Tag: Evil Media

Friction Conference call for papers

This looks like a wonderful call… See below

In the meantime here’s a nice primer on friction from MIT. A beautiful example of evil media perhaps…

A World Without Friction

Friction: An interdisciplinary conference on technology & resistance

University of Nottingham
Thursday 8th May & Friday 9th May, 2014

Keynote talk by Pollyanna Ruiz (LSE)

With workshops led by: Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey; University of Leicester Technology Group; Jen Birks and John Downey; and Rachel Jacobs (Active Ingredient).

Current workshop themes include: evil media; data, digital leaks and political activism; hacklabs and artistic uses of data.

More TBC

Workshop and talk abstracts, and information about speakers will be appearing on our blog in the forthcoming weeks: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/criticalmoment/

[mass noun]
The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another:
· the action of one surface or object rubbing against another
· conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions

Oxford English Dictionary, 2013

We are now living in a frictionless economy in which money, jobs and products can move around the world in the blink of an eye. And yet we have not moved to a frictionless society. Rather, many of the technologies that support the frictionless economy create various forms of friction in society. Taking a lead from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Critical Theory’s Technology and Resistance research strand, we are interested in proposals for papers and workshops that explore the concept/metaphor of ‘friction’ as a starting point for exploring the relationship between everyday technologies and resistance; with resistance understood in both a politically empowering and an inhibitory sense. On the one hand, we’re interested in modes of organised resistance: of activist movements making use of, or reacting against, technological developments. However we’re concerned with resistance in a second sense: of technologies resisting their intended function, breaking down, being exploited by hackers or triggering unexpected socio-economic complications.

We invite people to use the concept of ‘friction’ as a route into exploring these themes, with potential topics for discussion including (but not limited to):

· Data and ethics
· Cultural shifts relating to the capture of data
· The vulnerability of software to hacking and surveillance
· Resistance to surveillance and data harvesting
· Activist uses of data, particularly the circulation of leaked material
· The politics of hacking
· The exploitation of ambiguity in software design by hackers
· Activist and everyday contestations of technological developments
· The sociological and cultural factors required for technologies to ‘work’
· Everyday and/or activist reappropriations of technology
· Tensions between new technologies and existing infrastructures

We are an interdisciplinary group of researchers, including academics from Geography, Business, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Media & Communications: so we welcome a diverse range of perspectives and approaches to this theme.

We encourage interactive presentation formats, and will allocate longer time-slots to workshops to accommodate these, but also have space for shorter 20 minute position papers.

Extended deadline for proposals: 1st March 2014

If you are interested in participating please submit a 250 word proposal for a workshop or paper, along with your name and current email address, to centreforcriticaltheory@gmail.com

Please also feel free to contact us with more general enquiries, follow the Centre for Critical Theory’s Twitter account @criticaltheory

Talks on Virality (part four)

(Goldsmiths Oct 22nd)

Virality then returns to digital networks by referring to two Evil Media style stratagems.

The first, “immunologic,” permeates the very matter and functionality of network security. The binary filtering of self and non-self, and known and unknown, exceeds abstract diagrammatic forces… becoming part of the concrete relations established between end users and the software they encounter.

In contrast to a rhetorical analysis of security discourses, what is acknowledged here is how the immunologic affects the matter-functions of a network, imposing the molar force of the organism on software designed to filter out viral anomalies.

 The “immunologic” does more than represent the defense of the organic body via the importation of biological language.

It concretely organizes these defenses in terms of organs or organisms, which ward off bodily threats according to the binary divisions of self and non-self, and known and unknown.


Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous use of the “immunologic” to justify the War in Iraq demonstrates how it can be universally applied across all kinds of networks.

Despite these frequent epidemics of panic and terror, it is contagions of hope, faith, and more significantly perhaps, love that Tarde contends are far more catching.

 He clearly regarded love as a powerful political stratagem.

In his 1905 novel Underground Man, Tarde writes about the fate of the human race as it is forced to live beneath the surface of the earth when the sun begins to die out.

This catastrophic environmental event provokes social instabilities marked by a shift from social hierarchy to social harmony.

As a consequence, love not only replaces the energy of the sun, but it becomes the force by which social power circulates.

Love becomes the very air the Underground Man breathes.

Not surprisingly…  perhaps, humans soon become embroiled in a bloody conflict for this precious resource.

On one side, there are those who fight “to assert the freedom of love with its uncertain fecundity.” And on the other, there are those who want to regulate it.

