Tag: Jussi Parikka

Sadie Plant’s foreword to The Spam Book

The foreword to The Spam Book has been published on Sadie Plant’s website. I’ve made a copy below. A very nice piece that sets up the context for the rest of the book.

Spam Book

Foreword to The Spam Book

They may seem quintessentially Dutch, but tulips came from far away: while the flat patchwork fields of the modern tulip industry are an impressive sight, it is still in the springtime gardens on the shores of the Bosphorous that the flowers can be seen at their best. When they were introduced to Holland, in the early seventeenth century, tulips found an eager audience in what was already a highly cultured world: northern Holland has been described as Europe’s first modern economy, and people certainly had the money and the sensibility to pursue the exotic and treasure the rare. The basic flower was attractive enough. But when it came to cultivating tulips, the plain, primary coloured varieties excited far less interest than the frilly, multicoloured, streaked, and patterned strains. 

These varieties were also highly individuated and difficult to cultivate: for reasons quite unclear at the time, the strains could not be reproduced by cultivating their seeds, and outgrowths from the bulbs were unpredictable and slow, taking two or three years to flower. There was also an element of randomness: dramatic changes could occur in the same bulbs from one season to the next. 

All this and much besides meant that individual bulbs began to attract extremely high prices: even in the 1620s some cost as much as 1000 guilders; by the 1630s, they were priced at 6000 guilders – more than enough to buy a luxurious house. Trading was frenetic, ridiculous even, as bidders raised prices beyond all reason. Bulbs began to function as a currency, and options were traded hundreds of times on futures markets while they were still maturing in the ground.

Of course, there was a crash, a day when someone woke up and thought: why did I just sell my house for the promise of a flower? What am I doing? I must be mad! The crash, at the end of the 1930s, was sudden and devastating, and remains one of the most celebrated examples of economic collapse.

Tulipmania was an economic bubble that took much of the Dutch and the wider European financial system with it when it burst. And what had fuelled the whole thing to such heights? In the 1920s it was discovered that the exotic variations of what had become known as “the flowers that drove men mad” were not the result of careful genetic development, but the consequence of a virus, an anomaly in otherwise healthy, but less variegated plants. The multicolour stripes and ornate patterns were symptoms of disease. 

Viruses are largely judged in negative terms. Like all such oddities, they are seen as mistakes, spanners in the works, bugs in the system, diseases, malfunctions, irregularities. Viruses are only the beginning: the digital world is awash with such anomalies – the spam that fills inboxes, the worms that crawl around the net, all the junk and detritus that flows through the gutters of cyberspace. And yet it is clear that they can often have extremely productive and creative effects, as in the case of the infected tulip bulbs: their viral contagion can indeed be said to have had many beneficial consequences, at least in the context of seventeenth century European aesthetics and sensibilities. It went on to inspire a passion for tulips which established the region as the world’s largest bulb producer, and did much to determine later Western tastes in ornamental flowers and their representations as well. But such positive judgements are as problematic as the negatives. The anomalies in question are rarely purely destructive phenomena, but nor are they heroic subversives locked in battle with the forces of logos or the state, lively irregularities capable of interrupting and destabilising a world of conformity. They may sometimes play such roles, just as they are sometimes uncompromisingly damaging. More often, however, they are so mixed up with the lives of their hosts that it is almost impossible to judge them as anything other than vital elements of the systems they traverse. Otherwise all that can be said in judgement of an anomaly like the seventeenth century tulip virus is that its effects were variously and arguably both good and bad, destructive and creative, positive and negative: the flowers looked good, but the bulbs were sick; money was made and lost as well. 

Long after Nietzsche, the question of whether things are good or evil, positive or negative, normal or strange remains on the tip of the collective tongue. But the exploration of cultural phenomena should not be confined to judgements about rights and wrongs, the purposes and meanings of processes and events.  And the search for significance seems particularly spurious when one’s material is all the gloriously meaningless junk, noise, interference, and seediness that give the Net so much of its character. This does not, however, render the content of all this communication irrelevant: indeed, the contents are often perfect expressions of the networks on which they run. The underground routes, the back doors and dark alleys of the Net play host to the same kind of questionable deals and sordid offerings that move through back doors and dark alleys everywhere. On and off the Net, certain ways of dealing with information and doing business tend to attract certain kinds of service and commodity.  And all the temptations of money and porn that fill the inboxes of the world, the promises of better financial or sexual performance, penises, partners, or porn, are reminders that digital networks do not stand alone, but are always intimately implicated with their users and all the plays of power and desire in which they are involved.

It is, at first glance, quite amazing that the formal, regulated, logical world of computing should have spawned so many weird and wonderful forms of digital wildlife. Of course, the very purity of the logic, the smoothness of the system, tends to exacerbate the effects of even the slightest disturbance, and even to provoke it too: there is always an excess in play. But once computers, and their users, went on line, the networks that emerged were highly complex and volatile. With complexity comes a certain degree of instability and unpredictability that can be fatally destabilising, but also drives change and innovation by making networks vulnerable, and so open to new influences and opportunities. 

They may make problems for the system, but they are often necessary to it too, not least so that it can define its own limits, establishing and policing the boundaries between this information and that noise, this logic and that nonsense. Even as it shuts them out, it needs its anomalies: police and thieves stand opposed to each other, but are also locked into close, symbiotic relationships, and constantly evolve in relation to each other too. They are neither simple enemies nor dialectical partners, but tendencies at work in all the countless scales and speeds of activity in the complex system they become.  

Perhaps it’s all a question of perspective and time. The virus that is malevolent for the bulb is beneficial in relation to the flower. The code that breaks through one security barrier is also the incentive to develop new lines of defence.  Short-term anomalies can be crucial to long-term stability, and vice versa: at least eight percent of the human genome is composed of retroviruses which would have threatened the body at one time but are now simply part of the code. It depends how far back one is willing to step: perhaps the very fact of digital technology is an anomaly in an analogue world; perhaps the earth itself is an anomaly; maybe humanity, with all its technology, was already anomalous in a tool-free world. 

Tulipmania was certainly a great irregularity, a malfunctioning of seventeenth century financial markets causing the first such large-scale economic crash.  It was a kind of fever: the craze was as infectious as the virus itself, a runaway sequence of events triggered by the smallest of anomalies – which was, as it happens, effectively repressed as soon as its nature was known: once it was discovered, after nearly three centuries, that a disease was the agent of tulip variegation, the virus was eliminated by the tulip industry. Modern striped, multicoloured, and frilled tulips are the flowers of healthy bulbs, bred to emulate those of their virally infected predecessors: the effects remain, but the virus has gone. Order has been restored. 

And order was restored in the markets too, which were nevertheless transformed by the experience. The cycle keeps going – or rather countless cycles, all interweaving and overlapping and operating at many different scales and speeds, keep coming and going, repeating themselves in networks that are nevertheless never quite the same. 

Digital anomalies are all things to all people and all networks: they are subversive of order and complicit in its maintenance; opposed and produced by the systems they traverse. What can be said – and what is brilliantly demonstrated in this book – is that the study of the seedy, chaotic underbelly of what otherwise appear to be smooth and highly regulated systems is not only fascinating in its own terms, but also crucial to an understanding of the networked world and everything with which it interacts.

