UCSD's Softwhere 2008: A Few Roundups

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I poked my head in to the public 'pecha kucha' session for UCSD's SoftWhere 2008, but couldn't stay for the whole thing since I had a paper to write and was feeling really under the weather; I did get a chance later to talk with one of my professors, who participated in the event, and have been checking out the roundups floating around the internet at this point. I've got my own opinions on the '___ Studies' ghetto, being part of it myself — though an attempt to create a field of 'software studies' is, at the very least, not burdened with Cold War politics. Anyways, there are some concise (and not so concise) appraisals of the event floating around. Anne Helmond, who presented on the relationship between search engines and the blogosphere, had this to say:

The title of the workshop ‘SoftWhere' embodies the question of demarcating an area of study. Our current society is penetrated by and shaped by software and should thus be subject to appropriate critique. The ubiquity of software has led to a software culture and we are now living in a software society. What does it mean to live in such a software society instead of an industrial society? A world which is created by software is opaque and that is why we need to study software. We should question the streams behind, embedded in and woven through our society and look at what is happening behind the screens. SoftWhere? SoftEverywhere!

Liz Losh has a much longer and detailed explanation of the various presentations, of which there were a great many, spanning a lot of subjects, over at virtualpolitik. I've heard videos of the presentations might pop up in the future — considering the bite-sized nature of the presentations, I hope they do. And the format of confining academics to six minutes and forty seconds of presentation time? Brilliant.

SoftWhere 2008: Software Studies Workshop [Anne Helmond] & Speed Dating [virtualpolitik]

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DISCUSSION

okenny-------building-bridges-old
okenny :) ...building bridges (to hide under)

I'll just get this out of the way: Part of me wanted to respond "Softwhere? Softhere! Now let's make hardwhere?"

Yes I'm an idiot. Sorry.

...

In the earlier days of getting my degree, when we were learning how to translate logical designs into circuit design just to have the world turned on its head (at least for me at the time) that this complex circuit can be written with a few lines of VHDL and run in a virtual circuit, that's when software became ubiquitous for me. It's amazing to see that in the digital age that more things are driven by software rather then the more analog method of hardwired logic that behaviors of devices can completely be rewritten after it rolls of the assembly line. The large take away from those observations that I made is that technology is changing at a fast enough pace now that we can start looking at wider standardization of popular technology making software the real defining part of any piece of technology we hold. We can see this effect slowly becoming a reality. Look at cell phones for example: They've become quite standard and is going through a process of normalization. Given another 10 years, they will become as standardized as a television. Standard GPS, Screens, Camera, Transponders, etc... all driven by the software of your choice (sort of like your "standard" PC).

On a macro-level, you can sort of look at every piece of hardware out there becoming a PC. I remember seeing what looked like an RJ45 jack. It was like 5/8 by 5/8 by 1 inch. What was impressive about this was that it was a full linux-driven device designed to add network functionality to any device. It had FTP, HTTP, and other servers built in. You can telnet to it even and use it as a regular linux environment. The point is that the device could also run custom software like JPEG compression to send images from a camera it was integrated into across the internet. Cool huh! That's the what's happening to hardware and that's why software is becoming so important.