Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed

Adrian MacKenzie MacKenzie, Adrian. 2002. Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Adrian MacKenzie's book is one of the only sustained inquiries into Gilbert Simondon's concepts in English, this alone makes it an important work, especially with the gaining popularity of Simondon. Also notable is MacKenzie  engagement with the concept of transduction through a range of tools and objects—including forays into hand-axes and nuclear bombs, pendulums and atomic clocks, Stelarc's Ping Body, video games and biotechnologies. It is a wide-ranging consideration of the implications of transduction, time and speed in contemporary society. MacKenzie details technologies in a Simondonian method, examining the functioning technology behind internet protocols powering Ping Body, for example. As such, MacKenzie is able to expand upon Simondon's twentieth century mechanistic view of technologies. This allows MacKenzie to examine the role of technology on the body, the ways in which specific relations allow technologies to mediate experience and to question disembodying narratives of technological supremacy. Following Simondon, MacKenzie problematizes dualistic considerations of technology. He suggests that such readings are reductive and we must consider the multiple ways in which technologies structure society and culture, rearticulate notions of embodied experience, and transform experiences of time. Each informs the other and eschews simple categorization of technical experience.

MacKenzie is clear to bring out the affective and cultural aspects of technology, which is one of Simondon's main critiques of the perceived split between humans and technology. Technology is part of culture for Simondon, and technology carries with it human aspects of a preindividual state, engendering new individuations through its mediation of nature. MacKenzie does not address this directly, nor does he address the explicit ethics Simondon describes in his work. Aesthetics, religion, science and ethics, all part of the last section of On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, are not explicitly addressed by MacKenzie either. However, his attention to the concept of transduction is key, and will assist my research into the transductive capacities of technologies used in art, especially those chapters dealing with bioart and radical contingencies based on embodiment.

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.