Wizards of the Web

An Outsider's Journey Into Tech Culture, Programming, and Mathemagics
Author(s): Jakob Svensson

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?

Outline 20

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

Hippie culture

Hacker culture

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

Data-driven development


The mind-blowing demo

Chapter 7. Innovative & creative solutions for a better future

Solution creativity

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