Pruchnic: “A Natural History of Networks”

Pruchnic, Jeff. “A Natural History of Networks.” Inferential Kid. Tumbler. Web. 20 Aug 2013.

Key Terms

Pruchnic argues, through a “natural history,” for three broadly defined technological eras in western, Euro-centric societies, a pantometric (universalized measurements: time, weight, perspective, etc.), a prognometric (ushered in by calculus, focus on predicting), and a parametric (term from computer science, focus on individualizing and rapidly responding to consumer demand: Fordism + individualized). Pruchnic argues the pantometric helped foster and further a divide between the humanities (concerned with qualities) and the ascendant sciences (concerned with quantities). The prognometric era is (partially) characterized by actuarial tables, stock exchanges, and even baroque architecture. The parametric era affords algorithmic thinking and ways of “connecting time and space” in order to more quickly and intensely respond to niche spaces and demands. Proteinic traces the parametric through medicine (genome project), finance (arbitrage and algorithmic stock trading), education (process movement in het-comp and individualized learning more broadly), and media (focus on predicting by mass media, niche-marketing/distribution/circulation of content). Proteinic concludes by suggesting the future of the (digital) humanities exists in hybrid discourse with the natural and social sciences, and that there is likely “value in such projects as attempting, for instance, a “natural history” of networks.”

Key Quotes
“Indeed, the unparalleled ability for audiences to search and access media created by individuals with which they already share political dispositions, as well as for aggregative technologies and media portals to “push” such media based on data collected about their users, has instead likely resulted in a decline in an individual’s exposure to opposing viewpoints and of “rational-­‐‑critical” communicative interaction between individuals with partisan divisions. Indeed, the realm of contemporary niche-­‐‑media looks much less like a global village or universal agora, and much more like an ever more intense balkanization of our political or ideological landscape.”

“Technologies like counting boards and public clocks are notable for the ways in which the serve as both forms of representation as well as technologies for establishing relationships between individuals and items, functions through which they blurred the distinction between acts of (ostensibly immaterial) communication and material, physical functions of these devices in ways far more extreme than those of oral and visual discourse and earlier print technologies. For their part, even more recognizably static signifying media such as uniform musical notation and reliable cartographic projections were emblematic of an increasingly “executable” form of representational media, one in which its representational capacity was only useful insofar as it was operational for its users.”

However, more notable, at least in regards to our primary topic here, is the ways in which the emergence of pantometrics as cultural dominant, and the moment of cultural confusion caused by the blending of technics and media in pantometric forms and devices described above, impacted the evolution of the sciences and humanities as formal disciplines.

Further reading
Alfred Crosby (1997)
Alexander Galloway (2004)
Gordon Pask (1960)


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