Zone of Computation Instability

In today’s world, life is increasingly prescribed, recursive, and narrowing due to the pervasive influence of digital technologies and the underlying protocols that structure our lives (Galloway, 2004). Stiegler (2010) critiques contemporary political economy, focusing on how digital technologies contribute to a loss of individual autonomy, while Crary (2013) examines the impact of late capitalism on our daily lives, highlighting the erosion of boundaries between work and leisure. Software systems, as explored by Hayles (2005) and Chun (2011), automate thoughts and expressions, promoting efficiency and patterns at the expense of human experiences that deviate from the norm, shaping our understanding of identity, history, and culture. Fisher (2009) further emphasizes that these systems reinforce capitalist values, marginalizing diverse perspectives, and creating echo chambers that diminish the richness of human experiences. To counteract this, a collaborative effort is needed to develop an inclusive, creative, and equitable alternative software practice. As artists, technologists, educators, and human beings, we must consider how we can use the language and tools of our time to activate, deconstruct, and transform the world around us.

To consider how we might reimagine our world, we can turn to works of fiction that challenge dominant paradigms and explore alternative possibilities. Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel,”The Man in the High Castle,” and its subsequent TV series adaptation. The story features characters who can temporarily travel between and influence parallel universes. Tagomi, one such character, utilizes the ancient Chinese divination text, the I Ching, to access alternative possibilities, inspiring others to envision a different world. His success lies in his ability to move between worlds, absent from the logic of any directly lived experiences. How can we draw parallels from Tagomi’s experiences to counteract the homogenizing and normalizing tendencies of contemporary software systems?

The Invisible Committee suggests increasing the density of communes, circulation, and solidarities to make the territory unreadable to the observer. This concept is exemplified by “modding,” the practice of modifying hardware, software, or any other aspect to explore alternative effects, appearances, or functions. In gaming, modding often results in uninvited structural changes, exemplified by the randomizer, a player mod that randomizes specific parameters of a game, creating infinite subworlds for players to explore.

The Zone of Computational Instability (ZCI) is a concept that addresses the homogenizing and normalizing tendencies of software systems, offering an environment for individuals to explore alternative virtual worlds and create their own rules and conditions. The ZCI fosters creativity, collaboration, and agency, bridging the digital and analog realms and inviting individuals to experiment with different forms of play, expression, and collaboration. It is a platform for creative resistance against the constraints of contemporary software systems.

Integrating ZCI principles into education, educators can encourage students to explore alternative protocols, design unconventional software systems, and experiment with injecting computational haze into their virtual creations. This hands-on experience in resisting the homogenizing forces of computational systems enables students to develop a deeper understanding of power dynamics within digital spaces. The concept of ZCI thus enriches the potential for creative expression and resistance in virtual worldmaking, empowering individuals and communities to challenge and redefine the boundaries of the digital world.

  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. MIT Press, 2011.
  • Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso Books, 2013.
  • Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, 2009.
  • Galloway, Alexander R. Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization. MIT Press, 2004.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts. University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Stiegler, Bernard. For a New Critique of Political Economy. Polity Press, 2010.