Jussi Parikka: intervista su Masse, potere e postdemocrazia nel XXI secolo

Today, Jussi Parikka (italian translation)

See also this by Parikka
The Geology of Media

Updates to schedule Crowd, Power and Post-Democracy in the 21st Century
19 October, Saul Newman (italian translation)
26 October, Tony D. Sampson (italian translation)
2 November, Simon Choat (italian translation)

then

9 November, Lapo Berti in Italian
16 November, Alberto Toscano in English
23 November, Luciana Parisi in Italian

Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century

Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century. Interviews on digital populism and recent European political phenomena.

“Rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran’s fascism, fascism of the Left and fascism of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office: every fascism is defined by a micro-black hole that stands on its own and communicates with the others, before resonating in a great, generalized central black hole. There is fascism when a war machine is installed in each hole, in every niche. Only microfascism provides an answer to the global question: ‘Why does desire desire its own repression, how can it desire its own repression?’

(Giles Deleuze, A Thousand Plateaus, pg.271)

Keep your eyes open for a series of interviews to be initially published (in English and Italian) on both Rizomatika and Obsolete Capitalism starting from this Saturday (Sept 14th).

There will also be a specially designed e-book published by December with all the interviews free to download.

Here’s the running order…

saturday 14th Sept: Jussi Parikka (english)

saturday 21st Sept: Saul Newman (english)

saturday 28 Sept: Tony D. Sampson (english)

saturday 5 Oct: Simon Choat (english)

saturday 12 Oct: Alberto Toscano (english)

saturday 19 Oct: Jussi Parikka (italian translation)

saturday 26 Oct: Saul Newman (italian translation)

saturday 2 Nov: Tony D. Sampson (italian translation)

saturday 9 Nov: Simon Choat (italian translation)

saturday 16 Nov: Alberto Toscano (italian translation)

saturday 23 Nov: Lapo Berti (italian)

saturday 30 Nov: Luciana Parisi (italian)

saturday 7 Dec: Maurizio Lazzarato (italian)

saturday 14 Dec: WM1 (italian, tbc)

saturday 21 Dec: Lapo Berti (english translation)

saturday 28 Dec: Luciana Parisi (english translation)

saturday 4 Jan: Maurizio Lazzarato (english translation)

saturday 11 Jan: WM1 (italian translation, tbc)

Insect Media in Wired…

This from Wired last week

Why we often view digital culture through insect metaphors

Culture

03 May 13 by Mark Piesing

 

Shutterstock

Humanity has often looked to the insect world for its technological metaphors, and now for digital inspiration

Swarms. Hive minds. The web*.

It can be hard to avoid talking about our digital culture without using insect metaphors.

Yet for new media theorist Jussi Parikka, it may be more than just a metaphor. Parikka is reader in Media and Design at Winchester School of Art and author of the Anne Friedberg Award-winning Insect Media.

“For me Insect Media started from a realisation and a question: why do we constantly talk about digital culture and networks through insect metaphors?” says Parikka. “Is it just a metaphoric relation? If yes, why do we make sense of high technological culture through references to these small brained, rather ‘dumb’ animals? Or is there even more to this?

Parikka explains that philosopher of communication theory Marshall McLuhan thought about media as extensions of man, but that he sees media as extensions of the non-human.

According to Parikka, the Victorians were the first to spot the relationship between the insect world and the technological one they were creating. Out of this fascination came entomology, the scientific study of insects.

“Victorians were as fascinated with insects as they were with steam,” he says, as they perceived the “parallels, connections and impacts that insects had on human populations and cultures”.

They saw insects as “media machines” that sensed, moved, and indeed communicated in different ways from that of humans. Beehives became a “constant reference” in culture. So the smooth efficiency of the then relatively new Bank of England or the General Post Office was as easily compared to that of “a hive of bees” as are the workings of the internet today.

Other arthropods like spiders were described as builders, engineers and weavers. They were even portrayed as the original inventors of telegraphy, the email of the day.

As a result of this use of metaphor the “ideas of calculation, optimisation and rationality were firmly embodied in the insect world long before the advent of the computer”. So it was only “a small step” to start to see digital culture in a similar way, using the same metaphors, Parikka believes.

“From the perspective of a computer scientist, it is hard not to see ant colonies as massive computation machines, optimising their algorithms, for instance, to find the best food routes.

“After all, insects are hackers and are interpreting the rules to survive.”

However, Parikka began to think that this use of metaphor was more than just a way of our culture perhaps trying to “domesticate these new machines of computation”.

“We need to be aware of the massive amount of things that happen in digital culture which are not human” and instead appear more insectoid.

“The speed of the flash crash of the stock market was due to the automated software processes; the speed of the signal travelling through the fibre-optic cable; the distributed calculations and packets firing across the globe as part of internet connection… These are much quicker than us humans.”

It has even been argued that today the best technology can be created only by disregarding what it means to be human, rather than as an extension of humanity.

In robotics, Parikka argues that pioneers such as Rodney Brooks started to design insectoid and arachnoid types of robots as they would be much more efficient forms of machine in, for example, the harsh conditions of space missions.

“Think of it through robotics or artificial intelligence: if you want to design a very efficient robot, let’s say for moving, you do not necessarily make it bipedal, with two legs — or even with two eyes, two ears: instead, it is as if robotics had picked up entomology books and realised that insects do it better.

“In fact, insects give clues as to how to robots may evolve, as there are more efficient ways of using the space with, for instance, six legs; or perceiving space with a different mechanism of vision; or distributing your brain power into a hive formation, rather like crowd sourcing.”

Phil Husbands has “some sympathy” with Jussi Parikka’s argument. Husbands is Professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sussex. He is co-director of The Sussex Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics (CCNR) that takes inspiration from insect behaviour and physiology to help with artificial intelligence, robotic control and control of simulated objects in games.

“We are trying to understand some fundamental things and trying to understand them relative to humans can be very unhelpful,” Husbands says.

By observing the behaviour of ants, including the way they sometimes stop and visually scan the world, scientists at Sussex last year were, for example, able to understand the nature of the special “learning walks” ants engage in when exploring new terrain. Then using these “very efficient and simple view-based methods” they were able to come up with a biologically plausible algorithm that could provide robots with “a highly robust and minimal method for navigation in difficult environments like deep space.”

“If we think like a human then it’s going to be very hard work to solve some of these challenges,” according to Husbands. “Instead ants are optimised for interacting with their environment. Their resources are limited but they are very sophisticated.

“So with a very small brain they can do very simple things in very efficient ways which can then be implemented very economically” in robots and artificial intelligence. “It’s very illuminating and chastening to think about insects,” he adds. “It’s a reminder of a very different view of the world.”

For Michael Dieter, a researcher into media and culture at the University of Amsterdam, the significance of Parikka’s work is that it is “an attempt to historically trace the relationship between entomology, or the study of insects, and the development of modern media technologies.”

He describes the goal of Parikka’s work as “to unsettle our commonplace conceptions of the divide between nature and digital culture when it comes to technology and these small animals”.

