In our connected data societies, the importance of algorithms and automated systems is obvious. They determine search engines’ rankings, what driverless cars do when a child appears on the road, and stock market changes. Today data-driven algorithms and automated systems are everywhere.
While algorithms and automated systems themselves are often a topic of controversy and debate, this book is about the people behind them; it is an account of the cultures, values, and imaginations that guide programmers in their work designing and engineering software and digital technology. Technology, it is argued, is not neutral and developed free of context. And since algorithms and automated systems exercise power in connected data societies, it is pivotal to understand their creators, who could be labelled, it is argued in the book, Wizards of the Web.
This book is the result of an ethnographically inspired study based on interviews with software engineers and programmers, observations made at tech headquarters and conferences in Denmark, Sweden, Brazil, Germany, India, and the US, and a case study of the introduction of algorithmic automation on the front page of a Scandinavian newspaper.
The author, Jakob Svensson, is professor of Media and Communication Studies at Malmö University. The book is part of the research project Behind the Algorithm (funded by the Swedish Research Council, 2018–2020).
Chapter 1. Introduction: The humans behind the screen
Who is this book for and why should you read it?
Chapter 2. Situating the study
The importance of digital technology in contemporary data societies
Who are the programmers?
Empirical data gathering
Culture as an analytical tool
Delineations, limitations, & ethics
Chapter 3. A culture of many cultures
Entrepreneurial & startup culture
Middle-class, masculine, young, & suburban culture
Chapter 4. Navigating a culture of contradictions
Progressive hippies vs. libertarian entrepreneurs
Pranking dudes vs. techno-missionaries
Shy outcasts vs. attention seekers
Self-confidence vs. asking for help
Chapter 5. The geek genius among beanbags & unicorns in Lego land
The kings (& queen) of Geekistan
In Lego land
Chapter 6. Mind-blowing flow, grit, & data-driven development
The mind-blowing demo
Chapter 7. Innovative & creative solutions for a better future
Progress, the belief in a better future
Disruption & innovation
In data & patterns we believe
Chapter 8. Wizards of the web
Among cyborg mediums, magicians, & programmer gods
Magic through mastery of programming languages
Wizards of the web138From hackers to wizards
Chapter 9. Summary & outlook
Bruno, making the world magic again
Modernity & mathemagics
The magic of dying
The power of imagination