A few weeks ago, I attended Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s lecture, “Habitual New Media: Exposing Empowerment.” Her analysis of “new media as leak” and the culture surrounding new media is thought provoking and has truly broad potential. She examines the treatment of machines and new media as secure, and the human hurt that emerges when the effects of the natural habits of machines (leaking information) are blamed on human error.
“It is surprising that we ever imagined our computers not to leak… Our machines work by leaking” – @whkchun
— BCRW (@bcrwtweets) October 10, 2013
When Chun refers to “new media as leak,” she asserts that in order for a network to function, it must leak information. Leaking is not accidental among, between, within our machines, nor is it in any way a failure on their part. It is, in fact, central to their success. Chun discussed the ways in which our machines are created in the social imagination as “deceptively protective,” in how our (techno-political?) society has constructed a culture of safety, security, and secrecy around our machines (i.e. that we use the machines, they do not “use” us or betray our information: they were created by us, for us, and under our strict control), when, in reality, we have never been in control of our machines. Cue horror-film music (or, maybe that’s just me).
What was so interesting to me about this lecture was that both the truth of our machines and media (that they leak) and the culture surrounding them (that they are necessarily secure) seems intuitive, even when they contradict one another. A network, be it of people, businesses, or machines, must constantly be sharing information among members, preferably at a high speed, in order for it to grow and sustain itself. A network needs to be connected, it needs to make connections, and it needs to send the information that’s held within it without it. This makes sense.