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Interrogating the cybernetic imaginary, or, Control and communication in the human and the machine

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Interrogating the cybernetic imaginary, or, Control and communication in the human and the machine

Hamilton, Sheryl N (1999) Interrogating the cybernetic imaginary, or, Control and communication in the human and the machine. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Abstract

This cultural history explores the coming into being of an emergent cultural sensibility of the computer age, the cybernetic imaginary. Articulated through four events which take place in public discourse--the thinking machine, the game, the future, and information--the analysis suggests that it is in the immediate postwar period that many of the taken-for-granted tropes, metaphors, and assumptions of current cyberculture are presented, negotiated, and normalized. This analysis is conducted in print mass media texts exploring cybernetics, computing machines and their interaction, in the period of 1944-1959. The material includes popular magazines, mass market non-fiction, fiction, and trade journals. The thinking machine as a discursive event establishes a fundamental, functional equivalence between humans and computing machines, permitting, indeed requiring, the replacement of human mental labour with machines. The game rewrites the notion of what it means to be intelligent, locating valuable knowledge firmly within a model of rationalism. Science and mathematics becomes privileged as the knowledges through which to take decisions in all forms of social organization. The event of the future marks the future as a knowable domain, and a properly knowable domain, marginalizing both the present and the past as relevant to knowledge. This confirms a teleological understanding of history, notions of technological progress, and the valuation of speed. Finally, information is redefined in this period as the successful transfer of valuable information, rather than about meaning. Communication is thus reduced to a functional, quantitative measurement. Information is offered as a universal measure of knowledge, and information theory becomes a universal methodology. Yet none of these outcomes is preordained when the computing machine is introduced to the American public after World War II. It is in the process of their negotiation in the public domain that the cybernetic imaginary is produced. The cybernetic imaginary as a set of shared cultural assumptions has significant social power implications for how we understand the computer and our selves to this day--it marks our age as a society of control

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Communication Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Hamilton, Sheryl N
Pagination:ix, 388 leaves ; 29 cm.
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Theses (Ph.D.)
Program:Communication Studies
Date:1999
Thesis Supervisor(s):Sawchuk, Kimberly A
ID Code:947
Deposited By:Concordia University Libraries
Deposited On:27 Aug 2009 13:15
Last Modified:08 Dec 2010 10:17
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