In the forced intimacy of a cave, Tarde writes, there is no mean between warfare and love, between mutual slaughter or mutual embraces.”

Love is also endemic to the extra-logical influences that underpin The Laws of Imitation…

…and by pointing to the desire to love as an exercise of biopower, Tarde similarly raises questions concerning what is located between the uncertain fecundity of love and the tyrannies that seek to regulate its flow.

Indeed, there seems to be a very thin line separating…

On one hand, the spontaneity of a love that spreads freely

And on the other, a tyranny of love that controls.

There is nothing more natural, Tarde states, than those who love each other… should copy each other, but love-imitation is a distinctly asymmetrical relation. It is the lover who generally copies the beloved.

So Tarde’s social man is famously the somnambulist. We know how credulous and docile this hypnotic subject becomes… What is suggested to him becomes incarnated in him. It penetrates him before it expresses itself in his posture, gesture and speech.

For writers like Thrift…

… it is the absorption of affect that produces these incarnations.

They become comparable to, schools of fish briefly stabilized by particular spaces, ephemeral solidifications, which pulse with particular affects.

More relevant perhaps to the age of networks, is the question of what constitutes the nonconscious incarnations of software culture.

Here Evil Media grasps contemporary media practices of trickery, deception, and manipulation, as key.

Like this, the persuasion-management of the end user occurs via an array of sophist techniques… cropping up like a mesmerizing flow that intercepts points of intersection between attention and inattention, and cognitive and noncognitive registers.

As Evil Media puts it:

The end-user has only finite resources for attention.

She will slip up sooner or later. . . . A keen interest in the many points at which fatigue, overwork, and stress make her inattentive is invaluable.

In attention economies, where the premium is placed on capturing the eye, the ear, the imagination, the time of individuals . . . it is in the lapses of vigilant, conscious, rationality that the real gains are made.

And despite the hyperbole, the capture of inattention is not really a trick viral marketing can pull off…

The problem with viral marketing is that it’s just not viral enough.

Inattention and distraction are nevertheless, becoming increasingly targeted in the practices of the neuromarketer, and its object: The brain!

This returns us to the rhizomatic network. Not necessarily the digital networks of the Spam Book though. Rather the neuron network. It was, after all, the discontinuous synaptic event that inspired the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, as well as featuring writ large in What is Philosophy?

I conclude here with two questions concerning what might be called neuroculture:  These are…

what can be done to a brain? 

…and what can a brain do?

The first follows the development of a raft of neurotechnologies, initially intended to map the brain’s surface structure and functionality.

Research began in the late 1800s to microscopically trace the discontinuities of the nervous system.

Since then the neuron has been put to work in a variety of ways.

For example, neuropharmaceuticals and technologies, initially developed to diagnose and treat ADD, OCD and dementia, have been re-appropriated by marketers, the military, and for other off-label uses in education and the science lab. 

However, alongside the manipulation, enhancement and inhibition of neurotransmitters,

… there is a brain that confronts, and becomes a junction between itself and chaos.

This is not a metaphysics that transcends matter. Instead, the incorporeal spreads on the material surface.

Perhaps this points to a materialist understanding of a synaptic collective, which is as much nonconscious as it is conscious.

Tarde was indeed quick to refer to cerebral imitation functions reaching out to the social world in ways that surpass language. His laws of imitation have not surprisingly perhaps been attributed to so-called mirror neurons.

This prompts only more questions though

To begin with, what kind of neuroculture is this, when it is not the mind or the person, but the brain that thinks.

And lastly, what kind of subjectivity is this which coincides with events at the molecular level of neuron transmission?



Recent Talks on Virality (part one)

The following posts are adapted from the notes of two recent Virality related talks. The first, a much longer effort, begins at the University of East London on the 22nd October. The second (the latter half of these posts) continues at Goldsmiths later the same day to celebrate the launch of Evil Media (Goffey and Fuller), Virality and the latest issue of Computational Culture.

UEL 22nd Oct

The introduction of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of the rhizome to the digital media cultures debate in the 1990s was followed by a lot of speculative writing concerning the democratic nature of hypertext and the Web.

For example, in 1993, Kathleen Burnett’s “Toward A Theory Of Hypertextual Design“, claimed that  “At its most political, connectivity is a democratizing principle”

But networks have proven to be both democratic and aristocratic.

