the computer hackers, the justification of system exploration, experimentation, and troubleshooting, all with a view to eventual employment by the other side, establishes a well-travelled line between Captain Crunch phreaking a switching machine in Vancouver in the 1960s and Mafiaboy s exploits using distributed denial-of-service attacks in 2000.
Apparently, the best, brightest, and most entrepreneurial computer hackers undertake a perilous journey. They set out to demonstrate technical prowess, which eventually brings legal problems; ultimately, they try to turn their skill and experience into viable careers, most often in the very sector (computer security) they infiltrated. This is a standard hacker odyssey, what I will refer to in later chapters as a chaodyssey (after Deleuze). The problem is that sirens of chaos, hubris, and obsession usually get in the way. Self-reliance can quickly become self-delusion.
Chapter 4 , Home-Grown Hacker, tells the story of Mafiaboy s exploits, pursuit, capture, sentencing, and silent aftermath in the wake of 9/11. It would take seven years before Mafiaboy reappeared on the national scene in Canada on the occasion of the release of his co-written book, Mafiaboy: How I Cracked the Internet and Why It s Still Broken (2008), a cautionary memoir about how a teen who was born to hack became infatuated with computers at six years of age, graduated to spamming and phishing by nine, and by the age of eleven was smitten by Hollywood versions of hacker subculture into which he made initial inroads, on Internet relay chat (IRC) channels devoted to hacking. The moral is simple: the beginning is already the end for Mafiaboy. But what comes after the end for Michael Calce, IT entrepreneur?
Like Kevin Mitnick before him, whose exploits as a phracker (phone phreak) and hacker in the 1990s of Sun, DEC, Motorola, Pacific Bell, as well as government data systems, are legendary and gave rise to campaigns ( Free Kevin ) and documentary films, as well as to a career as a pen tester (analyzing the security vulnerabilities of data systems), it is as an author that Calce begins the rest of his life. In his book he provides a valuable piece of information about his first major hack prior to his February 2000 actions. In 1999 he unleashed a denial-of-service attack against an American Internet service provider, Outlawnet, which was traced to an email account at his parents house by intrepid RCMP Corporal Marc Gosselin, Mafiaboy s nemesis. When Calce s father was contacted by authorities, he rebuffed them with disbelief and bluster. When Gosselin eventually got the call from the FBI about the big events of 2000, the clues again pointed to the same house, and he put together the pieces. Mafiaboy was an easy catch.
Unlike Mitnick, however, Mafiaboy did not get respect from his hacker peers. This is a key element of my analysis of his case: what can we learn from his failures, both as a hacker, and in his legal defence? His book is written defensively to persuade readers that he really deserves to be considered a genuine hacker, and not merely a risible script kiddie (a derogatory term for a hacker with limited coding skills). As I will show, during the height of his media fame, Calce was excoriated by hacker elders, and taunted by the RCMP and computer security experts, as a sloppy, technical lightweight. Calce repeatedly circles back to his standing, confessing at one point that writing code was not his specialty. The best Calce can muster in his own defence is that as his skill with denial-of-service tools grew, he customized computer code written for this purpose by others. To be fair, together with two other hacker colleagues, Calce devised a sophisticated and highly effective distributed denial-of-service tool. Yahoo! was the first test. It worked brilliantly, and was sufficient to elevate him, in his own estimation, above your average script kiddie. Calce admits that his exploits float somewhere between lowly kiddie and elite hacker. It took knowledge and planning to use such tools, but these are vague claims.
What I want to demonstrate is that the real villains in Calce s book are the RCMP and corporate America. Reflecting on his trial, Calce rightly insists that outrageous and groundless estimates of damages caused by his hacks were unfairly used to damage his character. No corporation came before the court seeking damages for interruptions to their Web businesses. This failure was not appreciated by the judge presiding over his case in youth court, nor by his social worker. While acknowledging that no corporations came before the court seeking damages, in some cases estimated to be a billion dollars, the judge admitted the legitimacy of inflated and false damage estimates in an undemocratic court of opinion in the North American mainstream press. There was no recourse in his defence before these outrages, and no real cross-sector progress can be made by security agencies and service providers in fighting cybercrime while third-party commercial interests like investment brokerages which represent their blue chip e-clients are not made publicly accountable for their groundless claims.