What he achieves, Dieter believes, “is to demonstrate that there are significant direct relations between the design of modern and contemporary media and the analysis of insect behaviours”.

Parikka is able to do this by a combination of thinking beyond the human world-view and using the new approach of “media archaeology”, which tries to understand the development of our technical communication systems through the technologies that weren’t followed or reached a dead end.

However, for Dieter the relationships between the insect world and our modern wired world have been “forged by capitalism”, and the economic forces that have driven this are something that Parikka “needs to give further thought to”.

For others the criticism of Insect Media may be more straightforward: digital networks don’t grow — they are built.

In the end, for Jussi Parikka, Insect Media is “is not about predicting the future but more about realising that this is a fundamental link in terms of how we see technology from the Victorians to the current high-tech culture. It is as if the most advanced technologies of today have established a link to the ancient evolutionary force of insects.”

Even if our digital networks are built by humans, they still contain within them the same tendencies as those of the ants or bees.

Indeed, Parikka doesn’t want to stop with insects, as other animals — such as dolphins — could be seen as having their own media or methods of communication that connect with the digital world, almost a kind of “cybernetic zoology”.

Ultimately this is a reminder, he believes, that our digital culture exists in a biological context: “It is completely reliant on natural resources, from rare earth minerals to energy.”

So when “soft technologies” such as pesticides are perceived to be causing the colony collapse disorder that is causing the mass extinction of bees, perhaps we should be “gravely worried about that” for the future of our own hive mind.

“Bees then are the canaries in the mine for our own technological culture.”

Jussi Parikka‘s latest article on “Insects and Canaries” is due out in a forthcoming edition of Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities

*We realise spiders are arachnids, not insects, but the word “arthropod” isn’t quite so snappy.

Digital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion

Digital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion
– a seminar and wine reception at Kings College, London

20th March 2013

Seminar: 4.30-5.30 in K3.11 (K3.11 King’s Building, Third Floor, Room 11).  on the Strand Campus of KCL. Directions here: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/strand/Strand.aspx

Wine reception: from 5.30-7.00 in the Small Somerset Room (second floor King’s Building).

books pattern copyIn 2009 Parikka and Sampson coedited The Spam Book, a collection of articles intended to probe the “dark side” of digital culture. The Spam Book addressed a shift from a digital culture very much defined in terms of the economic potential of digital objects and tools toward a discourse describing a space seemingly contaminated by digital waste products, dirt, unwanted, and illicit objects.

In this seminar and the following wine reception, Parikka and Sampson discuss emerging ideas and theoretical approaches to digital culture. Parikka’s media archaeological approach and Sampson’s research on virality provide insights into worlds of affect, anomaly and the alternative genealogy of which our network culture emerges. Parikka’s new What is Media Archaeology? pitches media archaeology as a multidisciplinary 21st century humanities field that resonates with a range of recent scholarly debates from digital humanities to software studies and digital forensics. Media archaeological excavations and discussions on such as Friedrich Kittler offer an alternative insight to the current digital culture/economy debates in the UK.

Sampson’s approach to digital culture brings together a Deleuzian ontological worldview with the sociology of Gabriel Tarde. His subsequent theory of network contagion does not, as such, restrict itself to memes and microbial contagions derived from biological analogies or medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of assemblages of imitation, viral events, and affective contagions. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is how society comes together and relates. Sampson provides an assemblage theory of digital culture concerned with relationality and encounter, helping us to understand digital contagion as a positively sociological event, building from the molecular outward, long before it becomes biological.

Parikka’s media archaeology and Sampson’s contagion theory both figure the importance of a materialist approach to the imaginary and the nonconscious as central to an understanding of digital culture. Hence, the seminar asks the question: what is the nonconscious of digital culture?

The seminar is followed up by a book launch of Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology and Sampson’s Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks.

Both books are available at the event along with wine.

Jussi Parikka: What is Media Archaeology? Polity Press: Cambridge, 2012.

http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745650258

Tony D. Sampson: Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.

http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/virality

Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art, and author of Digital Contagions (2007) and Insect Media (2010) as well as (co-) editor several edited collections, including The Spam Book (2009), Media Archaeology (2011) and Medianatures (2011). He blogs at htt://jussiparikka.net.

Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic, writer and Reader in Digital Media and Communications at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His research blog is at https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/
Directions: To find K3.11 you take stairs up from the Second Floor King’s Building at the Strand end of King’s Building. You can ask for directions at the Strand Reception.

Confirmed Viral Events for 2012/13

  • There are a number of confirmed events related to Virality that might be of interest to readers of this blog.

    Following the academic launch of Virality at Goldsmiths College in October and the launch party with Mute Magazine in Limehouse last Friday (more on that collaboration soon in another post), I will be joining Jussi Parikka at the School of Arts and Humanities (Culture, Media and Creative Industries) Kings College, London on the 20th March (this new date is penciled in replacing the Feb 6th) for our “Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion” talk and discussion followed by a wine reception for both Virality and Jussi’s What is Media Archaeology?

    There’s an interesting event at the University of East London (School of Arts and Digital Industries) in Feb where I’m planning to do a piece on “Viral Love and the Underground Man.” The “Love Slam” event is on the 14th Feb 6-9pm.

    As part of an ongoing series of collaborations with artists and musicians I’ve been working with the “crowd” artist Dean Todd on a performance piece for Virality which will be exhibited at the “Bookworks” show between April 8-19th, also at the University of East London.

    On April 11th 2013 I will visit the Copenhagen Business School to do a talk called “Putting the Neuron Doctrine to Work.” This is for an invite to a public lecture series called “Public Sphere, Crowd Sentiments and the Brain.”

    I have a provisional working title for a confirmed invite to the Department of Sociology and Communications at Brunel University on May 24th. “Too Much Connectivity” will form part of the “New Media and the Internet: Digital Democracy or Complex Chaos?” series of workshops.

    Between July 1-3rd we (Darren Ellis, John Cromby, Lewis Goodings, Tony Sampson, and Ian Tuckerare) are off to the Fourth International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands to run a couple of seminars called “Leaking Affects and Mediated Spaces.”

    Finally, there are a few other events in the pipeline including a contribution to an exhibit at the Berlin Transmediale Festival in Jan-Feb 2013, and a series of workshops at the University of Bern in Switzerland on the subject of the Immunologic. More details to follow.

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).

What is Media Archaeology? by Jussi Parikka

A new book from the prolific Jussi Parikka…

What is Media Archaeology?

‘A fabulous map of media archaeology that, as its subject compels, produces its territory anew.’
Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Jussi Parikka offers a lucid, concise, and highly readable account of a new and exciting field – media archaeology. He demonstrates that contemporary media forms are rooted to the past by multiple threads – untangling them helps us understand the media frenzy that currently surrounds us.’
Erkki Huhtamo, University of California Los Angeles

‘The most comprehensive coverage to date of this fascinating area of study. Parikka’s book offers an excellent overview of connections between the material and social aspects of media technology. He provides a thorough review of the diverse and sometimes contrasting theoretical foundations and provides a host of concrete examples of media-archaeological practice that serve to bridge the gap between heady theoretical trajectories and the concerns of practicing artists, users and other readers who take their technology seriously.’
Paul DeMarinis, Stanford University

The Contagions of The Spam Book Revisited

For those visitors to Virality who haven’t yet read The Spam Book (Hampton Press, 2009) here is the introductory chapter (co-written with Jussi Parikka) and including the introduction to the first section of the collection: Contagions.

