The New Circulations of Culture – David Beer

Over on his blog Thinking Culture, David Beer has highlighted his recently published essay on Berfois concerning what he has called ‘the new circulations of culture’:

My short article ‘The New Circulations of Culture’ has just been published in Berfrois. It’s a piece about the way that data circulations and new media infrastrcutures are reconfiguring culture (based upon my recent book).

In the essay David offers some key points on which to focus when considering the increasing mediation of everyday life through contemporary social and spatial media. These points echo many of the issues that have arisen in broader debates being convened as ‘software studies‘ (not least in Kitchin and Dodge’s Code/space) and critical engagements with digital mediation in the guise of ‘the attention economy‘. This paragraph is particularly valuable:

First, we need to generate a greater understanding of how algorithms filter data, and shape cultural encounters. Predictive recommendation systems are a common feature of cultural consumption, but we have little understanding of the algorithms that shape the recommendations these systems make. Nor do we have much of a sense of how these recommendations shape cultural encounters and the formation of tastes and preferences. Second, there is a need to get a greater understanding of the way that people are now playing with data. Playing with data is an increasingly common part of cultural participation. APIs are frequently made available to enable these data playgrounds to operate. Indeed, there is even an emergent culture of visualization with individuals using available data resources to create visualizations. Alongside this, data aggregators allow for real-time insights into cultural trends – allowing us to see what is ‘trending’, ‘buzzing’ or ‘hot’ at that moment. Finally, we also need to think of the way that the body might be implicated by circulations of data. It would be too easy to get carried away with the power of new devices and new software, but we need to give more attention to the ways in which these devices and data circulations are incorporated into bodily routines.

This makes a compelling case for Stiegler’s argument that we should be engaging in what he calls ‘digital studies‘ as a matter of urgency.

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