The idea that hackers are heroes of technocultural exploration is certainly not new. But the example of Mafiaboy is fascinating because he tested the limits of the hacker discourse of crossing through the bar between in/security, and although his personal odyssey got lost in the juvenile justice system, mass media pandering to corporate prerogatives, and security posturing, his own hubristic journey was revived long after the preciptating events faded from view as his journalistic and authorial goals were eventually realized. Of all the collisions in this book, the exploits of Mafiaboy produced the most sparks. Unfortunately, the light show blinded many to the chain of failures just behind the scene. When Calce began to appear on French and English television in Canada in support of his book, he repackaged his shortcomings as a young entrepreneur with IT business solutions and mature mentoring skills.
One of the earliest formulations by Stewart Brand of the tensions within hacker culture between proprietary business interests and a commitment to shareware and freeware has continued to resonate: On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it s so valuable On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time (quoted in Turner 2006: 136). There is another way to parse this dilemma. The informaticization of the electrical grid is a contemporary phenomenon underway around the globe in many advanced post-industrial countries. Private and public utilities are in the process of upgrading their systems in relation to the extension of the digital economy into this sector. This meeting of the Internet and the smart grid enhances efficiency and resource management, securitizes delivery, and ensures the environmental sustainability of power generation predicated on intelligent use of resources the production of which has a controllable ecological footprint. Within this context of the informaticization of the electrical grid as it meets the Internet, a critical question to pose is this: does electricity want to be free?
The contemporary revisioning of the grid as a relatively democratizable, yet irreducibly turbulent, network must reckon with a number of key factors that will influence its success, first and foremost of which is fear of a hacked utility. After all, the smarter the grid becomes, the more it is subject to the developmental pressures and interruptions that are today a substantial, and no longer aberrant, part of everyday digital culture. Hacks are to the Internet as blackouts are to the grid: co-substantial and not accidental; utilities spam and infrastructure porn are sure to follow.
My fifth chapter, Hacking the Grid: Does Electricity Want to Be Free? looks at electrical hacks that have been confined to a number of subcultures built around technology: the most notorious are techno-anarchists (Yippies during the 1970s) and marijuana grow ops (major economic impacts beginning in the 1980s). Hacking the grid is a species of off-line or real-world hacks (like urban exploration) inspired by the original hacker ethic of the freedom to explore networks (telephones and then computers) and intellectual curiousity about technological networks in general. In hacker culture much of the lore around the freedom to explore occurred during pre- or underdeveloped legal regimes when legislation lagged far behind technological developments and their social contexts. Today, this freedom is often translated into a passage from outsider to insider status, rule breaker to rule enforcer, a standard passage undertaken by elite hackers in actuality or in their imaginations, sometimes with the backing of employers like Microsoft (a strategy during the testing of Vista circa 2006) on the lookout for the next wave of employees with solutions to their systems software bugs. The question of how to assess hacker threats to the smart grids of tomorrow is still in a highly speculative phase. In a recent Smart Planet report (Nusca 2010), the burgeoning installation of smart electrical meters in the US, which will jump by some estimates from 8 to 60 million by 2020, has generated security analyses suggesting that the infrastructure (decrypt keys are improperly stored, standards that govern home-utility communication are insufficient) is susceptible to a range of hacks. The province of Ontario s 2010 goal for smart meter installation with time-of-use billing is past us, as are the warnings of consumer watchdog groups like Energy Probe, and the province s Privacy Commissioner about the commercial exploitation of personal information: Your smart meter is watching (Cavoukian 2009). Best practices (Cavoukian 2010) for smart grid privacy have been published by the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario and Hydro One (as well as the province of British Columbia and BC Hydro).
