Living with Algorithms: Agency and User Culture in Costa Rica

Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS) Seminar Series.

Co-sponsors: Departments of Communication, Information Science, and Science & Technology Studies

What does it mean to live in a “datafied” society? Life in media-saturated contexts implies the increasing transformation of people’s experiences, relations, and identities into data. To make sense of this process, scholars have focused mostly on how algorithms give rise to new forms of power and control. Alternatively, in this talk I ask not what algorithms are doing to society but rather what people are doing with algorithms. I present research on the use of such algorithmic platforms as Netflix, Spotify, and TikTok in an understudied region of the global south (Costa Rica). I develop the framework of “mutual domestication” by examining the personal relationships that have formed between users and algorithms as Latin Americans have integrated these systems into the structures of everyday life, enacted them ritually, participated in public with and through them, and thwarted them. In this way, I provide a new perspective on the commonalities and differences among users within a global ecology of technologies.

Ignacio Siles (PhD, Northwestern University) is a professor of media and technology studies in the School of Communication and researcher in the Centro de Investigación en Comunicación (CICOM) at Universidad de Costa Rica. He is the author of “Living with Algorithms: Agency and User Culture in Costa Rica” (MIT Press, 2023), “A Transnational History of the Internet in Central America, 1985–2000” (2020, Palgrave Macmillan) and “Networked Selves: Trajectories of Blogging in the United States and France” (2017, Peter Lang), along with several articles on the relationship between technology, communication, and society.

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