‘The Physics of Culture’

How Algorithms Shape Our World (Kevin Slavin 2011 discusses the impact of algorithms on our culture)

Individuals, the wider public, journalists, technology industry representatives, and government officials’ use flippantly the term ‘digital’, understanding what it actually means however, is a far more complex task than one would assume.

“The techniques, tools, and the conventions of media software applications are not a result of a technological change from ‘analogue’ to ‘digital media’. The shift to digital enables the development of media authoring software […] While we are indeed being ‘digital’, the actual forms of this ‘being’ come from software” (Manovich 2012:3).

With the ongoing development and growth of digital technologies and cities, a more poignant and perhaps helpful or accurate question is to ask, what is software and code, and what are the effects of these vital components that make up the move towards ‘digitalization’? Manovich advises that, “What as users we experience as properties of media content come from software used to create, edit, present and access this content” (2012:3). The capability to be ‘digital’ then, is ultimately only enabled by software.

“The practices of everyday life have become increasingly infused with and mediated by software” (Kitchen & Dodge 2011:3). Software mediation is everywhere; it “actively shapes peoples daily interactions and transactions […] and mediates almost every aspect of everyday life […] within entertainment, communications and mobilities” (Kitchin & Dodge 2011:9). Our entire daily routines, for example, are mediated through software and code, the alarm application on your mobile device or digital radio, travel tickets, engagement with a mobile device on your way to work, throughout your working day on the telephone, or at a computer, in the evening engaging with ‘entertainment’ through leisure practices on your computer, television, or electronic reading device (a Kindle, for example).

 “Software forges modalities of experience – sensorium’s through which the world is made and known” (Fuller in Kitchin & Dodge, 2011:39).

Inside the Matrix

(Image: ‘The Matrix’)

“Software like many other technologies, engenders direct effects in the world in ways never envisioned or expected by their creators, and in ways beyond their control or intervention” (Kitchin & Dodge 2011:39). Software is everywhere, and “alters the conditions through which society, space and time, and thus spatiality, are produced” (Kitchin & Dodge 2011:13). For example, software shapes and speeds up social relations through “email, web pages, virtual worlds, mobile phones, […] and novel social networks (Kitchin & Dodge 2011:12). Not only are we able to meet, communicate and develop relationships through Internet software, but also the instantaneous and immediate nature of it can accelerate such interactions, and overcome, compress or determine spatialities. Similarly Slavin recognizes “this isn’t just information, this is culture, what you see or don’t see is that which is the physics of culture” (2011). Code matters for digital cities, because it mediates entirely its infrastructure; ”it has become the lifeblood of todays emerging information society” (Kitchin & Dodge 2011:3) and is what makes a city ‘digital’, without code it would not be able to operate or exist.

Kitchin and Dodge (2011) argue that code, when materialized through technologically becomes space, ‘an event’ or ‘a doing’, “code exists primarily in order to produce a particular spatiality […] the production of space [therefore] is dependent on code”(2011:16). For example, the Internet can be both mobilized by software on mobile devices, or it can be territorialized in the home by example through a localized Wifi connection and interaction with a personal computer. Different software therefore, creates spatial distinctions. This exemplifies Kitchin and Dodge’s discussion of how “social activities are now regularly transduced as code/space” (2011:20), how software and code contributes to, informs, and creates cultural practices (Slavin 2011), and is therefore ‘spatially active’ (Kitchin and Dodge 2011:ii); code mediates space, and space determines the code from which we can engage.

(Own words: 328)


Berry, D. 2012. Life in Code and Software: Mediated Life in a Complex Computational Ecology. Open Humanities Press.

Kitchin, R. & Dodge, M., 2011. Code/space software and everyday life, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press:

Fuller, M. In Kitchin, R. & Dodge, M., 2011. Code/space software and everyday life, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Manovich, L., 2011. Media After Software. (Available at: http://www.manovich.net/articles.php, Last Accessed: 24.2.14).


The Matrix


Slavin, K. 2011. ‘How algorithms shape our world’ (Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDaFwnOiKVE&feature=player_embedded#at=261, Last Accessed: 24.2.14).

Further Resources

There are also some interesting videos available at: http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org/books/Life_in_Code_and_Software  Last Accessed 24/2/14.

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