Algorithm as Demiurge: A Complex Myth of New Media

Algorithm as Demiurge: A Complex Myth of New Media

Jan Kreft (Jagiellonian University, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1656-9.ch008
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Abstract

Plato's Demiurge is the quintessence of perfection and power. “Whatever comes from me is indestructible unless I, myself, wish it to be destroyed” - says the creator of the gods, speaking to them in Timaeus. The gods and Demiurge are believed to collaborate on the creation of people in accordance with the standard of excellent ideas; soon the world, as we know, will be created. Plato's Demiurge is also the good, and the platonic gods are righteous. Without Demiurge the world is a chaos, an environment of irrational chances. Nowadays, the myth of Demiurge can be related to the perfection of creativity. Demiurge becomes equal to the anticipated, all-powerful driving force. Omnipotent, yet tamed and friendly. Demiurge is also the leader in the tradition of social research, the “divine” constructor of the economy, the originator of development. In the new media environment, Demiurge is a convenient metaphor for the presentation of the algorithm: mysterious, error-free, resistant to influence, free from human weaknesses. A transcendent being. The aim of this publication is to present new concept, the core myth of new media organizations - the myth of Demiurge associated with the operation of algorithms and critical analysis of myths created around it, which accompany the social, political and business role of algorithms. Considering the aspect connected with the interpretation of digital media operation and their social and business role, algorithms have not been so far analysed in the context of the presence of myths in organisational functioning. The author believes, however, that the common factor in the perception of algorithms in new media is their mythical aureole and mythical thinking associated with them.
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Background

There is a great number of publications on the development of digital media, and the research on algorithms in digital media mainly refers to the reception and placement of advertisements (Mager, 2012). From the market perspective, algorithms are often discussed because they are to decide about the business success or failure, they come as the basis of new business models and business strategies. Their functioning contributes to the higher value of an organisation more than the value of the provided contents.

At the same time, considering the deluge of applications and analyses on IT science, the research on their social and political consequences appear to be very scarce (Lohr, 2012).

For example, during the research done on algorithms in the social context, a new paradigm of hegemony has been formulated (Lash, 2007). The significance of the Wall Street algorithms for education, sport organisations, etc. has been also analysed (Steiner, 2012).

Among various analytical approaches, the reflections on the concept of “structuration” presented by A Giddens are often referred to; people’s actions and discourses influence social systems, however, they are in turn affected by social systems. Algorithms as elements of technology are perceived equally as a part of a system, and as a part of social activity, which maintain their mutual, dynamic relation. This concept is referred to by Wiebe E. Bijker (1997) who writes about a technological frame, Wanda Orlikowski and Debra Gash (1994) who write about the concept of a technological frame of reference. Considering the aspect of the institutional theory, algorithms are analysed in an abstract way as institutions understood as procedures, standards or guidelines (Scott, 2013).

As an invisible part of communication, algorithms are analysed as a part of the universe of a data flow that is realised among the machines (Hayles, 2006). They are a part of “a cognisphere,” a dynamic flow of symbols and instances among people, animals and machines. They also come as a part of the world in which human contribution to communicating information is not indispensable.

Algorithms are also analysed in the aspect of digital exclusion – as an element of invisible processes which are connected with the access to information and knowledge. They define the value and qualifications of people, the levels of access to the whole range of significant spaces and services (Graham, 2004). Algorithms also perform an important role in organising opportunities, as David Lyon defines it: “social sorting” (Manovich, 1999).

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