Books  |    |  March 9, 2021

Your Computer Is on Fire

Book edited by Thomas S. Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks and Kavita Philip.
Published by MIT Press.
416 pages.

Techno-utopianism is dead: Now is the time to pay attention to the inequality, marginalization, and biases woven into our technological systems.

This book sounds an alarm: after decades of being lulled into complacency by narratives of technological utopianism and neutrality, people are waking up to the large-scale consequences of Silicon Valley–led technophilia. This book trains a spotlight on the inequality, marginalization, and biases in our technological systems, showing how they are not just minor bugs to be patched, but part and parcel of ideas that assume technology can fix—and control—society.

The essays in Your Computer Is on Fire interrogate how our human and computational infrastructures overlap, showing why technologies that centralize power tend to weaken democracy. These practices are often kept out of sight until it is too late to question the costs of how they shape society. From energy-hungry server farms to racist and sexist algorithms, the digital is always IRL (In Real Life), with everything that happens algorithmically or online influencing our offline lives as well. Each essay proposes paths for action to understand and solve technological problems that are often ignored or misunderstood.

Table of Contents

Introductions

  • Your Computer is on Fire — Thomas S. Mullaney
  • When Did the Fire Start? — Mar Hicks

Nothing is Virtual

  • The Cloud is a Factory — Nathan Ensmenger
  • Your AI is a Human — Sarah T. Roberts
  • A Network is Not a Network — Benjamin Peters
  • The Internet Will Be Decolonized — Kavita Philip
  • Capture is Pleasure — Mitali Thakor

This is an Emergency

  • Sexism is a Feature, Not a Bug — Mar Hicks
  • Gender is a Corporate Tool — Corinna Schlombs
  • Siri Disciplines — Halcyon M. Lawrence
  • Your Robot Isn’t Neutral — Safiya Umoja Noble
  • Broken is Word — Andrea Stanton
  • You Can’t Make Games About Much — Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Where Will the Fire Spread?

  • Coding is Not Empowerment — Janet Abbate
  • Source Code Isn’t — Ben Allen
  • Skills Will Not Set You Free — Sreela Sarkar
  • Platforms are Infrastructures on Fire — Paul N. Edwards
  • Typing is Dead — Thomas S. Mullaney

Afterwords

  • How to Stop Worrying About Clean Signals and Start Loving the Noise — Kavita Philip
  • How Do We Live Now? In The Aftermath of Ourselves — Benjamin Peters

About the Editors

  • Thomas S. Mullaney is Professor of History at Stanford University, a Guggenheim fellow, and the author of The Chinese Typewriter: A History.
  • Benjamin Peters is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Tulsa and affiliated faculty at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.
  • Mar Hicks is Associate Professor of History at Illinois Institute of Technology.
  • Kavita Philip studies colonialism, neoliberalism, and technoscience using history and critical theory. She is the President’s Excellence Chair in Network Cultures in the Department of English Language and Literatures at the University of British Columbia.