Revealing Errors by Benjamin Mako Hill
Benjamin Mako Hill begins his introduction with a rather intriguing concept he sites from Mark Weisner. Weisner in “The World is Not a Desktop” explains that the ideal form of technology is the eyeglass as it is a tool by which you can look at the world through. Technologies blend into our lives almost seamlessly until, like a scratch on an eyeglass, you visibly see when technologies are not working smoothly. What is intriguing is Hill begins to discuss the “error” that is visible when Microsoft Windows crash and you see the iconic signal. After reading Russell and his interpretation of Glitch as “not an error” its interesting to see other scholars perpetually identifying glitch as an error. “Anyone who has seen a famous “Blue Screen of Death” on a public screen or terminal knows how errors can thrust the technical details of previously invisible systems into view” (27).
Hill continues by explaining why humanities scholars are actually one of the disciplines which understand technological and its mediation and limitation. In the Humanities, scholars bring about what is not seen/visible. When I’ve taken humanities courses as a student we often read through the lines, analyzing and re-analyzing to bring about a “truth” or an unseen implication in what is read.
Here, I’m assuming Hill is implying the same. Hill then references Weisner again as a source that explains how humanities scholars are valuable in the field of technology as they expose the invisible or not seen.
Hill then goes into an extensive discussion on printing and the evolution of printing to fix errors in words or misprints. The change in printing technologies and the move towards Monotype and Linotype changed the way that printing mechanically was done. Moreover, the errors in previous forms of printing helped to present, in a visible manner, what needed to be fixed while simultaneously and inadvertently presenting the positive attributes of an error itself.
When Hill brought this point up using the example of printing mechanisms I tried to think of examples in my own world where errors catalyzed productivity. The example I thought of was whenever my computer freezes or glitches, malfunctions due to overheating or the invasion of a virus, the initial reaction is to learn to be more patient, depend less on technologies and accept the volatility of our technologies and the lack of safety my memories and work have in their homes of my technologies. The long term and physical productivity that relates more to Hill’s example of the printing press innovations is my need and desire to buy more advanced and reliable technologies. For example, newer phones, better upgrades and nicer and faster laptops. Moreover, what I take from Hill’s “Revealing Errors” is understanding the importance and the implications of the visible errors, not only understanding what they represent but also what they catalyze.
Reading Revealing Errors by Benjamin Mako Hill, the first thing I think about is Marxist theory. Especially Hill’s argument for “rendering invisible technologies visible” in a digital landscape in which everything is simply ones and zeros coded in an infinite number of ways. What we see on screen, like videos, images, texts, is simply surface level to the coding hidden below. So what does this have to do with Communism? In the Communist Manifesto, Marx discusses the alienation of the proletariat, in other words, the separation between the workers and the labor they produce. The way I interpret this is that consumers are connected to the products they buy, but are unaware of the labor conditions that takes to producing said commodities. The proletariat is thus rendered invisible. That’s the parallel I see and would probably not go further than that, as Marx goes on to discuss the need for the proletariat to fight back against oppression and start a revolution. I mean, we won’t need to worry about that until we start replacing all of our workers with androids. Now is not the time to dream about a futuristic dystopia. Anyways, what I take out of comparing Marxist thought to this article is that it is important to reveal what is unseen as a way of better understanding the power that technology has in shaping and maintaining certain ideologies. Oh man, we’re back to Marxism!
That section about how the American Family Association has a software that modifies language blows my mind. Essentially, you can have a single article, change some words around, and it can produce two distinct and separate reactions. For instance, if a news article was titled “Marriage Equality Passes in the Supreme Court”, and although the content is exactly the same, but the title is rewritten as “Homosexual Marriage is Made Legal by the Government”, it produces two different reactions and sometimes needless fear mongering. Thus, I think it is VERY important that internet users be aware of the manipulation of media, and the technologies behind such subtle, subliminal ideologies.
“When technology is accepted, when it becomes invisible, [humanists] really need to be paying attention.”
This has also led me to look at other websites differently and think about what certain interfaces allow and do not allow users to see or do. Before thinking about coding, the web design of a page usually did not cross my mind, and the limitations of certain pages were invisible to me. I think making a glitch in a code can be a very political act, because it challenges the restrictions imposed on people by certain technology designers who dictate the form of the medium in which we interact with technology. When errors reveal the so-called “man behind the curtain” of technology, they allow the technology user to reflect on the inner-workings of the function of the platform they use, and the user can then question the impact and effectiveness of said platform.
Hill goes on to discuss the misprinted word, which made me think about the autocorrect errors that I often encounter while typing on my iPhone. The function of autocorrect was to improve the typist’s spelling and grammar, but often results in a completely different word than what was originally intended. This is not necessarily a technological error, but a result of a technology that aims both to correct and to constrain the scope of one’s typing, which often misinterprets the typed word. Hill points out how users of t9 will encounter difficulties when typing profanities, which many may have experienced when the word “fucking” is notoriously autocorrected to “ducking,” which totally removes the intensity from the intended use of the word. Such technology can either improve one’s spelling, or restrain one’s self-expression through language, and ironically create errors rather than solve them. Are the so-called “bad” words the errors, or is the censorship the real error?