Software as Ideology

Digression I just cut from a paper:

Hardware alone appears meaningless. When you gaze into an electric circuit, nothing gazes back into you. Software’s visual environments seem to be the real point of access – in particular, operating systems populated by desktops and recycling bins (Chun, “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge,” 43). Transistors are not represented on the screen here. This is not to say that software exists independent from hardware. In fact, the basic function of hardware is to emit “signifiers of voltage differences” (Kittler, “There Is No Software,” 150). What connects hardware and software is then a “functional analogy to ideology” (43). Like the ideological effect of the commodity form, concrete is made abstract when hardware is made visual through software; or as Althusser defines ideology, software provides “a ‘representation’ of the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (Althusser, quoted in Chun, “On Software,” 43). Beyond the surface of software is its depth: code, which is part language and part machine, both scriptural and executable (Galloway, “Language Wants To Be Overlooked,” 328-329). The role of language thus peers behind software’s false appearance as pure function. Software’s representational function emerges out of meaninglessness only through the ideological act of interpretation (330).


One thought on “Software as Ideology

  1. An insightful post! I love the use of Althusser. I find that he is often abandoned in favor of his students (though, more precisely, I suppose I am thinking of both Foucault and Deleuze, though Deleuze wasn’t a student of his), but his conception of ideology can do real philosophical work, I would contest.

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