ON ANOMALOUS OBJECTS

OF DIGITAL CULTURE An Introduction

Jussi Parikka Tony D. Sampson

In the classic 1970s Monty Python sketch, a couple enters, or rather, in typ­ical Pythonesque mode, descend upon a British cafe and are informed by the waitress that Spam is on the menu.

There’s egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam.

The joke, of course, refers to Spam, the canned food substance that originat­ed in the 1930s in the United States, but was famously imported into Britain during World War II.1 Spam (spiced ham) became a cheap supplement for pure meat products, which were in severe shortage during the conflict. Perhaps the cheapness and mass consumption of Spam during the period are among the reasons why it became the butt of many music hall jokes. Indeed, following the music hall tradition, Spam becomes central to the Python’s often nonsensical sketch as it quickly deterritoralizes from the more obvious context of the waitress–customer discussion to a full Viking chorus of spam, spam, spam . . .

Spam, spam, spam, spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spaaam! Lovely spam! Wonderful spam. Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am! Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am! Spa-a­a-a-a-a-a-am! Spa-a-a-a-a-a-a-am! Lovely spam! (Lovely spam!) Lovely spam! (Lovely spam!) Lovely spaaam! Spam, spam, spam, spaaaaam!

The joke’s intention, as Monty Python jokes in general tend to do, is to get us to laugh at a major concern of contemporary communications: communi­cation breakdown.2 The habitual repetition of everyday events quickly turns into a chaotic mess and a turbulent example of noncommunication. The familiar communication channels of this architypal British working-class cafe are suddenly flooded with intruding thirds, a noise that fills the acoustic space with a typically meaningless Python refrain: spam, spam, spam. In this sense (or nonsense), the sketch manages to parody the meaninglessness intrinsic to any meaningful act of communication by increasing the level of environmental noise that accompanies the process of sending messages. In fact, the invading Viking horde (perhaps a veiled reference to the U.S. troops stationed in Britain during World War II) eventually drowns out, or “spams,” the ongoing conversation between the waitress and the customers, transforming the chaotic scene into a closing title sequence filled with more references to spam, spam, spam . . .

More than 30 years later, and the analogy made between Python’s sketch and the unsolicited sending of bulk e-mail has provided new impetus to the word spam. Perhaps for many of us digital spam is less funny. For those of us increasingly reliant on e-mail networks in our everyday social interac­tions, spam can be a pain; it can annoy; it can deceive; it can overload. Yet spam can also entertain and perplex us. For example, how many of you have recently received an e-mail from “a Nigerian Frind” (sic) or a Russian lady looking for a relationship? Has your inbox overflowed with the daily announcements of lottery prizes and cut price Viagra? Perhaps you have experienced this type of Dadaist message, which appears at the zero degree of language.

Dehasque Little Bergmann Dewald Murray Eriksson Tripathy Gloo Janusauskas Nikam Lozanogmjpkjjpjrfpklkijnjkjflpkqkrfijmjgkkj kgrkkksgpjmkqjmkggujfkrkpktkmmmjnjogjkhkhknjpgghlhnkofjgp gngfgrgpkpgufifggmgmgugkirfsftkgtotutmumpptituuppmqqpgpjpkq qquqkuqqiqtqhqnoppqpruiqmqgnkokrrnknslsifhtimiliumgghftfpfnfsf nfmftflfrfjhqgrgsjfflgtgjflksghgrrgornhnpofsjoknoofoioplrlnlrjim jmkhnltlllrmthklpljpuuhtruhupuhujqfuirorsrnrhrprtrotmsnsonjrh rhrnspngslsnknfkfofigogpkpgfgsgqfsgmgti qfrfskfgltttjulpsthtrmkhnilh rhjlnhsisiriohjhfhrftiuhfmuiqisighgmnigi gnjsorgstssslolsksiskrnrnsf­spptngqhqitpprpnphqrtmprph.3

Generally speaking, however, spam arouses a whole panorama of negative and bemused emotions, in much the same way as computer viruses, worms, and the uninvited excesses of Internet pornography often do. In fact, we might collectively term these examples as digital pollution and identify them as a major downside (or setback) to a communication revolution that prom­ised to be a noiseless and friction-free Road Ahead.4 In this context, and against the prescribed and often idealized goals of the visionaries of digital capitalism, they appear to us as anomalies. Nevertheless, despite the glut of security advice—a lot of which is spuriously delivered to our e-mail inbox­es, simply adding to the spam—little attention has been paid to the cultural implications of these anomalous objects and processes by those of us engaged in media and communication studies, and particularly studies linked to digital network culture. Perhaps we have been too busy dealing with the practical problem and have failed to ask questions of anomalies in themselves.5 The innovation of this volume is to answer these questions by considering the role of the anomaly in a number of contexts related to digi­tal communication and network culture. However intrusive and objection­able, we argue that the digital anomaly has become central to contemporary communication theory. Along these lines, we begin this book by asking: “In what sense are these objects anomalous?”

If we constrain ourselves to the dictionary definition of the anomalous, as the unequal, unconformable, dissimilar, and incongruous, in other words, something that deviates from the rule and demonstrates irregular and abnor­mal behaviour or patterns,6 then arguably our question becomes problema­tized by everyday experiences of network culture. To be sure, spam, virus­es, worms, and Internet porn are not irregular or abnormal in this sense. This junk fills up the material channels of the Internet, transforming our communications experiences on a daily or even hourly basis. For example, according to recent moderate sources, 40% of e-mail traffic is spam, mean­ing some 12.4 billion spam mails are being sent daily.7 Similarly, in an exper­iment using a “honeypot” computer as a forensic tool for “tracking down high-technology crime,” a team from the BBC in the United Kingdom recently logged, on average, one attack per hour that could render an unpro­tected machine “unusable or turn it into a [zombie] platform for attacking other PCs.”8 It is therefore not surprising that many network users fear everyday malicious Internet crime more than they do burglary, muggings, or a car theft.9 Indeed, within the composite mixture of the everyday and the anomalous event, the fixed notion that the normal is opposed to the abnor­mal is increasingly difficult to reconcile.