The convergence of electrical hacks and blackouts; the dangers of homemade high-current hacks (heightening the real-world perils of the semiotic/material relationship); utilities poaching and squatting; and the countercultural contexts that support these actions may be constructively re-embedded in the critical apprehensions of the kinds of subjectivity produced through technological resistance to and abandonment of the grid. Electrical hacks are premonitions not only of today s power politics but also of the enduring legacies of autonomist struggles against labour as a path to freedom and practices of media subversion. Negri s (2009) introduction to the Italian translation of Jerry Rubin s Growing (Up) at Thirty-Seven acknowledges new forms of activism and technological forms of resistance pioneered by the Yippies in the US and by parallel groups in Italy. The tone of Negri s comments is not at all pessimistic, and he finds refreshing the new kinds of non-traditional actions bubbling up from the youth underground, whose activists he figures as silly younger brothers, allergic to labour organizations and labourist discourses, and enthralled by dope smoking, short-term commitments, and a range of everyday, micropolitical hacks where the semiotic is flush with the technomaterial. The inherent dangers of this intimacy will also be explored as electrical currents can be quite hazardous. What is curious in Negri s rarely read introduction to Rubin is how close he seemed to Bifo s version of a more dispersed, social, and less closed and organized version of autonomy, despite the historical split that is commonly superimposed on their positions (Buiani and Genosko 2012).
Chapter 6 , Whistle Test: Blindness and Phone Phreaking, takes up a recurring figure from within the precursor culture to computer hacking-phone phreaking. With the passing of Steve Jobs and the British tabloid scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World in July 2011, everybody except the British press should know that phones are phreaked by young people like the youthful Jobs and his mates, and not hacked. And that what is meant by hacking in the tabloid press is blagging, or social engineering, by journalists. Both bona fide hackers and phreakers are quite proud of their social engineering skills. But that is beside the point.
I have a keen archaeological interest-or, as Siegfried Zielinski would say, a passion for dig[ging] out secret paths in [media] history heterologically, non-homogeneously, nonlinearly-in phone phreaking. Not, then, as a technical accomplishment and not so much as the origin of computer hacking and the hacker ethic, but of a highly specific, perhaps even legendary, sensory entanglement of the blind phreak with perfect pitch able to whistle signal tones. The disabled phreak- blind, gifted, sometimes otherwise physically challenged, ugly, obese, and often socially marginalized (single-mom phreaks have also been identified)-is a legend within the subculture whose reach extends beyond the period in which whistling had real technological effects, that is, during the 1950 and 60s, and could be applied to older mechanical technologies. The separation of signal information and voice tones in the mid-70s brought the golden age of phreaking to an end. The figure of the blind phreak whistling into a telephone receiver survives beyond the efficacy of the action in Hollywood films like Sneakers (1992). Cellphones, too, can be phreaked, but not by whistling. The issue here is sensibility, what Bifo calls the capacity to aesthetically interpret the entanglement of body and communication network, between senses and the infosphere: slow data against acceleration, controlled breathing, and beyond the rules of use (Berardi 2012: 148-49).
The development of what I will call absolute telephone, unlike absolute piano, is a non-musical ability; indeed, it may have no connection to musical talent at all. It is a form of technological sensibility. Phreak culture sustains itself on the quasi-myth of the blind phreak with perfect pitch, even if perfect pitch has itself come under close critical scrutiny and the blind phreaks of today wield mobiles, despite the device s notorious unfriendliness toward blind and low-vision users. Journalists have reproduced this figuration since the early 1970s. Ron Rosenbaum (1973) once observed while attending a phone phreakers convention: And wandering across the ballroom floor from one sound source to another were the four blind phone phreaks and their seeing eye dogs. Yet there is some degree of accuracy in journalistic renditions of the figure, as Elizabeth McCracken (2007) observes in her obituary of Joe Engressia, the small, lonely blind boy with perfect pitch who found lifelong comfort in telephones in addition to serving as a precursor for the hacker odyssey from outlaw to (telephone company) employee.
Whistling resonates across cultures and centuries in the figures of blind minstrels, black country blues musicians, and even piano tuners as a signifier of musicality. While recent research (Gougoux et al. 2004) suggests a strong correlation between early-onset blindess and sensitivity to pitch, the unintended reinforcement of the stereotype of the blindness and musicality ligature needs to be carefully parsed especially since excellent pitch is not equivalent to musical ability. Phreaking and pitch discrimination undoubtedly are related, but the lack of study, not to mention concrete details about the spread of the subculture through schools for the blind, makes it difficult, but all the more important, to reflect upon. After all, if the big toe thrusts an idiotic digit into computation, then the proximity of the lips and tongue and mouthpiece also alerts us to the sensitive and sensible metabolic communions we enjoy with our personal technologies, what might be called toys of machinic enunciation.