Not surprising perhaps. In Deleuzian ontology there have always been two kinds of multiplicity…

There are lines of flight and refrains, smooth and striated spaces. Rhizomes becoming knots.

In many ways then, my research interest begins with trying to grasp these multiplicities by exploring the computer virus problem.

One way to approach the virus was to see it as a discursive formation of the network security industry, where it has predominantly been viewed as a “threat”.

 For example, in one journal article I wrote about the plight of a Canadian lecturer who had been severely criticised by the AV industry for teaching his students to code viruses.

Jussi Parrika’s book (inset) was the first to approach the computer virus problem without falling back on merely rhetorical analysis.

Around this time I also met up with a future collaborator (Jussi Parikka) who was similarly using Deleuze to look at viruses as discursive “bad” objects.

The bad virus is not simply a discursive formation. The “threat” has a material affect, and defines, to a great extent, what you can and cannot do on a network.

After reading Fred Cohen’s PhD thesis (the first computer science paper on viruses), I became interested in Cohen’s notion that viruses could in fact be benevolent. That is, viruses could function as an alternative mode of communication…

Gary Genosko’s book traces communication models from cybernetics to network cultures

 Some of these ideas, first published in M/C journal in 2005, have recently been used in Gary Genosko’s new book, Remodelling Communication.

Cohen concluded his thesis by pointing to a problem not solely to do with code, but to do with networks. A network that is open, he says, (i.e. open for sharing) is also open to viral contamination.

There were others working on the viral. Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker, for example, approached viruses via Deleuze’s control society thesis. The control society breaks with Foucault’s disciplinary society, A move away from heat factories, toward a society controlled by computers and continuous networks. The passive danger of entropy and active danger of sabotage, is replaced in the control society by the crash, and viruses and piracy.

“There is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.” (Deleuze, 1990)

In her book, Abstract Sex, Luciana Parisi similarly draws on the capacity of the viral to apply Deleuzian ontology to biotech reproduction.

Parisi’s viruses provide a significant alternative to dominant neo-Darwinist accounts of reproduction, according to an evolutionary survival mechanism, pointing instead toward an assemblage theory of the viral.

In 2009 I co-edited this collection focusing on the anomalies of network culture.

We invited contributions from Parisi, Galloway and Thacker, Sadie Plant, and Matt Fuller and Andy Goffey, to name but a few.

We described our approach as “topological,” requiring us to focus on the forces that constitute moral judgements of good and bad. We also deployed the famous Monty Python spam sketch as a counter to George Gerbner’s effects theory. We were less interested in media meaning than we were in the accidents of communication. Like this, anomalies are not counter to a network architecture. They are the becoming of a network.

                                                                                                                                                                 My chapter looked specifically at the idea of universal contagion, and asked: “what makes a network become viral?” I compared the notion of rhizomatic communication with what network science was telling us, at the time, about how network architectures emerge. Before the 1990s, and the invent of the Web, most network modelling had assumed complex networks to be randomly connected.

However, using the Web as a new, rich source of data, researchers began to observe a scale free model of connectivity. Scale free networks are both random and organised, and paradoxically, unstable and stable at once. They have been compared to a capricious fractal. Scale free networks are generally characterised by the growth of giant nodes. 20% of these nodes can have 80% of the connectivity.

In a more recent co-written chapter (with Parikka) we have again looked at how network dysfunctionalies are informing certain marketing practices. We argue that business enterprises are learning from spam and viral tactics, so as to develop new epidemiological worlds of consumption.

For example, The DubitInsider concept presents a very simple marketing idea. It seeks to recruit 7-24 year olds who consider themselves to be peer leaders with strong communication skills to act as Brand Ambassadors. In short, this requires the clandestine passing on of online and offline product suggestions to their peers via internet postings on social networks, emails, instant messenger conversations, and organising small events and parties.

 The chapter also follows a recent challenge to a widely accepted law of viral marketing; that is, the power of the influential.

Drawing from epidemiology Malcolm Gladwell argued that a few trendsetting individuals can tip the threshold of an epidemic.

 However, this mainstay of word-of-mouth marketing  is confronted by the network scientist Duncan Watts, who points to the accidents of network contagion. Given the right conditions, he argues, anyone can spread a virus.

My contribution to the Spam Book concludes by referring to early 19th century French sociology, and Gabriel Tarde’s appealing counter Durkheimian social contagion theory.

