The work of precision II

In writing my earlier post about precision, I was reminded of Donald MacKenzie’s incredible book Inventing Accuracy, in which he explores the following premise:

“This book reveals just how wrong it is to assume that missile accuracy is a natural or inevitable consequence of technical change. Nor, however, has it come about simply because governments, for good or bad reasons, have desired it. Rather, it is the product of a complex process of conflict and collaboration between a range of social actors including ambitious, energetic technologists, laboratories and corporations, and political and military leaders and the organizations they head. The invention of accuracy has fueled, and has itself been fueled by, the cold war. It has been a shaping force, but has itself been shaped.” from Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance. 1990, page 3

And later…

“A technology is not just social up to the point of invention and self-sustaining thereafter. Its conditions of possibility are always social.” page 4

It seems to me that despite the increasing reliance on algorithmic thinking and automation in social and political worlds, perhaps our concern oughtn’t be solely with these technologies and technological practices per se, but, continuing MacKenzie’s thinking, with the seemingly unproblematic ways in which ideas like precision and accuracy have come to define ever-smaller aspects of daily life.