Losers come in all shades. But radical losers stand apart from the crowd in the virulence of their capacity to radiate loss that they throw down as a challenge. There are those who are irresistibly drawn to blowing it, and others who can taste failure and steal it from the jaws of victory. Chapter 7 , In Praise of Weak Play: Against the Chess Computers, revisits a further kind of weakness of the sort introduced in chapter 3 , but this time the focus is not on de Certeau and his conceptualization of tactics-which has been challenged by Lev Manovich (2008) as what was once subcultural tactical deviation has become a business strategy of mobile and social media- but on Jean Baudrillard s speculations about computer chess programs, specifically Deep and Deeper Blue, and how best to play against them. Drawing on Baudrillrard s theory of loss in sports as an act of contempt for the fruits of victory, institutional accommodation, and the cheap inducements of prestige and glory, I examine how chess masters like Garry Kasparov have met the challenge of the brute force programs-some of which were congealed models of his own play-with appeals to a kind of unforced play and even non-thought. Considering the malevolent and fictional HAL, as well as Deep Blue and subsequent programs, right up to IBM s Jeopardy-playing computer Watson, this chapter looks at ways to defeat programming power by critically regaining the counter-technical and (dys)functional skills of the loser. From the Beatles to Beck, the figure of the loser has fascinated lyricists and theorists alike as not merely sympathetic but as a foundation for a deliberate weakness in the face of overwhelming odds and the false pretenses of victory. Whether this kind of loss is non-recuperable, even in terms of accounts of the greatest and longest losing streaks or records of magnificient crashes, and, indeed, whether outside of sport and gaming the figure has any truly redeeming features, will be discussed in this chapter.
In chapter 8 , CrackBerry: Addiction and Corporate Discipline, one of the growing number of trials and tribulations of Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM; rebranded in early 2013 as BlackBerry) will be probed. This chapter concerns the nickname that the BlackBerry device formally acquired in 2006, CrackBerry, and how the business press and academic research community slowly integrated, and investigated, the discourse of addiction in their respective domains of inquiry. The spectre of BlackBerry blackouts, system failures, and the like that make email inaccessible remain newsworthy but may be read against the background of one of the longest-standing psychopathologies of the wired world-obsessive BlackBerry usage and the withdrawal symptoms experienced by users when faced with downtime caused by system failures. Long-term effects of CrackBerry abuse seem, however, to mix discourses of compulsion with entrepreneurial superpowers and the exploitation of unprecedented opportunities that come with the displacement of traditional labour time into all facets of life, and the difficulty of finding a criterion for its measure (Negri 2008a: 63).
As Bifo (Berardi 2007) once argued, one of the defining pathogenic characteristics of the digital nervous system under neoliberalism is that the chemically maintained techno-euphoria produced an abundance of psychopatholgies among which CrackBerry addiction may be counted as a key example. What Bifo considered to be devastating for the mental and physical ecologies of individuals and for social relations, enterprise intellectuals began to investigate and exploit techno-obsessive-compulsive disorders, keeping them separate from economic crisis and productivity issues, but close to discipline and even the counter-surveillance of employers by employees.
The London riots of 2011 exposed something quite important about the BlackBerry planet: the unresolved tensions around encryption that have riddled the infosphere since the great code-breaking efforts of the Second World War. The battle over encryption is still with us: the BBM broadcasting system developed as a private network by RIM for its Black-Berrys encrypts messages with a PIN and is secure-developed for business secrecy-and displays a level of security that makes it impossible for national security organizations to intercept without RIM s cooperation. This issue first surfaced in the wake of the Mumbai bombings in 2008, and the response of governments like the UAE to ban the BlackBerry indicated a strong nationalist intervention in the globalized communications environment, which developed further in this direction with the national Internets concept that emerged most clearly in the Arab spring uprisings when Egypt fell off the Internet in January 2011 and again in the Internet blackout in Syria in December 2012; national Internets are almost always reactionary and repressive, yet the expression of state power through media control has not waned as a fundamental stake. While authoritarian states are waging largely losing battles over new media, this does not mean that such states have abandoned their efforts (like Iran) or that even democratic states may find benefits in concepts such as Internet kill switches.
