Software Takes Command

This introduction discusses the permeating presence of software in our society today, stressing that, as a result of this presence, modern culture cannot be understood without admitting and critically analyzing the role of software in its creation. It begins by describing how software has subsumed most other forms of media, showing that in recent times, most created objects, at some level, involve software in their making. It demonstrates how this is reflected in a shift over time of the most popular brands — from those concerned with physical goods to those concerned with software goods. It notes, however, that academics have not yet explicitly engaged with “software studies” as a discipline, but that they should. In an effort to explain what this field might consist of, it lists numerous theorists who have written works that could fit under the umbrella, mentioning that the overall goal is to engage with software not from a technical, engineering perspective (as is most frequently done toady) but from a critical perspective that acknowledges that software is the primary medium in which we all think and generate work.

Mentioning that software and coding grew out of technical disciplines, the introduction explains how these origins prevent competent theorists from fully engaging with an analysis of the social effects of software. It notes a gap between those who are comfortable programming and those that are not, but provides an optimistic vision that software is becoming so pervasive that programming in the future will be seen as simple as is taking a photograph today, which, during the initial development of photography, was a skill possessed only by a technically-minded few.

The introduction finishes by enumerating categories of specific ways that software contributes to the creation of culture, later expanding on each. Notably, it mentions the advent of media today and its relation to software, saying that what we call “graphical user interfaces” today are actually (multi)media interfaces, that incorporate far more than just graphics. Towards this end, they create immersive experiences, which has interesting applications when we consider that work (intellectual or artistic, etc.) is often both created and experienced through software today. This highlights that while we may say we create “documents” of intellectual work, these documents are actually “performances;” they are not static — the message they impart is constructed by a combination of the document, the reader, and the software used to display the document (a pdf reader for a written work, for example). Furthermore, when the “document” is a live file (like Google Maps), the information imparted is constantly changing as users add and remove information — substantially different than the prior accepted conception of “static” intellectual work.