It is from this cultural perspective that we approach the network anom­aly, arguing that the unwelcome volume of anomalous traffic informs mul­tiple articulations concerning the definition of the Internet and how the net­work space is becoming transformed as a means of communication. For example, in the late 1990s, network culture was very much defined in terms of the economic potential of digital objects and tools, but recently the dom­inant discourse has tilted toward describing a space seemingly contaminated by digital waste products, dirt, unwanted, and illicit objects.10 There are, indeed, a number of ways in which anomalies feedback into the expressive and material components of the assemblages that constitute network cul­ture. On one hand, network security businesses have established them­selves in the very fabric of the digital economy (waste management is the future business model of late modernity). The discourses formed around this billion-dollar security industry, ever more dependent on anomalies for its economic sustenance, lay claim to the frontline defense of network cul­ture against the hacker, the virus writer, and the spammer, but they also shape the experiences of the network user. On the other hand, analysis of the build up of polluted traffic means that evaluations are made, data is translat­ed into prediction models, and future projects, such as Internet 2.0 and other “spam and virus-free” networks, are proposed as probable solutions to the security problems facing online businesses and consumers. In other words, anomalies are continuously processed and rechanneled back into the every­day of network culture. Whether they are seen as novel business opportuni­ties or playing the part of the unwanted in the emerging political scenarios of network futures, anomalous objects, far from being abnormal, are con­stantly made use of in a variety of contexts, across numerous scales. Therefore, our aim in this introduction is to primarily address the question concerning anomalies by seeking conceptual, analytic, and synthetic path­ways out of the binary impasse between the normal versus the abnormal.

In our opinion, what makes this collection standout, however, is not only its radical rethinking of the role of the anomalous in digital culture, but that all of the contributions in the book in one way or another mark an important conceptual shift away from a solely representational analysis (the mainstay of media and cultural studies approach to communication). Rather than present an account of the digital anomaly in terms of a representation­al space of objects, our aim as editors has been to steer clear of the linguistic categorizations founded on resemblances, identities, oppositions, and metaphorical analogies. In our opinion, the avoidance of such representa­tional categorizations is equal to rejecting the implicit positioning of a pre­fabricated grid on which the categories identified constrain or shackle the object. For us, judging a computer virus as a metaphor of a biological virus all too easily reproduces it to the same fixed terms conjured up in the metaphor in itself and does not provide any novel information concerning the intensive capacities of, for example, a specific class of software program. Hence, our desire is to avoid metaphorics as a basis of cultural analysis is connected to our wish to focus “less on a formation’s present state conceived as a synchronic structure than on the vectors of potential transformation it envelops,” to use Brian Massumi’s words.11 Furthermore, we do not wish to blindly regurgitate the rhetoric of a computer security industry who peddle metaphorical analogies between the spread of computer viruses and AIDS. For that reason, we have attempted to avoid the tendency to conjure up the essence of the digital anomaly from a space considered somehow outside—a space populated by digital Others or out-of-control Artificial Intelligence pathogens engaged in a evolutionary arms race with a metaphorical immune systems.12 In this sense, the reference to the dark side of digital culture in the subtitle of this book is more closely allied to our understanding of the dark­ness surrounding this type of representational analysis than it is the darkness of the object in itself. We intend to address this lack of light (or lack of analy­sis) by considering a conceptual approach that is more fluid, precise, and inventive in terms of a response to the question of the anomaly. It is designed to grasp the liminal categories and understand the materiality and paradox­ical inherency of these weird “objects” and processes from theoretical and political points of view.

We do nevertheless recognize that on material and representational lev­els, spam and other anomalies do have effects. But in this volume, we acknowledge the problems inherent to the deployment of a media theory based exclusively on effect.13 To be sure, in the past, this is how media anom­alies such as violence and pornography have been treated by certain field positions within media and communication studies—the effects of which were considered to cultivate an audience’s sense of reality.14 Perhaps our approach will be seen as more Monty Python than George Gerbner, in as much as we are less interested in the causality afforded to the impression of media meanings than we are in the process of communication in itself. Yet, this does not indicate a return to the transmission model so prevalent in early communication theory, wherein the establishment of communicative fidelity between Sender A and Recipient B, in the midst of signal noise, is the basic setting. On the contrary, instead of the linear channeling of messages and the analysis of effects, one might say that this book is concerned with affect and ethology: how various assemblages of bodies (whether technolog­ical, biological, political or representational) are composed in interaction with each other and how they are defined, not by forms and functions, but by their capabilities or casual capacities. In other words, we are interested in how one assemblage, a heterogeneous composition of forces, may affect another.15 Later, we refer to this approach as topological, because we argue that it releases us from the analytical dichotomy between causal (fatal) effects and complete indeterminism, and allows us to instead consider a co­causal, intermediate set of determinisms and nonlinear bodies. Significantly then, we use the term topology to address the complex assemblages of net­work society, which are not restricted to technological determinism, or the effects technology has on society, but encompasses the complex foldings of technological components with other aspects of social and cultural reality.16

Importantly, in this analytical mode, we are not seeking out the (prede­fined) essence of the anomaly (whether expressed in terms of a representa­tional category or intrinsic technical mechanism), but instead a process in a larger web of connections, singularities, and transformations. Therefore, our question positions the anomaly in the topological fabric of an assemblage from where new questions emerge. For example, how do operating systems and software function in the production of anomalous objects? In what kind of material networks do such processes interact? How are certain software processes and objects translated into criminal acts, such as vandalism, infringement, and trespass?17 We now elaborate on this theoretical position from a historical perspective, before addressing the questions of affects, topology, and anomalous objects.

MEDIA ANOMALIES: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Analysis of media in terms of the anomaly is nothing new. There are, in fact, many approaches that implicitly or explicitly address anomalous media. A number of well-known approaches that should be familiar to the media and communication field, including the Frankfurt School and the media-ecolog­ical writings of the Toronto School (including Neil Postman), have regard­ed (mass) media in itself as an anomaly. Of course, these approaches do not concern a strict deviation from the norm or events outside of a series, as such. Instead, the dangerous anomaly has long been regarded as a function of the homogenizing powers of popular media. The repetitious standardiza­tion of media content is seen as a result of the ideological capitalist-state apparatus, which applies the logic of the factory assembly line to the pro­duction of cultural artefacts. For the Frankfurt School, particularly Adorno and Horkheimer, analysis of mass media revealed a system of consumer production in conflict (but also as a paradoxical fulfillment of) with the enlightenment project via mass ideological deception.18 Later, Postman con­tinues along similar lines by conceptualizing the modern mass media, espe­cially television, as a kind of a filter that hinders public discourse by allow­ing only programs and other “objects” with entertainment value to pass through communication channels.19 As an index of this dystopic under­standing of mass media, some years later the former Pink Floyd songwriter Roger Waters transposed these weapons of mass distraction and apocalyptic visions of Western media culture into his conceptual album Amused to Death (1992), where the TV sucks in all human emotion while the human species amuses itself to death watching Melrose Place, the Persian Gulf War, and copious amounts of porn. Indeed, in this way the media machine is treated as a monstrous anomaly, and significantly, a totality rather than a singularity.

