I think this question “what do algorithms do,” which points to the question of agency, I think is an inappropriate way to ask the question. I think we should rather ask the question, what do algorithms become in situated practices?
So here’s what happened. If you tell people you’re going to have this super-open, absolutely non-commercial, money-free thing, but it has to survive in this environment that’s based on money, where it has to make money, how does anybody square that circle? How does anybody do anything? And so companies like Google that came along, in my view were backed into a corner. There was exactly one business plan available to them, which was advertising.
General purpose computers are in fact astounding. So astounding that our society is still struggling to come to grips with them. To figure out what they’re for. To figure out how to accommodate them and how to cope with them.
With the rise of the Web, writing has met its photography. And by that I mean writing has encountered a situation similar to what happened uh, to painting with the invention of photography. A technology so much better at replicating reality that in order to survive, painting had to ors— or, uh, alter its course radically.
Appropriation is something we’re really uncomfortable with. We talk about it mostly in negative terms, when we even talk about it at all. But it’s also weirdly a pretty fundamental part of how we work.