The Art of Interpretation in the Age of Computation

This book is about media, mediation, and meaning. It focuses on a set of interrelated processes whereby seemingly human-specific semiotic practices become automated, formatted, and networked. That is, as computation replaces interpretation, information effaces meaning, and infrastructure displaces interaction. Or so it seems.

I ask: What does it take to automate, format, and network semiotic practices? What difference does this make for those who engage in such practices? And what are the stakes? Reciprocally: How can we better understand computational processes from the standpoint of semiotic practices? How can we leverage such processes to better understand such practices? And what lies in wait?

There are six core chapters. The even numbered chapters take up these concerns directly. Chapter 2 focuses on the relation between infrastructure and interaction. Chapter 4 focuses on the relation between information and meaning. And chapter 6 focuses on the relation between computation and interpretation. The odd numbered chapters take up such concerns more indirectly, acting as connecting linkages between, and less linear approaches to, the concerns of those chapters. Chapter 3 focuses on the relation between secrecy, poetry, and freedom. Chapter 5 focuses on the relation between materiality, virtuality, and time. And chapter 7 focuses on the relation between ontologies and their algorithmic transformations.

As will be seen, rather than foreground--and, as is so often the case, fetishize--the latest application, platform, or processing technology, this book stays very close to fundamental concerns of computer science, as they emerged in the middle part of the twentieth century. In this way, I try to account for processes that underlie, or serve as the foundation for, each and every digital technology being deployed today. And rather than use the tools of conventional social theory to investigate such technologies, I leverage key ideas of American pragmatism, a philosophical stance that understands the world, and our relation to it, in a way that avoids many of the conundrums and criticisms of twentieth-​century social theory. I put this stance in dialogue with certain currents, and key texts, in anthropology and linguistics, science and technology studies, critical theory, computer science, and media studies (broadly conceived).