I don t want to suggest that RIM, the manufacturer of the BlackBerry, doesn t cooperate with national security agencies; after all, it is legally compelled to make disclosures, and these are done very discreetly because they cut to the heart of its reputation for providing secure business mobility. But RIM/BlackBerry s capitulations/cooperations refocus encryption politics onto corporate-governmental relations when the market is shifting from the enterprise sector to the messier consumer sector with greater potential for non-business repurposing of the phone and its famous addictive qualities. It is now the question of whether and how dependency is linked to the struggle for autonomy that interests me in this chapter.
Chapter 9 , WikiLeaks and the Vicissitudes of Transparency, concerns the influential WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website and how it has exposed the contradictions of transparency and openness by forcibly challenging the distinction between publicly available and proprietary information-secrets of the state (national security) and of industry. To use a slightly different language, WikiLeaks targeted the removal of knowledge from the public sphere; the estimates (while speculative) are that three to five times more material is classified than released in a given year in the US (Galison 2004). This number may escalate dramatically if emails are counted (Ungar 2011).
Thus far WikiLeaks has hit its targets with massive releases of diplomatic cables, war documents, and corporate emails, while exposing hacker cadres (some not-well-protected members of the Anonymous group). Julian Assange s extradition hearing, his personal problems, his move to a safe haven, and his perfusion into popular culture (on film and television) have been distractions. But the responses of states are not yet set in stone and may in fact have positive outcomes beyond typically punitive, short-term, and reactionary counter-measures. For instance, in the US there is an initiative underway (Leary 2009) to change the rules regarding access to classified state documents by modifying classification procedures: introduction of limits on the periods of classification; correction of over-classification and misclassification; and a call to initiate a national declassification strategy and establish an organization dedicated to this task. WikiLeaks has underlined for its supporters how important these changes would be, while its detractors, many of whom may be found in the US federal government and were startled by its revelations, have added to the symptom of obsessive over-classification paranoiac talk of the enemy within.
Reformulations of secrecy policies, national archival practices, and digitalization of documents in an increasingly complex networked knowledge environment are hopefully the productive fall-outs of WikiLeaks. These would be welcome positive developments. This might be a way to realize, at least partially, the democratizing vision of new media in the form of a critique of security as the dominant meta-narrative of our time (Neocleous 2008). WikiLeaks is one engine of the waning of the meta-narrative of security. And this, I believe, is something that not even Jean-Fran ois Lyotard could have imagined. And it is in the figure of Assange that we see today most clearly the sacrifices that must be made in the name of autonomy: the activation of the potency of connected intelligence, autonomously from its capitalist use (Berardi 2012: 143). Has autonomous thought backed itself into the corner only to find exceptional figures like Assange and Anonymous to model processes of uncompromised subjectification? This is the question to which I will return in my concluding remarks.
Beyond Hands Free: Big-Toe Computing
After a period of computer celibacy, she was suffering from massive cyber-abstinence. And she wondered which big toe Blomkvist had been thinking with when he smuggled her a computer but forgot that she needed a mobile to connect to the Net.
-Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet s Nest (2009: 239)
T he digital world is well on the way to becoming all about thumbs. Work-extending mobile personal technologies cannot be represented without a requisite reference to thumb action and its repetitive stress injuries like BlackBerry thumb. An entire gestural semiotic of personal computing is already hand-fixated ( hand-held ), and thumbs are raised in celebratory gestures when smart mobile surfing and wireless email are mentioned. Whatever happened to feet in the history of computing? And toes? What about knees? Whither the big toe in the digital era? I want nothing less than to make geeks and entrepreneurs blush at the prospect of big-toe computing, like a corporate suit before an employee with open-toed shoes, an alarmingly human encounter.
Together let s imagine another world of computing in which big-toe/eye coordination, like the pioneering work of the Eu-daemons described by Thomas Bass in his neglected book The Eudaemonic Pie (2000[1985]), initiated a transversal and interruptive reterritorialization. But the facts are hard to face-feet are having a hard time re-entering the space dominated by hands. Devices like the Wii, and arcade-style floor-mounted games like Dance Dance Revolution, re-engage feet in the way that floor-based board games like Twister did for an earlier generation. Certainly, Lady Gaga has done her part in bringing feet back into the picture. Still, big toes languish, most often wrapped in fabric, hidden from view, crushed together with other smaller toes in stupid shoes out of step in a smart universe.
