When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide:
Inno­va­tion from Below and the Strug­gle for Auton­o­my
Gary Genosko
Water­loo: Wil­fred Lau­ri­er Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013
210pp. $30.00
ISBN – 978-1-55458-897-8
(epub) – ISBN – 978-1-55458-898-5

Review by Andriko Lozowy

When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide offers a crit­i­cal sur­vey and hope­ful trea­tise that elu­ci­dates, as the con­tro­ver­sial, inde­pen­dent sci­en­tist James Love­lock does, that sur­vival, as a mosa­ic of inde­pen­dent coor­di­nates and dis­parate angles, will be pos­si­ble not from less tech­nol­o­gy, but from more (the Guardian, March 1, 2008). Genosko argues that the coor­di­nates are made rel­e­vant and appar­ent by pay­ing atten­tion to where, how and by whom tech­nolo­gies are mashed, resig­ni­fied and imag­ined alto­geth­er. The dis­parate angles, the chap­ters as vignettes on a com­mon theme of tech­no-cul­ture, rep­re­sent a diver­si­ty of action, thoughts, inven­tions and process­es that togeth­er diverge and reflect the mul­ti­tudi­nous ways in which a quest for auton­o­my dri­ves inno­va­tion. Genosko’s When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide argues that tech­no­cul­ture is ori­ent­ed towards ele­vat­ing or sub­vert­ing dom­i­nant regimes of pow­er, not by thought­less­ly ascrib­ing to failed tech­no­log­i­cal futur­ist ideals, but rather elec­tri­fy­ing the for­got­ten wards of cre­ative poten­tial by tru­ly going where no one has gone before.

This book is unique and brings togeth­er tech­nol­o­gy and cul­tur­al stud­ies in a way that engages action as an every­day man­i­fes­ta­tion of a quest for auton­o­my; this includes explor­ers, rogues, anar­chists and oth­er forms of counter-cul­tur­al prac­ti­tion­ers in direct con­tact with cul­tur­al the­o­rists. The book is enlivened through Genosko’s wry sense of humor, cou­pled with his estab­lished his­to­ry as an author and edi­tor of books on com­mu­ni­ca­tion, sur­veil­lance, and phi­los­o­phy; his books include crit­i­cal works on Bau­drillard, Bataille, Guat­tari, McLuhan and more recent­ly “Bifo” Berar­di. With­in this work, each of these the­o­rists makes their appear­ance and influ­ence known as crit­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal inter­locu­tors through­out, for exam­ple McLuhan and elec­tric light. By draw­ing con­nec­tions between, for exam­ple, Bataille, feet, and big toes, Genosko swift­ly pulls the read­er under the prover­bial table to illus­trate how new the­o­ret­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal heights can be reached by get­ting low and feel­ing the vibra­tions. Through­out the book Genosko makes ref­er­ence to the indi­vid­ual and cul­tur­al ben­e­fits of pay­ing close atten­tion to periph­ery, dis­abil­i­ty and per­ceived lim­its. The tac­tic of tra­vers­ing the for­got­ten regions of one’s own body shares a sim­i­lar­i­ty of course with explor­ing one’s own mind, sweep­ing the debris from unused cor­ri­dors and blaz­ing trails through unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ries.

This book is drawn togeth­er by a com­mon theme as a col­lec­tion of essays writ­ten over the course of Genosko’s tenure as a Cana­da Research Chair in Tech­no­cul­ture Stud­ies (2002-2012) while at Lake­head Uni­ver­si­ty. Dur­ing 2007-8 Genosko offered men­tor­ship as my Mas­ters super­vi­sor and in turn I worked as a research assis­tant on some of the top­ics found in the book such as the Crack­ber­ry and cow­boy elec­tri­cians. In effect, this book is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a research focus where, over time, the objects of inquiry that appear in the book were those that made head­lines or were oth­er­wise tak­ing place between 2002-12. Of course the bounds of the focus-peri­od stretch beyond and before 2002, such as with Genosko’s analy­sis of IBM’s Deep Blue and the 2006 world cham­pi­on of chess, Gar­ry Kas­parov.

Through­out Genosko brings the­o­rists into con­tact with each oth­er, such as when Bau­drillard meets Bifo in a syn­thet­ic analy­sis that oscil­lates between ques­tions of how a com­put­ern­can mim­ic humans with­in a lim­it­ed sys­tem of a giv­en pro­gramme and the cap­i­tal­ist cycle of pro­duc­tion. Genosko brings his inti­mate knowl­edge of the poten­tial­i­ty of fail­ure into light as a form of auton­o­my when he enlivens Baudrillard,Guattari and Berar­di at once with a cun­ning ques­tion: “Is fail­ure, loss, and poetry’s regain­ing of lan­guage from mon­e­tary val­ue enough for an auton­o­miz­ing sub­jec­tiv­i­ty to break from stock class types like those named by Guat­tari (2000: 61) as ser­i­al (salaried), non-guar­an­teed (pre­car­i­ous), or elite (exec­u­tive)?” (Genosko 2013: 143). Per­haps the ques­tion is best left open as an invi­ta­tion to allow for move­ment between, and more impor­tant­ly beyond any giv­en or known coor­di­nates, thus join­ing togeth­er in a cacoph­o­nous mish­mash of accu­mu­lat­ed expres­sion that has the poten­tial to incite indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive feel­ings of eupho­ria:

