Growing up in a generation fully immersed in media culture, it is often easy to forget the less transparent aspects of my usage – software. Software is the hidden dialogue encompassing my everyday e-interactions with my friends, family, and life in general. Through the Week 3 readings, there were two prominent concepts that stood out to me. First, it was our lack of understanding of software operations as mass users, and the implications of this ignorance in ways that we are not aware of. Second, it is the concept of Web 2.0, the ability for users to alter the message or intent originally derived from the process of software engineering.
Fuller writes, “softeware is deeply woven into contemporary life – economically, creatively, politically, culturally.” Upon reading this publication, I wanted to track the prominent use of software in my life. Last Tuesday, I set aside three hours before our class lecture to be hyperaware of my activities. I was shocked to realize that the maximum amount of time I could go about my regular day with no association with any kind of software product was less than two minutes. Walking into the UCC, I purchased a Starbucks coffee with my mobile app which interacts with the Point-Of-Sale system of the vendor. Then, I proceeded to head downstairs where I scanned my student card, an embedded identity sequence connected to Western’s database, to open a classroom door. The everyday subtleties highlight the phenomenon of software culture that encompasses both our public and private spheres. Yet, without careful observation, I would not have taken notice beyond direct interactions with a digital platform through my laptop or phone.
This ignorance for a world behind the screen is not limited to myself. The surface level functions of a Word document or a Facebook profile is often enough to suffice people’s curiosity for technology and the complex systems behind it. Yet, this lack of awareness makes us vulnerable. When we fail to acknowledge the presences of something bigger, we often fall victim to it without resistance. This could include ubiquitous surveillance in which users give away their personal information in return for certain “free” services such as Google or companies tracking consumers’ spending patterns every time they scan for payment. This can also alter the way one formulate thoughts. When Twitter programs the flow of ideas into 140 characters, the user is often restricted in their argument development or creative expression.
Despite these concerns, the rise of Web 2.0, in which the users are able to generate content and share with other users in a virtual space, seems promising. This can disrupt the passivity of a regular content viewer who is subjected to simply receive the content. With an more interactive element spreading throughout e-platforms, I am optimistic in seeing the growing transparency and advocacy for the online user.
Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (New York and London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013) 1-43. (Open Access Edition):