James Bridle’s “Ways of Being”

Dispatches from the more-than-human world.

Cory Doctorow
6 min readJun 7, 2022

--

The cover for the Farrar, Strauss, Giroux edition of James Bridle’s ‘Ways of Being.’

It’s hard to pin down the thesis of James Bridle’s Ways of Being, published today in the USA by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux — it’s a big, lyrical, strange and inspiring book about the “more than human world” — a world that encompasses the worldview of animals, ecosystems, and software.

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374601119/waysofbeing

Bridle, an English artist and technologist who lives in Greece, pulls on so many threads to tell this tale. Some will be familiar to people who encountered some of his viral work, like the homemade self-driving car he “trapped” in a salt-circle that simulated the unbroken lane-markings the car was trained to respect.

https://jamesbridle.com/works/autonomous-trap-001

A still from the now-deleted Youtube children’s animation ‘BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video,’ depicting two rows of cartoon characters such as Elsa, Spiderman, Venom, Hulk and the Joker; the forward row has been buried up to its necks.

Or his investigation “Something is wrong on the internet,” which revealed a vast web of incredibly disturbing children’s animation and programming, much of it automatically produced, that had taken over kids’ Youtube and was absorbing billions of hours of viewing time worldwide:

https://medium.com/@jamesbridle/something-is-wrong-on-the-internet-c39c471271d2

These are two of the threads woven into Ways of Being: that two “inanimate” objects — a homebrew self-driving car and a recommendation algorithm — both have distinct worldviews (Bridle uses the cybernetician’s term umwelt) and these worldviews create desires, which impact us.

The impact is bidirectional. Our own umwelt and desires impact these inanimate objects, too; we are inextricably tangled up with them. Their actions result from our actions, and our actions result from theirs.

This dynamic doesn’t stop with recommendation systems or autonomous vehicles. The whole world — from microscopic organisms that are neither animals nor plants to birds to primates, to plants and the fungi that interpenetrate and coexist…

--

--

Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr