Broader Implications of Software Studies

“None of the new media authoring and editing techniques we associate with computers are simply a result of media ‘being digital.’ The new ways of media access, distribution, analysis, generation, and manipulation all come from software.” (Manovich Kindle Locations 2653-2654). 

Manovich feels that his Software Takes Command would be an interesting text for designers as well as scholars because having a clear idea of how software developed and how it has shaped the media applications that emerged in the decades that followed the rise of Alan Turing’s Universal Turing Machine and Kay’s concept of a universal media machine. As scholars, it is enlightening to recognize how ignored software is when we look at the works being created, generally our objects of study (such as video games, films, websites, magazines).

Manovich makes it a point in his text that software, though invisible to many of us, shapes our Web culture by what it can allow us to do and what we can imagine doing in the future. For example, think of this blog itself. It is based on a word processor as I can devote entire entries to text, but that’s not all it can do. I can also include pictures, gifs, YouTube videos, audio texts, and hyperlinks, which gives my post the ability to make multimedia function in a single space. This changes how I think about my own writing and reading notes, as I require multiple media to get my thoughts across.

This extends even further when Manovich works through the ways in which software shapes Web culture and, expanding outward, culture in general. For example, the culture surrounding memes. Sites like Tumblr become gathering spaces for content creators, sharing and remixing memes, sharing fan created pictures, and connect with other users with similar interests and skills, but it is the software that makes this possible.  From this perspective, we can examine online cultures from the angle of how these groups and their activities are shaped by what the software can allow them to do and by how the constraints shape what their push back (what they create as a way to enhance their online experiences and creations).

It's not just one meme, but a barrage of memes. Image hosted on Troll Meme.

It’s not just one meme, but a barrage of memes. Image hosted on Troll Meme.

How Other Scholars Use Manovich’s Work

 While doing some research on Software Takes Command, I found work being done by Geography researchers Martin Dodge (University of Manchester), Rob Kitchin (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), and Matthew Zook (University of Kentucky) that explores Software Studies, titled “How Does Software Make Space? Exploring Some Geographical Dimensions of Pervasive Computing and Software Studies.” What I found very interesting about the article is that the researchers ground their argument about software’s importance in the field by looking at how their text was produced: “This text was composed and edited through the mediation of the code of Microsoft Word and shared between its authors via email programs, firewalls, routers and the TCP/IP protocol. It is quite likely that you are reading this article on a computer display (or printed from a pdf file) having downloaded it from the Envplan website. The text representation on your screen or printed page is, in some senses, just the visible surface of a large realm of software, a complex amalgam of data structures, algorithms, packages, protocols and capta that make the space of reading possible (cf. Livingston, 2005 on other aspects of the spatiality of reading)” (Dodge, Kitchin, and Zook). The interface may be all that we really see and take into account when were are working with computers, but the underlying software is what guides our actions as content creators and as readers. Even academia now relies on software, as we are bound to software for most of our research as well as our writing and publishing needs: “The life blood of scholarship in terms of journal publishing is thoroughly software-mediated, from electronic documents, to manuscript reviewing and distribution as e-journals; teaching practices built upon PowerPoint are common and are increasingly being folded into so-called virtual learning environments2 with automated quizzes, electronic submission of coursework and algorithmic plagiarism detection software (which has questionable effectiveness and dubious politics, cf. Hayes and Introna, 2005)” (Dodge, Kitchin, and Zook). The authors ultimately move towards a “Geographical Agenda for Software Studies,” as they describe the significance of software for Geography: “Equally significant for geographers is the degree to which software is also spatial; an issue that will become only more important as pervasive computing unfolds in the social world. Moreover, we believe that geographical approaches have the potential to contribute significantly to software studies” (Dodge, Kitchin, and Zook).

Two of these authors — Rob Kitchin, Martin Dodge — cite Manovich in their book Code/space: Software and Everyday Life, which, according to the description on Amazon.com, “examine[s] software from a spatial perspective, analyzing the dyadic relationship of software and space. The production of space, they argue, is increasingly dependent on code, and code is written to produce space…Kitchin and Dodge argue that software, through its ability to do work in the world, transduces space. Then Kitchiun and Dodge develop a set of conceptual tools for identifying and understanding the interrelationship of software, space, and everyday life, and illustrate their arguments with rich empirical material.” I don’t have access to the full text, but it is interesting to see the applications for Manovich’s work.

One Way Software Studies relates to the culture outside of the Web

Citations

Dodge, Martin, Rob Kitchin, and Matthew Zook. “How Does Software Make Space? Exploring Some Geographical Dimensions of Pervasive Computing and Software Studies.” Maynooth University ePrints and eTheses Archive, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. 

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Kindle Edition.

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