Ima put a computational hex on you?
Said the algorithm never. But let’s pretend at agencies. Algorithms, yours, mine. Mine is always on the move, improvisatory, unsettled, hard to keep to task.
So, what do I have to do if Ima put a computational hex on you?
An algorithm uses data about the past to predict the future, so I just need some of your past.
You’re finished with it, right?
The computational hex is our present and future, and the notion is from my past, which is to say shared pasts.
To Johanna in December 2019 as we tread water in Berlin’s Thermen am Europa-Center, gazing at the illuminated Kaiser Wilhelm Kirche: “how about ‘Queer Witcheries: Ima Put a Computational Hex on You?’” She needs more context, and so I try to explain as we swim back indoors and go from pool to smoke break to jacuzzi to dry sauna to wet sauna.
I’ve been thinking about computational hexes for a few years, which is to say, I’ve been thinking about algorithms, power, and witchy iterations of queerness.
“All my Black femme friends got into Co-Star this past fall at the same time. TikTok has ticked my tock. Why is that algorithm the best? Are you a Buffy fan?”
She doesn’t know Buffy. If you do (prayer hands), Willow has probably already come to mind—geek, witch, lesbian, usually savior, famously villainous Big Bad for Season 6. Willow is the twitchy one, anxious about everything, the smart one who hacks government computers, the feely one who listens and opens up, and, as the more confident, if unfortunately, well, dark, Dark Willow, magic addict and flayer of misogynists.
I’ve been thinking about how data is like magic: opacities upon opacities as bits of x are gathered and stored and operationalized to narrate present and past, to predict and induce futures, to make possible, or not, lives worth living and, indeed, life itself.
Computation isn’t magic, of course, even if it might seem that way to some of us, at least some of the time. “We can't expect computers to be magic,” reminds my friend, the researcher and data journalist Meredith Broussard. When some of us, some of the time, think that computers are magic, we’re not marveling at data agencies but math. Oh.
Still, to get an algorithm ticking, one needs juice, and I’m not talking about Daddy’s sparkling Rosé. A little bit of a past, smh at marvelous math, and power, which is magic enough. I don’t know about y’all, but my devices might be holding charges, but I’m not there yet. During my slow, still-ongoing recharge, I come across a TikTok by @lolellakoundji about protecting one’s energy. She sagely advises: “The best thing you can do to protect your energy is to not have any at all.”
To Be Continued…