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Permanently Moved / Podcast / Software

301 – 2040 – Abstract Objects

S03E40

Coding python, pythagorean cult visualisation exercises, code loops, empirically felt variations in experience, and psychedelic technology criticism.

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Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded by @thejaymo

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Abstract Objects

I recently was reviewing old notebooks and found a page of scrawl I’d forgotten about until now. This episode then is a collaboration between thejaymo of 2014. A half remembered conversation with the philosopher of technology Stephen Fortune, and Jaymo of 2020.

I’ve been interested in cyberspace ever since I first encountered the web. But not as a separate reality we would recognise from the discussions of digital dualism back in 2014. 

Instead, more like how a python programmer In Biella Coleman’s fantastic 2012 book Codeing Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking (PDF), talks about code.

I’d reach some sort of transcendental state … I felt the pure abstract joy of programming in a powerful way— the ability to conjure these giant structures, manipulate them at will, have them contain and be contained by one another.

In episode 2023 I mentioned my own emotional responses to writing SQL and interacting with databases. The feeling of manipulating multidimensional datasets is akin to the period of my life I spent practicing pythagorean cult visualisation exercises. 

Manipulating the platonic solids in the mind’s eye. To mentally spin a dodecahedron is as satisfying as manifesting a SQL return. Folding, turning and transposing multiple dimensions.

Chat ‘rooms’ aren’t really rooms in any sense. But I can see why the people that invented them gave them that name. As good a name as any to express and conceptualise there ‘room like’ qualities. Do you think of your group chats as being in kinds of rooms? 

If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll know I’ve been harping on about somatic software design for some time. Making the case that we need new meta concepts to describe how software makes us feel.

I’m not the first to grapple with these ideas. In Reflections on Modern Equipment way back in 2003, Paul Rabinow suggested a similar approach. 

He proposed that we need to develop new language and ontologies when we explore both software design and its use. Ones that “conceptual ensemble designed to make sense of empirically felt variations in experience”. Rabinow concludes saying that anthologists need to pursue this further, nearly 20 years on it feels to me that this is more urgent that ever before.

Anyhoos.

Adrian MacKenzie’s 2006 book Cutting Code: Software and Sociality contains some fantastic work on the typology of software loops. Code is an abstraction that spatiotemporally reorders existing movements.

I’ll include a table/screenshot I have of all 6 examples in the show notes on my blog. But for now I’ll pick three and do my best to explain them. 

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 21.27.17.png
Code Loops : Cutting Code: Software and Sociality

Different families of code loops are types of functions that up until about 50 years ago were only really understood conceptually by mathematicians. In 2020 we experience them every single day. Even if we don’t recognise them in our daily lives.

Anyone with experience of card weaving or loom weaving would have some intuitive idea of these concepts, perhaps names for them but this is specialised knowledge, and certainly not as wise spread in the population as today.

Let’s take the loop type named Simple & Definite. This kind of loop has bounding conditions determined by a finite set of elements. For example an algorithm that counts, sorts, or handles inputs or outputs.

Another is Nested & Definite. A loop that has multiple bounding conditions. Most easily described as the transformation of grid and table like structures. Anyone that has proficiency in Excel on their CV will understand this type of loop. It’s pivot tables, or paste transpose. Arrays of data can be transformed in predictable and particular ways by the execution of a function. The types of Joins one employs when manipulating SQL is another example.

Lastly there is Interactive and Indefinite. Bounding conditions that can change during the course of the loop. This is a fancy description for any interaction with a software interface.

I’ve spoken about how the different mechanics of game UX’s make me feel and won’t repeat myself.

But I recently found In the 1991 essay The Grotesque Corpus Medium as Meat, Terence Harpold writing on the then emerging web. “The epistemology of hypertextual navigation lends itself to the methods of depth psychology.” and goes on. “Hypertexts are multiform discourses with their surfaces turned inside out, so you can see the irregular rhythms of their innards.” (As an aside. Does anyone know if there are outlets publishing psychedelic technology criticism in the style of 90’s now?)

I think exploring how we interact with software somatically is instructive. Namely reversing the idea that software obscures agential transactions. Instead software in fact renders them very vividly, just in the body not the brain.

Now, I know I’ve been conflating both coding software and using software. But one is the creation of an abstract transcendental object. The other, the experience of interacting with them. 

Does this sort of somatic software enquiry chime in with anyone out there? Does it even make sense to you? I see so many hints of it at the edges of UX design and software development.

 I can’t be the only one. Let me know, reach out in the comments below.


The above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.

About Author

Jay Springett is a Solarpunk, Theorist and Strategist for hybrid environments. His concerns are with culture, humans and technology and the environment. He is currently writing his first public book: Land as Platform.

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