Cybernetics: Deleuze, Weiner, & Pye

2000px-ideal_feedback_model-svgThe feedback loop is a fundamental part of cybernetics theory, as it enables communication between systems and their surrounding environments. The processing of information, into quantifiable data, is essential to this system. Norbert Weiner applied this theory of cybernetics to diverse systems of communication (thermostats, elevators, kittens, and human communication) in his book The Craft Reader. I read this excerpt from Weiner first and really enjoyed the way he used these examples to explain the interconnectivity of all things, through their methods of sensory perception, whether intentional (programmed) or intuitive. David Pye, in The Nature & Art of Workmanship, spoke of the intuitive communication that constantly occurs between the craftsman and the object that is being crafted, as Pye states that the care, judgement, and dexterity that goes into the craft often becomes habitual and unconscious.  

It’s clear that the feedback loop model in cybernetics has been applied to many areas of study and has allowed these disciplines to evolve and expand exponentially, by connecting systems once thought to be completely disparate. This concept of communication and control seems very interesting and cool when applied to areas like design, craft, or thermostat technology, but also has the potential to be frightening and uncool when applied to areas like global capitalism or governance…

“The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become ‘dividuals” and masses; samples, data, markets or ‘banks.'”

-Deleuze (Postscripts on the Societies of Control)

The Deleuze reading applied this system of cybernetics to our society in an extremely bleak, though extremely accurate way. It is true that the concept of cybernetics has been taken by capitalist and political systems and used, in conjunction with increasingly intelligent technologies, to reduce human individuality and value into data. This data is then fed back into the system of control, allowing it to self regulate, improve, and perpetuate its constrictive power over us.

Modern systems of control that utilize cybernetics are sneaky. They are not a persistent, overbearing and enclosing form of power like that of Foucault’s “disciplinary societies.” Instead, systems of control are a “modulation.” Deleuze’s example is that of the corporation, which tricks workers into competing with one another to push productivity. Deleuze refers to marketing as the “soul” of the corporation. These systems collect information from individuals and use that information to commodify human activity. Take, for instance, the methods by which Google stores past online searches and purchases and then uses that data to individualize advertisements and provide suggestions in an artificially personal way. A creepier example would be facial recognition software that groups the photographs you upload to Facebook into groups, by recognizing and singling out certain individuals. Just the other day, I found my google account had organized saved photos and created a slideshow for me with “highlights from my year.” Clearly, human activities and human relationships are being commodified by corporations, thereby devaluing the real activities, relationships, and individuals to which they are marketing.

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