Module 3: Screen Media Cultures

3.8 Glitch/Failure

When writing this module, Adan Jerreat-Poole highlighted glitches and failures they regularly encountered in every day technology and the implications of increased technological expectations. We will also take up glitches in Module 9 as we experiment with game design. In Jerreat-Poole’s words:

“Internet cuts out. The Zoom/Skype video freezes. My computer crashes—again. I lost the save file. I forgot to save. The file is corrupted. The audio is clogged with static. My smartphone is spiderwebbed with cracks from that time I dropped it at the bus stop. It’s held together with tape and wishes. Every time I take a photograph, it turns out blurry.

Despite living apparently in the digital age, our technology fails us all the time. I used to live out in the country, where Wi-Fi would periodically cut out and I rarely had cell service. When I was doing a quantitative analysis on a dataset for my PhD dissertation, the programs I was using would routinely crash from the size of the data file, and I had to figure out how to break it up into smaller pieces that the programs could handle. It had never occurred to before that there was a size limit. Our devices fail, sometimes expectedly (you know you have to jiggle the charging cord to get it to work), and sometimes randomly stalling or crashing.

Pre-COVID, this was still an issue, but we had easier access to backups—to public libraries and, of course, the University library computers. In-person classes, while inaccessible to many of us, didn’t require a high-speed internet connection (expensive!) and a working web camera. The more reliant we become on technology, the more vulnerable we are when it fails. I don’t mean this as a critique of digital technology in general (old forms of technology also glitched and failed), but I do want to explore our experiences with tech failure and push back on narratives of speed and efficiency. I also want to showcase the knowledge and creativity and improvisation required to work with new media tools, methods, and hardware.”


In the Crip Technoscience Manifesto, Hamraie and Fritsch (2019) illustrate the intimate relationship disabled people often have with the technology they use, which often requires adapting to the glitches and failures of these devices. They draw attention to the work of ‘tinkering’, or making minor adjustments that allow otherwise faulty devices to work or adapt them to specific needs. They reflect on the work of disabled designer Alice Loomer:

“Alice Loomer (1982), a wheelchair user, described her crip maker practices of repurposing household items for wheelchair maintenance or for ad hoc assistive technologies as “hanging onto the coattails of science.” Loomer argued that her own tinkering and maintenance practices “kept [her] away from nursing homes and attendants”: “I made it. So I know how to fix it…I may have failed as often as I succeeded, but I have equipment that fits me.”
(p. 8).

Take a few minutes to reflect on your personal experiences with technology glitches and failure, and to imagine how we might use our technology in a ‘slow’ or ‘cripped’ way. Questions to guide your exploration:

  • Do you have a finicky device? Do you know how to work something in your home that nobody else can work? What are your tricks for when your storage is full on your phone?
  • How did you get to know the idiosyncracies of your device? Do you now have a unique relationship with that device that is different from other people in your household?


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Digital Methods for Disability Studies Copyright © 2022 by Esther Ignagni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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