SS: What We May Want (from Each Other)

I recently received some post-workshop thoughts from Benjamin Bratton, who writes in an email titled "SS: What We May Want (from Each Other)":

Software names less a discrete thing than a indiscrete convergence. It is a convergence between genealogies of language and genealogies of technology (leaving information theory and Kittlerian media studies aside for the moment, though their no-show at SS was amazing).

In the history of languages, software is unique in that it performs machinically and mechanically in ways that other languages cannot. Software executes. I can put software "in a box" and that box will do things in the wild world. If I put Russian or Spanish in the box, it would not do anything mechanically. Software is language becoming machine-technology.

Conversely, in the history of technology, software is unique in that its instrumentality is configured linguistically. Software is written. I can write software to operate a machine to cause it to do things. I could write instructions on the side of a hammer (if I was Jonathan Borofsky) but I cannot write a hammer, nor does what I write on the hammer effect its hammeringness. Software is technology becoming inscription-language.

The vectors of this convergence were on display during our day two planning session. More or less clear positions were outlined by socio-culturalists and technologists. Each saw the concerns of the the latter as enveloped by their own.

BUT --and here's the kicker-- it was the socio-culturalists who were more invested in defining software as a wordly technology (building bridges, governments, identities, etc.) and it was the technologists who were more invested in defining software as autonomous linguistic frame or substance (code rhetorics, assembly politics, generative grammars, etc.)

The surprised me. Should it have? Do you agree with this observation?

Is it that Humanists have technology envy, tired of the virtuality of words, and Technologists have culture envy, tired of being instrumentalized as specialized mechanics? Is Software Studies the place where we trade goods, blend our cultural capitals, and leverage a new, shared bargain?

If so, what does it mean that SS to date involves this transposition and transprogramming of interests, and that the wish of one discipline is to be play as the other? To me, it seems like a very good sign, and good reason to get Latour at the next meeting!

It is an interesting provocation to think of the interdisciplinarity stake in software studies as being supplemental for each group. On the other hand, it seems to me that we could also describe each groups primary concern as an extension of the basic or core concerns of the respective home disciplines. On the one hand humanistic analysts go down to the boards of code-and-bits as a logical extension of the mandate to read "closely." On the other hand, information systems analysts extend out beyond the mechanism and through the human interface to engage society and culture as the logical extension of a theoretical program of abstract systems analysis. This description is both an opposite and identical narration of the same interdisciplinarity.

Whatever the answer for individual scholars or groups of scholars, answering the question "what is software studies?" in a disciplinary context will certainly require many of us to answer this other another question "what kind of interdisciplinarity does software studies entail?"