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The Cultural Logic of Computation

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The Cultural Logic of Computation [Hardcover]

David Golumbia
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 30, 2009 0674032926 978-0674032927

Advocates of computers make sweeping claims for their inherently transformative power: new and different from previous technologies, they are sure to resolve many of our existing social problems, and perhaps even to cause a positive political revolution.

In The Cultural Logic of Computation, David Golumbia, who worked as a software designer for more than ten years, confronts this orthodoxy, arguing instead that computers are cultural “all the way down”—that there is no part of the apparent technological transformation that is not shaped by historical and cultural processes, or that escapes existing cultural politics. From the perspective of transnational corporations and governments, computers benefit existing power much more fully than they provide means to distribute or contest it. Despite this, our thinking about computers has developed into a nearly invisible ideology Golumbia dubs “computationalism”—an ideology that informs our thinking not just about computers, but about economic and social trends as sweeping as globalization.

Driven by a programmer’s knowledge of computers as well as by a deep engagement with contemporary literary and cultural studies and poststructuralist theory, The Cultural Logic of Computation provides a needed corrective to the uncritical enthusiasm for computers common today in many parts of our culture.

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Editorial Reviews


The Cultural Logic of Computation is a brilliant, audacious book. It might be described as a rollicking, East Coast version of Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool-- or one part Laws of Cool, one part Seeing Like a State, with more than a dash of Baudrillard and Virilio for brio. Golumbia's argument is that contemporary Western and Westernizing culture is deeply structured by forms of hierarchy and control that have their origins in the development and use of computers over the last 50 years. I look forward to pressing this book on friends and colleagues, starting with anyone who has ever recommended The World is Flat to me. (Lisa Gitelman, author of Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture)

The Cultural Logic of Computation is a fascinating and wise book. It takes us with great care through the history of the computational imagination and logic, from Hobbes and Leibniz to blogging and corporate practice. Its range includes the philosophy of computation, the ideology of the digital revolution, the important areas of children's education and education in general and glimpses of brilliant literary insight. Required reading for the responsible citizen. (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)

Golumbia is no Luddite; he readily admits that computers have brought a wide range of benefits to society. His chief purpose, though, is to demonstrate that these benefits come at the cost of accepting the technophilic ideology, and changing how we perceive our own essence as human beings. (Rob Horning 2009-07-24)

A work to be read as rawly new in the brute force with which it confronts the disavowed fatal flaw in a contemporary academic disciplinary formation: here, the intractably cultural First Worldism of digital media studies...[A] meticulously crafted polemic. (Brian Lennon Electronic Book Review 2009-07-31)

This is a thought-provoking book, full of interesting ideas that would be valuable to teachers and researchers in the area of contemporary culture...The work should also appeal to general readers who are interested in computerization's effects on culture. (R. Bharath Choice 2010-01-01)

About the Author

David Golumbia is Assistant Professor of English, Media Studies, and Linguistics at the University of Virginia.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032927
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #345,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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33 of 44 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Cultural Illogic of Computation July 18, 2011
David Golumbia does not like computers. Toward the end of The Cultural Logic of Computation, after lumping computers and the atom bomb into a single "Pandora's Box" of doom, he observes:

"The Germans relied on early computers and computational methods provided by IBM and some of its predecessor companies to expedite their extermination program; while there is no doubt that genocide, racial and otherwise, can be carried out in the absence of computers, it is nevertheless provocative that one of our history's most potent programs for genocide was also a locus for an intensification of computing power."

This sort of guilt by association is typical of The Cultural Logic of Computation. Much of the the book focuses on political issues that don't bear on "computation" in the least, such as a tired attack on Thomas Friedman and globalization that adds nothing new to Friedman's already-long rap sheet. Golumbia spends ten pages criticizing real-time strategy games like Age of Empires, complaining:

"There is no question of representing the Mongolian minority that exists in the non-Mongolian part of China, or of politically problematic minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, or of the other non-Han Chinese minorities (e.g., Li, Yi, Miao). A true Hobbesian Prince, the user of Age of Empires allows his subjects no interiority whatsoever, and has no sympathy for their blood sacrifices or their endless toil; the only sympathy is for the affairs of state, the accumulation of wealth and of property, and the growth of his or her power."

The critique could apply just as easily to Monopoly, Diplomacy, Stratego, or chess.

His actual excursions into technical issues are woefully uninformed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meta Reviewing September 15, 2013
By dvd
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you need help making a purchasing decision about this book, then the author's statement is all you need to know:

"computers can even be used by anti-knowledge libertarians to try to completely deceive amazon readers"

If you wish to *read* the book, and form an opinion over how much you *agree* with it, then you should decide whether or not you wish to purchase the book, then purchase it, and then review it here.

That said, I am familiar with the author's arguments, do not agree with all of his conclusions, and while currently reading it, I think it was a great purchase.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Whereas other praiseworthy authors concerned with computation and culture today, such as Evgeny Morozov and Bernard Stiegler, often seem to begin with the cultural hopes and anxieties tackled in the second half of The Cultural Logic of Computation, Golumbia's critique of the prevailing ideology is primed by the book's opening sections where he addresses the history of research and philosophy that have served to naturalize our computational metaphors. The result is a convincing and grounded argument that reaches outside the scope of many other works in cultural studies and digital rhetoric.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Anti-Libertarian Bigotry? January 9, 2014
The author states his book is an antidote to the problem where :
"computers can even be used by anti-knowledge libertarians to try to completely deceive..."

The modern computer revolution is very much the result of the culture changing activities of Libertarians and those informed by libertarian perspectives. One only has to spend a few minutes on the web or at sites such as [...] to see that this is part of a larger cultural project to empower each person and promote knowledge, the SMILE agenda of the last half-century.

Golumbia has a book that after suggesting L/libertarianism is doing the reverse goes on to ignore its role. He proceeds to associate computers and the web with an array of cultural criticisms, or purported lacks, as a critique.

This gives the impression that Golumbia's book might itself be best described as, in his words, an anti-knowledge deception that diverts one from the yet to be fully documented story of massive and enormously rapid cultural improvement.
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14 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars author's response to "review" by "david a" August 4, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
as the author of this book, i encourage readers to read it and not the one preceding "review" by "david a."

the review fails in any way even to acknowledge the book's main theses and its central arguments. it duplicates content from a blog posting (which may be by the same author) that makes even bolder false claims, such as that the book lacks references (despite being full of quotations indicated by page number directly from works listed in the bibliography)

even in the review, actual facts are referred to as "factual errors." For example, Voltaire is obviously part of the critical counter-Enlightenment within Enlightenment itself (not the later Germany-based Counter-Enlightenment, but this movement is never mentioned in the book), and this is what the book claims: that is to say that Candide appears to mock Leibnizian claims. I take both the Voltairian "critical rationalist" position and the Leibnizian "positive rationalist" position (both of these are caricatures for the sake of argument) to be part of Enlightenment, and this is clear in the book, and widely acknowledged by all scholars of the Enlightenment and obvious from Voltaire's own writings, so calling it out as a "factual error" is quite egregious.

I also don't think Leibniz preceded Descartes, etc.

No citation is provided for the comment that Frege and Russell are on opposite sides; I do not see the claim in the book. Still, politically, Russell and Frege could not have been more opposed. Their logical projects were closely aligned.

the review claims not to understand the reasons for my discussion of Object-Oriented Programming, but whether he agrees with them or not, detailed reasons are provided.
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