Sculp­tor Robert Smith­son once argued in the mid-1960’s that the “ener­gy drain” of a euphor­ic entropy was on dis­play in the New York black­out of 1965: “Far from cre­at­ing a mood of dread, the pow­er fail­ure cre­at­ed a mood of eupho­ria. An almost cos­mic joy swept over all the dark­ened cities. Why peo­ple felt that way may nev­er be answered (Smith­son 1966 in Genosko 2013: 117).

The­mat­i­cal­ly this book makes an upward tra­jec­to­ry, from below as the title sug­gests, across desks, codes and com­put­ers, and explores the poten­tial­i­ty of a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty like blind­ness where unseen pos­si­bil­i­ties ring–tone’s of truth and expose the frac­tured stra­ta of machinic mim­ic­ry. Across its chap­ters, When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide shifts away from bod­ies in place into tech­no­crat­ic and vir­tu­al real­i­ties while reveal­ing a chronol­o­gy of tem­po­ral depen­den­cies as pack­ets of time, rapid devel­op­ment and towards out­liers like Julian Assange and the polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of Wik­iLeaks. Ren­o­va­tion of such con­cepts as a leak, do well to reveal the com­ing out­pour­ing of democ­ra­tized, or bet­ter yet, trans­par­ent and open crit­i­cal modes of liv­ing that may see the wan­ing of the author­i­tar­i­an meta-nar­ra­tive of secu­ri­ty in a post 9/11 world (Genosko 2013: 169). Tech­nol­o­gy orig­i­nat­ing from unex­pect­ed regions com­mands atten­tion because of its seem­ing­ly mar­gin­al start­ing point in rela­tion to the lim­it­less poten­tial for ascen­dan­cy, ubiq­ui­ty and auton­o­my. The unknown poten­tial of ongo­ing tech­no­cul­tur­al col­li­sions sig­nal the fur­ther explo­ration of unchart­ed realms, espe­cial­ly by those who may occu­py lim­i­nal zones of exis­tence.

Genosko suc­ceeds in bring­ing the read­er along for a ride through a decade worth of research into the ways in which tech­nol­o­gy plays a cen­tral role in every­day life. By using exam­ples like Mafi­aBoy, Wik­iLeaks, phone phreaks and hack­ing elec­tri­cal grid, Genosko mas­ter­ful­ly weaves a col­lec­tion of inde­pen­dent sto­ries into a cohe­sive nar­ra­tive, offer­ing a ver­i­ta­ble man­i­festo on reach­ing for auton­o­my in an increas­ing­ly com­modi­tized, cod­i­fied, and quan­ti­fied human exis­tence. The cov­er image of When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide, the Guy Fawkes mask, is undoubt­ed­ly a delib­er­ate maneu­ver and allows for quick visu­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and asso­ci­a­tion with the tone of the book. Genosko dons a mask as an ode to not only the mid­lands revolt of 1605 and its name­sake con­spir­a­tor, but also to an always present, even if qui­et, revolt against light­ly veiled fas­cist enti­ties such as; the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the elec­tric­i­ty mar­ket, attrib­uted to Theodore Roo­sevelt in the 1930’s (Genosko 2013: 111); the slow accru­ing of insid­er knowl­edge between urban explor­ers tra­vers­ing map­less places (69); or mobi­liza­tion beyond the lim­its of rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy – and here by quot­ing fourth-hand, ‘by chal­leng­ing pow­er, by chal­leng­ing the nor­mal chan­nels of chal­leng­ing pow­er and reveal­ing the truth’ (Giri 2010, Zizek 2011, Genosko 2013).

When Tech­no­cul­tures Col­lide may appeal to a wide range of read­ers, such as those inter­est­ed in Cana­di­an his­to­ry, dig­i­tal art, dig­i­tal cul­ture, cul­tur­al the­o­ry, post ’68 Marx­ist The­o­ry, and post _______ the­o­ry.

Author Biog­ra­phy:

Dr. Andriko Lozowy con­ducts research and works as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er and car­pen­ter in Edmon­ton, Cana­da. In 2013 he defend­ed a doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, with exam­in­ers Rob Shields and Jus­si Parik­ka, titled Icons of Oil: The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er-Researcher and Col­lab­o­ra­tive Prac­tice, at the Soci­ol­o­gy Depart­ment of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta. In 2006-7 he worked close­ly with Gary Genosko at Lake­head Uni­ver­si­ty in the Tech­no­cul­ture Lab, where he earned his Mas­ters degree. Andriko is also an edi­tor and design­er of Imag­i­na­tions: Jour­nal of Cross-Cul­tur­al Image Stud­ies.