The Strange Meshing of Impersonal and Personal Forces in Technological Action

Adrian Mackenzie Mackenzie, Adrian. 2006. “The Strange Meshing of Impersonal and Personal Forces in Technological Action.” Culture, Theory and Critique 47 (2): 197–212. doi:10.1080/14735780600961775.

Adrian Mackenzie picks up on his book, Transductions (see entry this section), examining contemporary forms of technological engagement, or action, through a specific Simondonian lens. Examining computer modding, botnets, Google desktop and other technologies, he proposes a corrective to understandings of technology as a deficit to human culture and critical theory. Instead, he suggests that technology is an important aspect of collective life, an excess of the individual that provides potentials and tensions from which individuals and collectives individuate. For example, Google Desktop, a software add-on that allows one to use Google's search algorithms to index and search one's desktop computer, shifting one's experience of personal information to an impersonal relationship: "[personal information] becomes something an individual searches like the Web, a space populated in principle by others" (199). That the software is open to development through others through Google's API (advanced programming interface), means that the software is "open to ongoing development by anyone" (ibid). Combined with the fact that one might have so much digital information on one's computer that search is the only way to find information, means that Google Desktop is a "problematization of information" (ibid). In other words, it is a problem open to individual and societal power relations; technology  carries within it sets of relations that overflow individuals and society simultaneously, producing new tensions, new problems, which require responses, or individuations. These individuations are not just material changes to our environment, new mediations between humans and the world, but also individuations of thought. Technology is part of culture, containing within it certain, human, preindividual aspects, but also bringing forth new forms in excess to that which is human—forms engendering new ideas.

Mackenzie work is important, as he is one of the few thinkers to analyze contemporary technologies through Simondon's ontology. Mackenzie shows how Simondon, who primarily focused on mechanical technologies, is still relevant today. Perhaps even more so, when considering the ways in which technology is relevant to collective individuation in society.  Mackenzie's essay does not examine invention, which is a primary way that Simondon discussed human individuation with technology. This leaves open serious tensions within contemporary technological culture, whose focus on innovation, rather than invention, is arguably at odds with Simondon's philosophy. I will use Mackenzie's work to examine the role of technology in new media artwork and the specific tensions, potentials these works engender.