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Kelty (2008) Two Bits, Chapter 2

July 24, 2009

Kelty, C. 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Chapter 2. Protestant Reformers, Polymaths, Transhumanists

64 This chapter is about stories geeks tell, 65 about their modern myths or ‘usable pasts’

65 At present we see reform and conversion going on in relations binding states, firms, geeks – not ‘revolution or overthrow’

66 Geeks range from polymaths (technology as intervention into a ‘complicated, historically unique field’) to transhumanists (technology as unstoppable telos). [aha, the notion of FIELD pops up – but developed any further in this book?]

67 Geeks love allegories of Protestant revolt – allows them to opt for reformation (so that they can save capitalism from the capitalists) over revolution. Instead of a struggle between state and church, the struggle here is between the corporation and the state, and at stake [no pun intended] not church organisation or doctrine but ‘matters of information technology and its organisation as intellectual property and economic motor’.

68 Lots of holy wars, big and small: Apple vs. Microsoft, EMACS vs. vi; KDE vs. Gnome, etc.

69 e.g. in a 1998 article Linus compared to Martin Luther: “like Luther, he had a divine, slightly nutty idea to remove the intervening bureaucracies and put ordinary folks in a direct relationship to a higher power – in this case, their computers”   🙂

70 These stories are appealing partly cos they avoid polarised, bipartisan language of US politics. 71 and [again] you can save capitalism from the capitalists.

71 [Terrific parallels with Reformation struggles]

72 These usable pasts of Reformation stories ‘make sense of the political economy of information’ while distinguishing between power and control. Geeks should be the ones in power, but controlled by states and big corps who want to manipulate people ‘into making technical choices that serve power, rather than rationality, liberty, elegance, or any other geekly concern’.

72 Term ‘evil’ often used by geeks to talk about design or technical problems [every world of practice has its own terminology]. 74 can also be applied to entities such as Microsoft and how it wants to brainwash computer users.

74 Kelty wants to show how these allegories have worked their ways very effectively into geeks’ minds through own example as a geek in the making: this is ‘participant allegorization’ [ha ha]. 75 one Reformation struggle was over alphabet (and cross heading it). Similarly, (c) carries a lot of symbolic power today.

76 With Reformation allegory, geeks can make sense of unequal power relations; it’s an ‘alternate imagination’ thru which they evaluate and judge actions taken by different parties [see Dobie 2004 on p2p stakeholders].

77 Geeks proselytise among non-geeks cos they think it is inevitable that software and networks will come to shape everybody’s lives.

Geeks live in specific ways in time and space. They are not just users of technology, or a “network society,” or a “virtual community,” but embodied and imagining actors whose affinity for one another is enabled in new ways by the tools and technologies they have such deep affective connections to. They live in this-network-here, a historically unique form grounded in particular social, moral, national, and historical specificities which nonetheless relates to generalities such as progress, technology, infrastructure, and liberty.

[Like Boellstorff, Kelty eschews popular labels such as ‘network society’ or ‘virtual community’ in order to specify exactly the kind of social universe he is grappling with – in this case the recursive public of geeks, in Boellstorff a 3D computer world populated by avatars].

78 Some geeks, not all, ‘heroise’ the present by telling stories about the past and chart a future for geekdom.

79- Polymaths

they have no choice but to know ‘a very large and wide range of things in order to intervene in an existing distribution of machine, people, practices, and places’. 80 The really hard work is design, i.e. ‘the process of inserting usable software into a completely unfamiliar amalgamation of people, organisations, machines and practices’ – the technical, specialised, code stuff is by comparison easy.

82 e.g. Adrian tries to translate across fields of business, engineering, medicine [see Strauss 2007 and Hinkelbein 2008, this blog, on digital divide mediators or ‘new mediators’ in the UK and Germany respectively]

82 Not so much about inventing new things as about their insertion in a new milieu, an intervention that Adrian calls ‘technology’. [The notion of milieu has potential both here and in Boellstorff’s Second Life world?]. 83 He reckons healthcare IT companies often use ‘technology’ in a narrow sense as a fix to the hard problems of management, equity, organisation [old magic bullet problem?].

85 Polymaths think like Feyerabend: no single method will make the magic of technology work, must be aware ‘of standards, of rules, of history, of possibility’.

86- Transhumanists

86 Believers in technically-driven progress, of humans transcending limitations of bodies through technology. Timeline of technical progress. 87 Huxley’s article Transhumanism influential.

89 For transhumanists, technology lives in absolute time, divorced from ‘human life or consciousness’

92 Technical progress is inevitable but can be intervened in by intelligent beings

93 Transhumanist still operating within mundane, localised demands of technological work

93-94 Conclusion

You can’t simply map US bipartisan divide onto geeks, no technoconservatives vs. technoliberals. ‘Their politics are mixed up and combined with the technical details of the Internet’. Geeks are interesting cos they create new things that transform our political categories. But geeks not kind of person – their affinity shapes and is shaped by the recursive public they are part of, with Free Software as a paradigmatic case. Studying FS we not only gain an understanding of geeks, but also of a recursive public that could transform ordinary life for all of us.

[Another Big Claim, let’s assess it in subsequent chapters]

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Preface & Introduction

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