Words can be deeds

In 1955, J.L. Austin formulated the notion of 'performativity' in a series of lectures at Harvard University. They were published in the book "How to do things with words". One can use the term performativity when saying something is also doing something: "I take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife", "I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth", "I bet you ten dollars it will rain tomorrow". By uttering certain words people perform certain acts. The term 'performativity' has developed over the last 50 years or so. The performative is today used as a concept to describe the operation of race and gender in feminist and queer theory (Butler 1993). The biological sex and the acting out of being a woman, makes a woman a woman. As I argued in chapter 2, inspired by the work of Donna Haraway, we are also 'enacting our being'. Even in natural presence, technology and our perceptions of it, have deeply invaded our bodies.

Even though programming is mathematics at the deepest level, for many programmers today it is writing, the writing of logic. One can hear discussions about how people write software, whether it is muddled or clear, whether it is blurred and like a patchwork, or neat and smart. Can we use the term performativity for the acts that programmers and hackers carry out? Can we use the notion of performativity for any user who logs on? Are these words the action? Is technological attitude defined by a person's carrying out of actions through words and symbols? Can we actually formulate that performativity as a concept also addresses our technological identity?

If this was possible it would actually open up a whole new discussion. What would the categories of our technological identities be? And what defines these identities in the blurring between the natural and the technological, since the alienation of the strange command lines has disappeared for most people? The belief/knowledge/capacity/identity that one can act with a computer, that one's words can be technological deeds, is a distinct issue. It would mean that acting in technology is not a 'mediating presence', since the words that I write are my deed. It would also mean that it has become part of natural presence as well. The fact that our words have often acquired the performative quality of being actions, adds another layer to our understanding of the cyborg identity of a human person.

At the GHP the technology was still hard to handle, no graphic interfaces were yet present. For that reason the technology was more visible and more touchable than it is today. We could see the performative capacity of words on the screens. We saw the strange command lines trigger other commands and in so doing they were establishing communication with people who were not present in Paradiso in Amsterdam. We could break the unity of time, place and action, because words became deeds, in operating the machines and in establishing contact with others who were present elsewhere at the same time. When showing networks like Peacenet, Greennet, Geonet, we were also operating networks of trust that were specifically designed to connect people to people. Words were building the network and words were making the network visible. Increasingly, because of the development of information and communication technologies, we are operating networks that are not based on trust. We do not know how and where trust is to be found in these networks: we do not know who operates them, we do no not know who is liable, we only know that when we write or push a button something will happen. I will not elaborate further on the idea of a new layer in the cyborg identity. I do want to pursue the fact that even when we do not know these things, and do not have basic trust structures in place, we keep on using and adapting to new technologies even when they are a threat to the human dignity of other people and ourselves.