At the end of the 19th (and beginning of the 20th) century, Durkheim and Tarde provided two distinct and competing theories of the social.

It is this initial interest in Tarde that leads to Virality (see part two).

Reminder about Monday’s Book Launch at Goldsmiths

Launch Event:
Computational Culture, Issue Two,
Virality, Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, by Tony D. Sampson
Evil Media, by Matthew Fuller & Andrew Goffey

Location: 342, Richard Hoggart Building
Cost: free
Website: computationalculture.net/cfps-events
Department: Centre For Cultural Studies
Time: 22 October 2012, 18:00 – 20:00


22nd October event at Goldsmiths

If you’re in London in October you may be interested in this event at Goldsmiths to mark the release of Evil Media, Virality and the next issue of Computational Culture. It’s the first of a number of events related to Virality I’ll be posting about.

Computational Culture, Issue Two

Virality, Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, by Tony D. Sampson

Evil Media, by Matthew Fuller & Andrew Goffey

22nd October


Room RHB 342

New Cross

Free, all welcome

To celebrate these publications, informal presentations will be made by the authors of Virality and Evil Media and contributors to Computational Culture.

‘Computational Culture’  is an online open-access peer-reviewed journal of inter-disciplinary enquiry into the nature of cultural computational objects, practices, processes and structures.  The new issue presents articles by Carlos Barreneche, Jennifer Gabrys, Robert W. Gehl & Sarah Bell, Shintaro Miyazaki, Bernhard Rieder, Bernard Stiegler, Annette Vee and reviews by Chiara Bernardi, KevinHamilton, Boris Ružiæ, Felix Stalder and an anonymous contributor.

In ‘Virality’ Tony D. Sampson presents a contagion theory fit for the age of networks. Unlike memes and microbial contagions, Virality does not restrict itself to biological analogies and medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of contagious assemblages, events, and affects. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is how society comes together and relates.

[University of Minnesota Press]

‘Evil Media’ invites the reader to explore and understand the abstract infrastructure of the present day. From search engines to flirting strategies, from the value of institutional stupidity to the malicious minutiae of databases, this book shows how the devil is in the details.  The title takes the imperative “Don’t be evil” and asks, what would be done any differently in contemporary computational and networked media were that maxim reversed.

[The MIT Press]

In ‘Sensing an Experimental Forest’, her article for ‘Computational Culture’ 2, Jennifer Gabrys discusses fieldwork conducted at an environmental sensor test site, the James Reserve in California.  The use of wireless sensor networks to study environmental phenomena is an increasingly prevalent practice, and ecological applications of sensors have been central to the development of wireless sensor networks that now extend to numerous ‘participatory’ applications.



Evil Media


Computational Culture


Evil Media

Developing on their excellent 2009 chapter in The Spam Book, Fuller and Goffey’s new book on evil media is published by MIT.

Recommended! Blurb below.

In the meantime, details of an event at Goldsmiths on the 22nd Oct to mark the release of both Evil Media and Virality coming soon.

Evil Media

Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey

Evil Media develops a philosophy of media power that extends the concept of media beyond its tried and trusted use in the games of meaning, symbolism, and truth. It addresses the gray zones in which media exist as corporate work systems, algorithms and data structures, twenty-first century self-improvement manuals, and pharmaceutical techniques. Evil Media invites the reader to explore and understand the abstract infrastructure of the present day. From search engines to flirting strategies, from the value of institutional stupidity to the malicious minutiae of databases, this book shows how the devil is in the details.

The title takes the imperative “Don’t be evil” and asks, what would be done any differently in contemporary computational and networked media were that maxim reversed.

Media here are about much more and much less than symbols, stories, information, or communication: media do things. They incite and provoke, twist and bend, leak and manage. In a series of provocative stratagems designed to be used, Evil Media sets its reader an ethical challenge: either remain a transparent intermediary in the networks and chains of communicative power or become oneself an active, transformative medium.

See MIT page:

About the Authors

Matthew Fuller is David Gee Reader in Digital Media at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software and Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture (MIT Press, 2005) and editor of Software Studies: A Lexicon (MIT Press, 2008).

Andrew Goffey is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Culture, and Communication at Middlesex University, London. He is the coeditor, with Éric Alliez, of The Guattari Effect and the translator of Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre’s Capitalist Sorcery, of Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies, and of work by Maurizio Lazzarato, Barbara Cassin, and Etienne Balibar. He is also coeditor of the journal Computational Culture.