A post by Mathijs Weijers
John Haltiwanger was the third speaker of session 2, which focused on publishing workflows, tools and platforms.
His talk aimed to give the audience a better understanding of the recent work of Gilbert Simondon on cybernetics theory. Simonodon’s work shines a new perspective on Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics, originally published in 1948, but it is often hard to grasp by readers. Hence, Haltiwanger wanted to offer the audience a clear analysis of the essential terms of Simondon’s vocabulary on cybernetics.
Haltiwanger warned that he is not an academic, and that he became interested in the topic when doing his master’s thesis in New Media and Digital Culture at University of Amsterdam: “I had to make a decision about the format the thesis should be published in: PDF, HTML or .doc?”. Choosing the right format seems to be very easy but actually can be problematic, as each has its own specificity. PDF might have a clean interface but it’s hard to archive and be read by machines – HTML would do that job better. Word Documents are, in his opinion, standard formats that are required in the academic environment but have little benefits and reduced usability. There is furthermore the issue of proprietary formats. While he used the open-source Libre software to write his thesis, when exporting to PDF it crashed. These inconsistencies are harmful as “knowledge is too important to be locked in proprietary tools”. Thus, the thesis topic soon revolved around the very format that academic publications can take, Haltiwanger joked. Yet, this is why he believes that understanding the vocabulary for discussing the cybernetics theory of Simondon is important, as users are forced to simplify or even weaken the content of what they are working on in order to get a desired format. Whilst there are so many format options, Haltiwanger argued, “we are constrained by liberty”.