In thinking about expanding the work on network culture, one topic for expansion is that technologies have advanced to the point in which failure is a constant presence in everyday life.
As readers of this blog know, I had a series of server transitions which did not go smoothly by any means this year. Nor am I the only one. Problems in migration between versions of MYSQL are endemic on the web. From this site to Archinect to Natalie Jeremijenko's fabulous How Stuff is Made, the web is littered with junk like "Ã¢â‚¬â„¢" instead of apostrophes these days.
Idiotic design decisions make ours an age of "enraging technology" (thanks to Adam for that link). As technologies begin to talk to each other, the connections between them mean that when one system fails, another fails. Little by little you find yourself doing nothing but debugging a cascade of problems. Why can't I post images on audc.org when I can on varnelis.net? They run off the very same code. I have no idea. Why do my printers sometimes fail to respond? Who knows? Why has my car been back to the mechanic four times to debug a check engine light (I checked, it's still there). My mechanic doesn't know. My espresso machine is in a similar cascade, with a heating element failing then a switch failing, then the AC cord. Or was it the AC cord to begin with? As I was mailing copies of Blue Monday to friends in Canada, I noted with frustration that the Postal Service's click and ship labeling program generates blank addresses fields for the city and country if you fill in a company name. There is simply no way to add a company name for Canada. Who tested this garbage?
When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I insisted that we have an apartment with a dishwasher. We were grown-ups, with two real jobs for the first time, and neither of our families had owned dishwashers. Why? Well maybe because they didn't want more technology in their lives, but I'm too busy to deal with dishes, moreover I find nothing therapeutic about it.
So it was with great delight that I turned on the dishwasher and, it failed immediately.The repairman kept coming in while I was at work to replace a part but when I started the unit that evening, it would break again. I was very annoyed. After all, this was a main reason for renting that apartment! Finally I decided to stay home to watch him do the repair.
"Ah, he said," in his heavy Russian accent, while holding part of the machine in his hand.
"You see, first motor burn out control unit. Then control unit burn out new motor. It burn out second new motor too. Now I replace motor and control unit. Same problem here as at last job, ten years ago. Too much automation!"
"What was your last job?", I asked.
"Service engineer, Soviet nuclear power plant, Ukraine"
He actually didn't work at Chernobyl, but at another similar plant. The day the explosion happened, he took for for Israel and, eventually, for L. A.
What all this suggests is that our emerging relationship with objects—which will only get more intense in the world of ubicom that is rapidly on its way—needs a theory of everyday failure. The concept of the everyday that Lefebvre formulated in 1944 needs to be rethought for the age of semi-intelligent (and sometimes even malicious) objects. Alienation isn't the right term since we generally don't think of the object as being designed, but rather we think of objects in terms of the agency they themselves possess.
I have to go help my wife get a desk for her office since the keyboard drawer she needs to use won't fit on it and to bring in the car for repairs or I'd post more, but this seems like a necessary, if miserable, part of network culture to address.
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