"The Centre is intended to supplement the present departments or their courses of instruction leading to degrees. It will foster a dialogue between the departments, the faculties, the Library and the Administration, in matters relating to cultural change resulting from technological innovation."
Marshall McLuhan (Draft Constitution, 1965)
How Media Count
In Understanding Media, McLuhan writes that “number is an extension and separation of our most intimate and interrelating activity, our sense of touch” (107). “Money,” meanwhile, “as a social medium or extension of an inner wish and motive creates social and spiritual values” (135). Number is often understood as the most abstract, impersonal, or objective measure of the world; McLuhan teaches us that number is also intimate, spiritual, and expression of ourselves. Digital media we all know, are all numerical media; it’s all just 0s and 1s. And these days, all media is digital.
The Centre for Culture and Technology will dedicate its programming in the 2023/24 academic year to the problem of how media count. We mean this in at least two senses. First, we want to understand how counting—aggregating, numbering, calculating, quantifying—has been a core social, political, and aesthetic activity of media, across many domains and through long histories. Our contemporary media count clicks, measure engagement, sell ads. They articulate us aggregates of data. As thinkers like John Cheney-Lippold, Kris Cohen, and Wendy Chun have noted, contemporary computational media deal with users as members of a population. Political economists of platform economies and computational capitalism, like Nick Srnicek and McKenzie Wark, show us how new forms of aggregation and counting bring into being new kinds of power relations, and altering the warp and weft of social fabrics. That said, computational media have always been media that count. IBM got its start building counting machines for the 1890 US census. As Matthew Jones points out, Charles Babbage was the last in a long line of inventors who failed to build the calculating machines they dreamt of; Babbage inherited Blaise Pascal’s problems.
And, second, we want to know how our counting media come to count for us, how they matter. Filthy lucre is an extension of an inner wish. Number is intimate, and has been far more than a simple adding-up across media’s long sweep. How does counting come to matter? What isn’t computable or countable? How do new AI computational technologies set uncomputable facets of life into relief? Moreover, how do certain technologies—machines that count—come to count as “media,” while others are excluded, occluded, made minor?
“How Media Count,” then, is an inquiry into the contemporary mattering of our digital media, as it continues the long, often occluded, historical development of media that count. In 2023 and 2024, counting will be the activity around which our programming will cluster. Together, we will sound out counting’s political, aesthetic, technological, and historical valences.
The Centre will host a number of programs dedicated to exploring the theme of How Media Count. Programming includes:
one (1) Artist-in-Residence
three (3) Faculty Fellows
four (4) Graduate Fellows
four (4) working groups
and regular programming of Monday Night Seminars