Wednesday, March 3, 2021
We loved computers: That’s a simplification, almost a category error. What happened is we found computers, we got on the network, and before long we lived as much inside the possibility space of computing as we did anywhere else.
Maybe what we got wrong is this: From the beginning, computers appeared to us as a kind of liberation. Because we were young and our horizons were close, we mistook the ways they opened the world to us for their most important quality. What we couldn’t see then was that they were born as instruments of the oppressor, and would help us become the same.
Even when we grasped that the scaffolding of computation came from power, when we were running free around those systems we felt like we understood their real purpose in a way that the institutions that built and purchased them couldn’t. Nevermind that they couldn’t exist without an industrial economy, ranked tiers of exploited workers, and a relentlessly degraded environment.
Computation was a power that we could see how to take for ourselves. It unfolded in front of us in a way that the authorities in our lives could, for the most part, barely even perceive. Sometimes they’d glimpse it and lash out in fear or contempt. We mistook their fear for a sign we were on the right track.
And maybe some of us were, for a while. But we didn’t understand that what power serves is usually power itself.