Here I want to regain both feet and the base seductive power of the big toe in computing by looking at wearable computing s early misadventures before turning to Georges Bataille s lessons about big toes for the digital age, as well as some promising new inventions.
Gambling on Toes
The history of the wearable computer is not linked, according to professor-cyborg Steve Mann, to fashion and design but to gambling as its primary examples, beginning with Edward O. Thorp and information theorist Claude Shannon s circa 1961 wristwatch-like time calculation apparatus (Mann and Niedzviecki 2001: 56) (described at length by Bass, below, as a cigarette pack-sized ), and in the late 1970s the shoe-based microprocessor, with tactile inputs, for analyzing the quadrant of numbers upon which a roulette ball would come to rest. Shannon is, arguably, the greatest gadgeteer of the twentieth century, and the breakthrough of inputting data with the big toes firmly confirms analogue computing as a pedal-powered domain. But Mann ends with the Eudaemons, the group of California graduate students and assorted slackers whose tale was told in Bass s aforementioned book, and jumps decades ahead to his own head-mounted WearComp, essentially a visual editing memory system, and its progeny.
Inspired by the shoe s deployment in one of the most restrictive environments outside of prison (57), namely, the Las Vegas casino, Mann valorizes individualism, risk taking, and free will against technological repression of the sort that casinos specialize in. Pitting humanistic against institutional technology, Mann s libertarianism shines forth, his anti-sociology resplendent and devoid of extra-individuality.
Wearable technologies have science-fiction legacies going back to the 1950s vision of jet propulsion packs; there are many military-related inventions for the cyborg soldier, and personal lifestyle technologies that have their own trajectories, like the Walkman to the iPod, from the portable pocket radio of the 1960s to the iPhone. Even surveillance devices like ankle bracelets and obedience belts (Mann and Niedzviecki 2001: 72) may be counted among wearables. But Mann is interested in how wearability promotes freedom: A system has wearability if it allows independence through freedom of movement (74). This is not to be confused with autonomy, Mann stipulates, and he constitutively defines existentiality as the degree to which the individual has control of the technology-does it allow the creation of sustainable personal spaces? (74). The most empowering wearable computers are those that enhance existentiality beyond the confines of the home. Significantly, Mann s wearables allow him to perform his mediations but also reproduce his experiences as an electronic artist: WearComp closes the gap between art and techno science (121).
The shoe computers of the Eudaemons were controlled by means of microswitches activated by the big toes of the right and left feet: D. steps out of the car and stands with his big toes positioned over the microswitches in his left and right shoes. His left toe is expert at motoring the computer among subroutines in its program. His right toe is trained for tapping in data (Bass 2000[1985]: 6). Bass s descriptions of Doyne s [James Doyne Farmer] toe work is remarkable: Once the parameters are adjusted and the computer is clicked into its playing mode, Doyne s left toe takes a break. The right foot can handle the rest with his right toe having become an autonomous unit, bouncing over its microswitch like a frog s leg pithed for a demonstration of galvanic electricity (11). Toes need to be flexed. Toe-operated microswitches demanded concentration and accuracy (13) It was not done casually. These toes cannot be taken for granted.
This experiment repurposes the big toe, which, due to lack of practice, has lost many of its few remaining abilities. A practised big toe may learn to grab and hold objects. This is evident in the case of persons with upper extremity disabilities, namely, shortened arms.
The elevation of the foot, the lowness of which does not compare favourably with the head, for instance, its lack of a cerebral role, means that it sheds its baseness and acquires in connection with the computer it manages a new status. But the foot itself has been subject to tortures, used as a signifier of filthiness, as Bataille reminds us in his remarkable entry on the Big Toe gathered in the Encyclopaedia Acephalica (1995: 87). The toes described by Bass require special socks; no mention is made of nail care. The ignominy of corns and bunions is avoided. The independence of the right toe is underlined by Bass, but its autonomy is restricted to a science experiment scenario.