The technical is political
“The Personal is Political” was the title of an article by the American feminist Carol Hanisch and published in February 1969. It rapidly caught the imagination of feminists everywhere and became a famous slogan of the women’s movement. The reason for its power was that it captured a profound insight, namely that women’s subjugated status was not the outcome of individual choices (and personal limitations) but part of systematic patriarchal political (small-p) oppression that was deeply embedded in American society. The slogan challenged the accusation often levelled against feminist campaigners of the time that their dissatisfactions owed more to their own inadequacies rather than with any wider social or ideological problem.
This Thesis challenges the contemporary assertion of the tech industry that it stands apart from the political system in which it exists and thrives. This delusion has deep roots — for example in the fact some of the dominant figures of the 1970s computer industry were influenced by 1960s ‘counterculture’ — which was suspicious of, and hostile to, the US political and corporate system that had enmeshed the country in the Vietnam war. It found its wildest expression in John Perry Barlow’s famous 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
The idea that the tech industry exists, somehow, ‘outside’ of society was always misconceived, even when the industry was in its infancy. After all, it was built on the back of massive public investment in defence electronics, chip design, networking and research conducted in corporate laboratories like Bell Labs or consultancies like BBN. But in an era where it’s clear that Google and Facebook have, unintentionally or otherwise, been influencing democratic politics and elections, it is positively delusional. We have reached the point where almost every ‘technological’ issue posed by the five giant tech companies is also a political problem requiring political and possibly legislative responses.
The technical really has become political.
John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Davos, Switzerland, 8 February, 1996.
Rahila Gupta, “The personal is political: the journey of a feminist slogan”, openDemocracy 13 April, 2015.
Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political”, 1969.
John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, Penguin, 2006. Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2z24K28
Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State (Revised Edition): Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, Public Affairs, 2016. Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2l8PXfK
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, University of Chicago, 2006. Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2z2fTjq