“TikTok Gave Me ADHD”: On User-Algorithm Relations in Platformed Diagnosis

Trying to understand political subjectivity in the digital age is doomed to fail if we do not take into account the fundamental role of technology in shaping subjective experiences and intersubjective interactions. However, the field of political theory has been slow to fully incorporate these dynamics into its foundational concepts and methodologies. In response to this delay, a growing sub-field of ‘political theory of technology’ is emerging that explicitly addresses the intrinsic relationship between politics and technology. A particular concern in these debates is how algorithms as so-called ‘smart’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘personalized’ technologies are a tool of formatting, commodifying, and interpellating users into neoliberal subjects in service of a captialist ideology. These critiques are typically grounded in a (neo-)Marxist and structuralist approaches to technology and share the claim that algorithms produce forms of knowledge and power by circumventing the self, and therefore challenge the very contemporary notion of subjectivity in itself. However, its typical macro-level focus comes at the cost of concrete descriptions of how user-experiences of algorithmic interpellation are actually structured. This paper claims that a phenomenology of user-algorithm relations can help understand how ‘algorithmic subjectivation’ operates as a productive and relational force in the context of platformed diagnosis. To make this clear, the paper and its main arguments are illustrated with a case study of the formation of algorithmic publics around ‘platformed diagnosis’ (Alper et al. 2023). Drawing from Hannah Arendt’s phenomenological understanding of identity and judgment, it shows how the ‘algorithmic identification’ of users (e.g. in relation to ADHD and autism), when faced with counter-judgments from the users’ side, result in the formation of new kinds of ‘publics’ that re-configure the relationship between self, technology, and community.


Anthony Longo

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Digital Humanities Tilburg