Loop the loop
Back to the recursive society and the looping of the social
In the Beastie Boys Book (reviewed here) one of the band members, I can’t recall if it was Mike D or Ad-Rock, describes arriving at MCA’s house to find a tape loop running from a stereo around some furniture and back to the stereo. The loop fed around the room on a perpetual cycle, taking in some chair legs to make it the right length to capture the sound needed for the track he was producing.
That bit of improvisation and the image of the spinning tape stayed with me. Partly the image stuck because it spoke to a nagging interest in looping. It seemed to me that the loop was a defining presence, not just in music culture but much more widely. The combinations of algorithms and data seem to create opportunities for a looping of the social, and then for those loops to feed off the products of earlier loops.
Back in 2013 I wrote of this in terms of the politics of circulation, with things like cultural tastes and preference, such as film and music tastes, becoming a product of how data feed-back into individual lives. Looping has only escalated since then. Beyond that though, these loops are building upon previous loops, feeding off them to create coils.
A few months ago I wrote a short note for this Substack about this looping of the social. I’d started trying to think-through the idea of a recursive society. That short piece got a little bit of interest and I thought it might be worth developing it a bit more. It was in its very early stages then and I’ve been trying to flesh it out a little since. So I built upon that initial sketch and turned the piece into a longer journal article. After a round of really helpful reviews I made some further revisions to the piece and it was accepted by the journal Big Data & Society. The article, titled ‘The Problem of Researching a Recursive Society: Algorithms, Data Coils and the Looping of the Social’, has just been published. It’s free to access.
Very little goes unaltered by the ongoing and layered looping I describe - which is why I’m suggesting that we are living in a recursive society. The piece tries to pose a question for anybody who works in the field of critical data studies, but I think the broad point might be of interest to anyone with a stake in trying to research, understand or commentate on the social world.
I won’t describe the problem that the article seeks to outline here as it is detailed in the piece, which I hope you might take a look at. Like that tape wheeling around MCA’s room, the loops that make up the social world continue to spin, layering like the components within a track. Hopefully the article manages to articulate that process and what it means for how we can understand the social world.