Towards Platform Archaeology
The study of platforms is on the rise in communication studies, science and technology studies (STS), game studies, internet studies, and the study of human-machine communication (HMC). While originally platform studies emerged from hardware studies as an integrated attempt to study the hardware, software, code, marketing, and use of computational technologies, its use has been broadened to include the study of software platforms, such as social media sites, and the affordances they offer users, their algorithmic decision making, their terms of service, code environments, and embeddedness in neoliberalism: selling user data, acting as advertising space, etc. (see, e.g., Montfort & Bogost, 2009; Gillespie, 2010, 2018). This holistic approach to studying technology encompasses everything from minute detail (such as how buttons might be configured on a MINITEL console; the way privacy settings are displayed on Facebook; Apple product packaging), to the broad and situated sociopolitical context of corporations (such as the gender make up of development teams at Nintendo, the political investments of members of the Board of Directors at Twitter). Meanwhile, media archaeology charts the similarities between older and newer technologies, looking for echoes of the former in the latter, continuities and discontinuities, genealogies and breaks. While some, such as Apperley & Parikka (2018), have discussed the similarities between these two methods and their epistemological/methodological terrain, this paper attempts to productively combine them to explore what “platform archaeology,” as a method, might be able to uncover.
This paper plumbs the depths of both platform studies and media archaeological thought and traces the contours of a possible conjunction in line with Parikka’s (2012, p. 5) call for media archaeology “to [continuously] renew itself in relation to emerging questions concerning digital culture, memory, and technical media.” Is the line between media archaeology and platform studies that the former are materialist socio-technical cultural histories and the latter are latter are materialist socio-technical cultural histories of specifically computational media?—Converging cousins with different backstories?
One strategy of media archaeology as method is to trace topoi, or commonplaces, as they manifest across time and technologies (e.g., Huhtamo, 2011)—a way of showing what we consider “new media” is always already stocked with tropes of meaning and form from media that have come before. Platform studies, on the other hand, drills down into the specificity of particular computational media: media that may be programmed in some way and may be used for some form of subsequent expression—and in the earliest form of the method, specifically creative expression.
Platform archaeology explores both of these terrains and draws back to Foucault’s original appropriation of the archaeological (1970, 1972) to excavate how trends of thinking and expression came to take form and coalesce. In the example of digital intimacies (and specifically the topos of “intimate digital touch”) we can see how the digital extension of human intimacies (McLuhan, 1964) mediates and transforms intimacy and connection: from human sexuality, to friendship, to games and play, to haptics and robotic futures (Berlant, 1996). Tracing a genealogy of specific intimacies, across platforms, allows us to see how platform archaeology might be useful for tracing the contours of the emerging and evolving digital–human ecosystem.
platform archaeology, platform studies, media archaeology, digital intimacies, topoi, touch, haptics