In a historical context, the shock of the “new” media seems to have always occupied a similar polemical space as the one that obsessed the con­servative approaches of media effects theorists, like Gerbner. The anomalies of the new media are most often surrounded by moral panics. Such panics, whether around cinema, television, video, computer games, or the Internet, with its malicious dark side, populated by perverts lurking around every vir­tual corner, can perhaps be seen as an attempt to contextualize new media in existing social conventions and habits of the everyday. The media panics sur­rounding the Internet, for example, have highlighted the contradiction between the ideals of a reinvigorated public sphere—an electronic agora for scientists, academics, politicians, and the rest of civil society—and the reality of a network overflowing with pornography, scams, political manipulation, piracy, chat room racists, bigots, and bullies. In recent years we have seen how the Internet has been transformed from a utopian object into a problem­atic modulator of behavior, including addiction, paedophilia and illicit down­loading. It has become an object for censorship—necessitating the weeding out of unpleasant and distasteful content, but also the filtering of politically sensitive and unwanted exchange.20 In fact, in wake of the Jokela high school shootings in Finland in November 2007, there are those who claim, like they did after Columbine, that it is not the guns, but the Internet that is to blame. The uncontrollable and uncensorable flood of damaging information is still grasped as more dangerous than the impact of firearms.

The emergence of inconsistencies and deviations in media history has led Lisa Gitelman to argue that we should “turn to the anomaly” and con­centrate on the patterns of dissonance that form when new media encounter old practices. For Gitelman, “transgressions and anomalies . . . always imply the norm and therefore urge us to take it into account as well.”21 Therefore, anomalies become a tool of the cultural analyst, enabling him or her to dig into the essential, so to speak. They can be imagined as vehicles taking us along the lines of a logic that delineates the boundaries between the normal and the abnormal. But in our view such approaches do not dig deeply enough into the logical mode of the anomaly since there is always a danger that such a representational analysis will continue to treat it as an excluded partner (Other) who haunts the normalized procedures of the Same.

Alternatively, we argue that network culture presents us with a new class of anomalous software object and process, which cannot be solely reduced to, for example, a human determined representation of the capital­ist mode of consumerism.22 The examples given in this collection— contagious software, bad objects, porn exchange, and modes of network censorship—may well derive some benefit from representational analysis (particularly in the context of porn and spam e-mail content),23 but our anomalies are not simply understood as irregular in the sense that their con­tent is outside of a series. On the contrary, they are understood as expressing another kind of a topological structuring that is not necessarily derived from the success of friction-free ideals as a horizon of expectancy. The content of a porn site,24 a spam e-mail, or a computer virus, for instance, may represent aspects of the capitalist mode of production, but these programs also express a materiality, or a logic of action, which has been, in our opinion, much neg­lected in the media and communication field. This is a logical line in which automated excessive multiple posting, viral replication, and system hijacking are not necessarily indices of a dysfunctional relation with a normalized state of communication, but are rather capacities of the software code. Software is not here understood as a stable object or a set of mathematical­ly determined, prescribed routines, but as the emergent field of critical soft­ware studies is proposing, it is a process that reaches outside the computer and folds as part of the digital architectures, networks, social, and political agendas. When we combine this capacity of software with our focus on the dynamics of the sociotechnical network assemblage, in its entire broadband spectrum, we experience systems that transfer massive amounts of porn, spam, and viral infection. Such capacity, which in our view exceeds the crude distinction between normal and abnormal, becomes a crucial part of the expressive and material distribution of network culture. Porn, spam and viruses are not merely representational; they are also component parts of a sociotechnicallogical praxis. For us, they are a way of tapping into and think­ing through the advanced capitalist mode in the context of the network.

We therefore suggest that the capacity of the network topology inti­mately connects us to a post-Fordist mode of immaterial labour and knowl­edge production. We do not however prescribe to a strictly defined cyber­netic or homeostatic model of capitalist control (a point explained in more detail later), which is designed to patch up the nonlinear flows deemed dan­gerous (like contagions) to the network. On the contrary, our conception of capitalism is a machine that taps into the creative modulations and variations of topological functioning.25 Networks and social processes are not reducible to a capitalist determination, but capitalism is more akin to a power that is able to follow changes and resistances in both the extensive and intensive redefining of its “nature.” It is easy at this point to see how our vision of the media machine no longer pertains to the anomalous totality described by the Frankfurt and Toronto Schools. Like Wendy Chun, we see this machine as an alternative to the poverty of an analysis of the contempo­rary media sphere as continuously articulated between the polarity of narra­tives of total paranoid surveillance and the total freedom of digitopia. Therefore, following Chun, in order to provide a more accurate account of the capacities of media technologies as cultural constellations, this book looks to address networked media on various, simultaneously overlapping scales or layers: hardware, software, interface, and extramedial representa­tion (“the representation of networked media in other media and/or its functioning in larger economic and political systems”).26

Such an approach has led us and other contributors to draw on a Deleuze-Guattarian framework. We might also call this approach, which connects the various chapters of this book, an assemblage theory of media.

Yet, in order to fully grasp this significant aspect of our analysis, it is impor­tant to see how Deleuze and Guattari’s meticulous approaches to network society can be applied beyond the 1990s hype of “the rhizome” concept and what we see as its misappropriation as a metaphor for the complexities of networked digital media. In this sense, most contemporary writers using Deleuze and Guattari have been keen to distance themselves from a metaphorical reading of cultural processes in the sense that “metaphorici­ty” implies a dualistic ontology and positions language as the (sole) active force of culture (see the Contagions section introduction for more discus­sion). In this context, Deleuze and Guattari have proved useful in having reawakened an appreciation of the material forces of culture, which not only refer to economic relationships, but to assemblages, events, bodies, technologies, and also language expressing itself in other modalities other than meaning. Not all of the chapters are in fact locked into this framework, yet, even if they do not follow the precise line, they do, in our opinion, attempt to share a certain post-representational take which is reluctant to merely reproduce the terms it criticizes and instead explores the various logics and modes of organization in network culture in which anomalies are expressed. Importantly, the chapters are not focused on the question of how discourses of anomalous objects reproduce or challenge the grids of meaning concerning ideology and identity (sex, class, race, etc.) but rather they attempt to explore new agendas arising beyond the “usual suspects” of ideology.

We now move on to explore the topological approach in more detail, proposing that it can do more than simply counter representational reduc­tionism. First, we specify how it can respond to the fault lines of essential­ism. Then we use it to readdress a mode of functionalism that has pervaded the treatment of the anomaly from Durkheim to cyberpunk.

TOPOLOGICAL THINKING: THE ROLE OF THE ACCIDENT

In order to further illuminate our question concerning the anomalies of con­temporary communication, let us return to the Monty Python sketch for further inspiration and a way in which we might clearly distinguish between a prevalent mode of essentialism and our topological approach. Following strictly essentialist terms we might define Python’s cafe by way of the loca­tion of the most important and familiar communication codes;27 looking for the effective functioning of communication norms. In this mode, we would then interpret the “spamming” of the cafe as an oppositional function, set­ting up certain disparate relations between, on the one hand, a series of per­fected communication norms, and on the other hand, the imperfection of our anomaly. Yet, arguably, the Python sketch does more than establish dialectical relations between what is in and what is outside a series. Instead, Python’s comedy tactic introduces a wider network of reference, which unshackles the unessential, enabling the sketch to breach the codes of a closed communication channel, introducing fragments of an altogether dif­ferent code. Thus, in the novel sense of topological thinking, the British cafe becomes exposed to the transformational force of spontaneous events rather than the static essences or signs of identity politics.

