Paul Dourish – The Stuff of Bits: An Essay on the Materialities of Information


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-0262036207, English, 256 pages, 2017, USA

What kind of ‘materiality’ can be found in our global digital infrastructure? Coupling the tangible hardware presence, the processes presumed to run the whole system are mutually shaping each other and in turn they are invisibly and directly shaping the way we work. Dourish addresses this concern through “the materialities of information representation”. He isolates four Classical Elements which comprise the digital infrastructure: computer emulation (virtual machines), spreadsheets, databases, and network architecture. Each element is examined in a different chapter through their ‘materialities’, or the specific material qualities they show, like ‘transparency’ or ‘weight’, and their material arrangement. Their form and qualities force information and how we deal with it, into specific dynamics. What is ‘databaseable’, for example, which means what type of consistent collection of content, or simply cultural domain, or just scattered information can be shaped in the current database paradigm? And what might be technically (and so, politically) excluded? How does a spreadsheet’s form shape meetings and decisions? And how is the development of computing machines and the same global internet infrastructure shaped by the current managing philosophy (cloud, servers, virtual machines, etc.)? All these questions are posed and discussed in this timely book, and they resonate, as the author hoped, in other related areas, finally starting to meaningfully question our ”methods and disciplines”.

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