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lecture: What is critical technology appropriation?

The case of IRC


New technologies sometimes express a critique of the existing social conditions. However, their subsequent iterations often increasingly conform to the requirements of capitalism: capital accumulation (exploitation) and social peace (repression). The history of chat devices is no exception. Critical appropriation of IRC by contemporary peer production groups show how it is possible to resist such historical logic.

The talk is comprised of three parts.

First, I go over the history of technologically mediated chat, and propose a rough periodisation: chat programs, instant messaging applications, and social networking. I argue that the history of chat devices is a textbook example of recuperation.

Second, I talk about the contemporary use of IRC as a backstage infrastructure by peer production communities: free software developers, hackerspace members, (Anonymous) hacktivists and Wikipedia editors. I highlight the functional role that IRC in general plays in the contemporary media ecology, a technological landscape where social networking takes up most of the space. At the same time I also list some particular ways in which these different user groups appropriated the medium for their own ends.

Third, I draw the theoretical conclusion from these empirical details, answering the following question: what is critical technology appropriation, why is it important, and which conditions make it possible? I close the presentation with some reflections on the political meaning of the rejection of new technologies and the continued use of old technologies, in light of current proposals for decentralised and distributed communication tools.