In a way, Monty Python suggests an anti-Aristotelian move, at least in the sense proposed by Paul Virilio: that is a need to reverse the idea of acci­dents as contingent and substances as absolute and necessary. Virilio’s apoc­alyptic take on Western media culture argues for the inclusion of the poten­tial (and gradual actualization) of the general accident that relates to a larger ontological shift undermining the spatio-temporal coordinates of culture. In a more narrow sense, Virilio has argued that accidents should be seen as inci­dental to technologies and modernity. This stance recapitulates the idea that modern accidents do not happen through the force of an external influence, like a storm, but are much more accurately follow-ups or at least function­ally connected with, the original design of that technology. In this way, Virilio claimed that Aristotelian substances do not come without their acci­dents, and breakdowns are not the absence of the presumed order, but are rational, real and designed parts of a media cultural condition: the “normal” state of things operating smoothly.28 With Monty Python, as with Deleuze, the structures of anticipation and accidentality are not simply reversed, but the anomalous communication event itself emerges from within a largely accidental or inessential environment.xxix

To analyze the material reality of anomalous objects, we must therefore disengage from a perspective that sees the presumed friction-free state of networking, the ideal non-erring calculation machine, or a community of rational individuals using technologies primarily for enlightenment as more important than the anomaly (spam, viruses, and porn merely regarded as secondary deviations.) Indeed, in our view, accidents are not simply sporadic breakdowns in social structure or cultural identity, but express the topolog­ical features of the social and cultural usage of media technologies. In this context, we concur with Tiziana Terranova,30 who discusses network dynamics as not simply a “space of passage for information,” but a milieu that exceeds the mechanism of established communication theory (senders, channels, and receivers). The surplus production of information comprises a turbulent mixture of mass distribution, contagion, scams, porn, piracy, and so on. The metastability of these multiple communication events are not merely occurrences hindering the essence of the sender–receiver relation, which generally aims to suppress, divide, or filter out disparities altogether, but are instead events of the network topology in itself. The challenge then, is not to do away with such metastabilities, but to look at them in terms of an emergent series and experience them as the opening up of a closed com­munication system to environmental exteriority and the potentialities that arise from that condition. A condition we can refer to as the inessential of network culture.

THE TOPOLOGICAL SPACE OF “BAD” OBJECTS

If all things have followed from the necessity of the most perfect nature of God, how is it that so many imperfections have arisen in nature—cor­ruption, for instance, of things till they stink; deformity, exciting dis­gust; confusion, evil, crime, etc.? But, as I have just observed, all this is easily answered. For the perfection of things is to be judged by their nature and power alone; nor are they more or less perfect because they delight or offend the human senses, or because they are beneficial or prejudicial to human nature.31

We have thus far argued that the anomaly is best understood in terms of its location in the topological dynamics of network culture. Significantly, in this new context then, we may also suggest that anomalies are not, as Spinoza realized, judged by the “presumed imperfections of nature” (nature repre­senting a unity, as such), but instead they are judged by “their nature and power alone.” In other words, it matters not if objects “delight or offend the human senses.” Particular “things” and processes are not to be judged from an outside vantage point or exposed to “good” or “bad” valuations. Instead, the ethological turn proposes to look at the potentials of objects and ask how they are capable of expression and making connections.

In this way, the shift toward topological analysis becomes parallel to a perspective that claims to be “beyond good and evil” and instead focuses on the forces constituent of such moral judgments. This marks the approach out as very different from the historical tradition of social theory, particular­ly the early response of organic functionalists to the good and bad of social events. For example, Emile Durkheim was perhaps the first social scientist to show how anomie played an important part in social formations, but he negated the productive capacities we have pointed to in favor of describing the anomaly as a state of social breakdown. For Durkheim, the ultimate anomalous social act—suicide—stemmed from a sense of a lack of belong­ing and a feeling of remoteness from the norm. Anomaly as a social phenom­enon therefore referred to a deprivation of norms and standards. Although suicide was positively disregarded as an act of evil, it did however signal a rupture in the organics of society, an abnormality, a falling out of series, as such.32 Indeed, his statistical container model of macro society—much appreciated by the society builders of 19th-century Europe—judged social phenomena against the average, the essential, and the organic unity of social functionalism. This of course ruled out seeing anomalies as social phenom­ena with their own modes of operation and co-causal capacity to affect.

Baudrillard’s notion of the perverse logic of the anomaly intervenes in the functionalist exorcism of the anomalous, as a thing that doesn’t fit in.33 Writing mainly about another bad object, drugs, Baudrillard argued that the anomaly becomes a component part of the logic of overorganization in modern societies. As he put it:

In such systems this is not the result of society’s inability to integrate its marginal phenomena; on the contrary, it stems from an overcapacity for integration and standardization. When this happens, societies which seem all-powerful are destabilized from within, with serious conse­quences, for the more efforts the system makes to organize itself in order to get rid of its anomalies, the further it will take its logic of over-organization, and the more it will nourish the outgrowth of those anom­alies.34

Beyond the law-abiding notion of Durkheim’s anomie Baudrillard, there­fore, proposed to consider contemporary phenomena (the writing stems from 1987) as labeled by excess—a mode of hyperrational anomaly. He argued that the modern emphasis placed on control management has itself spurred on these excesses of standardization and rationality. The strange malfunctions become the norm, or more accurately, they overturn the logic of thinking in terms of self versus other. Moreover, in the perverse logic of Baudrillard’s anomalous, the object, as an extensive target of social control, is preceded by an intensive logic that exceeds the grid of explanation imposed by social scientists, educationalists, and therapeutic practitioners. Instead of external deviations contrary to the internal functioning of the social, anom­alies start to exhibit an intensive and integral social productivity.

The distinction made here between the intensive productivity of the anomaly and a social model developed around organic unity and function­alism is perhaps better grasped in DeLanda’s similar distinction between relations of interiority, and relations of exteriority.35 In the former, societies are regarded as solely dependent on reciprocal internal relations in order that they may exhibit emergent properties. In the latter, DeLanda seeming­ly turns the generalized social organism inside out, opening up its compo­nent parts to the possibilities and capacities of complex interactions with auxiliary assemblages. In fact, what he does is reconceive the social organism as an assemblage.

So as to further explore this notion of the social assemblage, let’s return to the example of the forensic honeypot computer introduced in the first section of this introduction. Previously understood as a closed system, the rationalized logic machine soon becomes exposed to the disparities of the network. Emergent relations hijack the honeypot’s functionality. Its rela­tion to an exteriority links up these disparities and in turn connects it to other assemblages. It is at this juncture that we locate the transformational differentiation and alterity of the honeypot as it becomes inseparable from the relations it establishes with a multiplicity of other assemblages, populat­ed by technosocial actors, including netbots, virus writers, cookies, and hacker groups and their software. Nevertheless, the anomalies that traverse the assemblage are not simply disparities that suppress or divide, but are instead the role of the anomaly intervenes in the process of the becoming of the honeypot. It establishes communication with other objects related to the assemblage, potentializing new territories or deterritorializing other assemblages.

