Jussi Parikka: For Friedrich Kittler, both technology and education should be open and free @ The Guardian, 29 October 2011

The late German theorist was a great admirer of Bletchley Park – and championed an approach that valued arts and science.

The German media theorist Friedrich Kittler, who died this month, got a farewell that one rarely sees heaped upon academics. In addition to much social media attention, all major German newspapers ran extensive obituaries with references to major philosophical figures of past centuries.
In his lifetime, Kittler wrote eloquently about everything from modern physics and engineering to rock music (he was especially fond of Pink Floyd), yet one of the most interesting objects of his enthusiasm was Britain's history in computing and technical media. For Kittler, born towards the end of the second world war in June 1943, it was Bletchley Park and Alan Turing who pioneered the kind of "early warning systems" that have become a standard of modern media, namely, computers. War, he argued, was always a test ground for new media technologies which are later re-employed for entertainment purposes. The decryption cottages of Bletchley Park, in other words, were nothing less than home to the birth of the computing era.
Kittler did not just write histories of media and computing, but argued that we need to understand old media in order to understand contemporary digital culture. Critics have branded this approach "media archaeology" – digging through the ruins of past media cultures in order to grasp the new. But Kittler was also an active tinkerer of machines and code: program, his motto seemed to be, or otherwise you will be programmed by someone from Silicon Valley.
Back in November last year, when talk of economic doom was still relatively muted and "the digital economy" still a credible buzzword, David Cameron proclaimed that east London would rise to become a kind of British Silicon Valley. A year later, we seem to have failed to heed the lessons of Kittler's interdisciplinary approach. We still keep wondering what Silicon Valley got right that we got wrong, and how to teach kids to read and write code so that a big tech corporation will want them. The only answer the government seems to have been able to come up with so far seems to be "investing in science, cutting from the humanities". If we had heeded the lessons of Kittler's interdiscipinary approach, we might have got students to read Homer and Pynchon (two of his favourite authors) as well as programming manuals.
As adamantly as Kittler resisted the current narrowing of university courses, he resisted proprietary systems. His hero – apart from the pioneers of the British computing history – was Linus Torvalds, who developed the Linux open-source operating system and was himself a product of an open and free university system. What applied to technology, applied for Kittler also to education. Science was originally an "open source" system where anyone capable should be allowed to read, use, modify and pass on knowledge. What threatened modern technological innovation, threatened, for him, modern universities too: privatisation and rigid copyright systems.
Needless to add, Kittler was not a huge fan of corporations such as Microsoft. He preferred the British and the European legacy of media, from the Greek alphabets and mathematics to the calculating machines at Bletchley Park.
Friedrich Kittler was inspired by the pioneerinng computing done at Bletchley Park. Photograph: David Levene