Technologies of Use: A Challenge for Social Theory
Social analyses of technology often focus on how technologies are used. These analyses assume a distinction between human user and technological tool such that humans can be said to use technologies. In this paper, I will challenge this paradigm using the example of lossy digital audio technologies (eg. the MP3), which I will argue target human bodily matter before the coherence of a human subject. They do this by eliminating sonic information from audio files that is determined to fall below the threshold of audibility. This elimination occurs before the act of use, prefiguring it; it understands human bodily matter not as exterior to technology but rather technical itself, calling to mind Michel Foucault’s theorization of biopolitics. This technical aspect of human bodily matter has important social and political-economic ramifications. In particular, I will revisit the labor theory of value, and will suggest some ways we might rethink this theory in the light of perceptual technologies such as the MP3.
Keywords: Technology, Social Theory, Political Economy, Information, Psychoacoustics
Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, City University of New York, Graduate Center