Anomalies transform our experiences of contemporary network culture by intervening in relational paths and connecting the individual to new assemblages. In fact, the anomaly introduces a considerable amount of insta­bility to what has been described in the past as a cybernetic system of social control.36 In practice, the programs written by hackers, spammers, virus writers, and those pornographers intent on redirecting our browsers to their content, have problematized the intended functionality and deployment of cybernetic systems. This has required cyberneticians to delve deeply into the tool bag of cybernetics in an effort to respond to the problem engendered: How to keep the system under control? For experts in the computing field, defensive software, such as antivirus technology, represents a new mobiliza­tion of security interests across the entire networked computing environ­ment instead of being exclusively aimed at single computers,37 and it is inter­esting to see how many of these defences appear to play to the notion of organic unity as described earlier. For example, computer scientists based at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Centre during the early 1990s attempted to tack­le the problem of computer viruses by developing a cybernetic immune sys­tem.38 Using mathematical models borrowed from epidemiology, these researchers began to trace the diffusion patterns of computer viruses analo­gous to the spread of biological viruses. Along with other commercial ven­dors, they sought out methods that would distinguish between so-called legitimate and viral programs. In other words, their cybernetic immune sys­tem was designed to automate the process of differentiating self from non-self and ultimately suppress the threshold point of a viral epidemic (the point at which a disease tips over into a full-blown epidemic).

However, the increasing frequency of digital anomalies has so far con­founded the application of the immunological analogy. In fact, research in this area has recently shifted to a focus on topological vulnerabilities in the network itself, including a tendency for computer viruses to eschew epi­demiological threshold points altogether.39 Maps of the Internet and the World Wide Web (www), produced by complex network theorists in the late 1990s,40 demonstrate how networks become prone to viral propagation, as they would any other program. There is, as such, a somewhat fuzzy distinc­tion between what can be determined as self and non-self. As we have already pointed out, the anomaly is not, in this sense, outside the norm.

The history of cybernetics provides many more examples of this prob­lem where logic encounters network politics. The origins of Turing’s theory of computational numbers was arguably realized in a paradoxical and large­ly unessential composition of symbolic logic, in as much as he set out to prove that anomalies coexisted alongside the axioms of formal logic.41 Not surprisingly then, Turing’s halting problem, or the undecidability problem, eventually resurfaced in Cohen’s formal study of computer viruses, a doom-laden forecast in which there is no algorithmic solution to the detection of all computer viruses.42 Indeed, logic systems have long been troubled by their inability to cope with virals. The problem of the self-referencing liar bugged the ancient Greek syllogistic system as much as it has bugged the contemporary cybernetics of network culture.

In this light, it is interesting to draw attention to the way in which these fault lines in cybernetics and Durkheim’s anomie have converged in cyber-culture literature. With its many references to Gaia43 (a theory of natural balance and equilibrium akin to immunology) cyberculture has co-opted the principle of the self-referencing maintenance of organic unity into the fabric of the collectivities of cyberspace. For example, John Perry Barlow argued that the immune system response of the network is “continuously” defining “the self versus the other.”44 In this way, he typified the tendency of cyber­punk’s frontier mentality to discursively situate the digital anomaly firmly outside of the homeostatic system of network survivability. In fact, as Bruce Sterling revealed, cyberpunks and the cyberneticists of the antivirus indus­try have become strange bedfellows:

They [virus writers] poison the digital wells and the flowing rivers. They believe that information ought to be poisonous and should hurt other people. Internet people build the networks for the sake of the net, and that’s a fine and noble thing. But virus people vandalize computers and nets for the pure nasty love of the wreckage.45

It seems that the much wished-for stability of the cyberpunk’s Daisyworld is increasingly traversed by the instabilities produced by the anomaly. As Sterling noted in another context, “the Internet is a dirty mess”46 that has lost its balance mainly because of the increasing outbreaks of cyberterrorism and cybercrime, but also because of the negligence of the authorities to ade­quately address the problems facing network culture. In Sterling’s vision, which increasingly echoes those of the capitalist digerati, there is a horizon on which the network eventually becomes a clean and frictionless milieu. Yet such a sphere of possibility rests conceptually on the notion of home­ostasis and stability, which sequentially implies a conservative (political) stance. In our view, it is more insightful to follow Geert Lovink’s position that networking is more akin to notworking:

What makes out today’s networking is the notworking. There would be no routing if there were no problems on the line. Spam, viruses and identity theft are not accidental mistakes, mishaps on the road to tech­no perfection. They are constitutional elements of yesterday’s network architectures. Networks increase levels of informality and also pump up noise levels, caused by chit-chat, misunderstandings and other all too human mistakes.47

We argue that the noise of Lovink’s notworking not only throws a spanner in the works of the cybernetic system, but also more intimately connects us to the capacity of the network to affect and thus produce anomalies. Instead of seeing the network as a self-referential homeostatic system, we want to therefore propose an autopoietic view of networks wherein alterity becomes the mode of operation of this sociotechnical machine (even though, e.g., Lovink might be reluctant to use these concepts). So if we would want to approach network systems in a broad framework as autopoi­etic systems, one would need to emphasize their difference from an old ideal of harmonious determined Nature. Following Guattari,48 we argue that sys­tems are not structures that merely stabilize according to a predetermined task, but are instead machines composed in disequilibrium and a principle of abolition. Here, re-creation works only through differentiation and change, which are ontological characteristics of a system that relies contin­uously on its exterior (a network). The digital network is consequently composed in terms of a phylogenetic evolution (change) of machines, and importantly understood as part of a collective ecological environment. In this context, the maintenance project of any machine (social, technical, or biological system) cannot be simply confined to the internal (closed in) pro­duction of self, or for that matter the detection of non-self, but instead returns us to the individuation process (discussed earlier) and the continu­ance of what Guattari called the “diverse types of relations of alterity.”49 We argue that a condition akin to a horror autotoxicus of the digital network, the capacity of the network to propagate its own imperfections, exceeds the metaphor with natural unity. Indeed, despite a rather vague notion about the purposeful essence of network production as described by individuals like Bill Gates (something perhaps akin to Spinoza’s “perfect nature of God”), the network itself is without a doubt the perfect medium for both perfection and imperfection.

CONCLUSION: STANDARD OBJECTS?

We do not doubt that what we are dealing with here are very curious objects indeed. They present mind-boggling problems to system managers and net­work controllers Yet, the failure to adequately overcome the computer virus problem perhaps pales in comparison to what Wired Magazine described as the next big issue for network security: the autonomous software netbots (or spambots) that are more flexible and responsive to system defences than the familiar model of pre-programmed computer viruses and worms. As Wired described the latest threat

The operational software, known as command and control, or C&C, resides on a remote server. Think of a botnet as a terrorist sleeper cell: Its members lurk silently within ordinary desktop computers, inert and undetected, until C&C issues orders to strike.50

Here we see that the netbot becomes discursively contemporised in terms of a latent terrorist cell that evades the identification grid of an immune system. Possibly this marks a discursive shift away from the biological analogy with viruses and worms toward the new anxieties of the war on terror. Whatever the rhetoric, identification is perhaps the key contemporary (and future) problem facing not just computer networks, but networks of political power, wherein nonexistence (becoming invisible) can become a crucial tac­tical gesture, as Galloway and Thacker suggest in Chapter 13.

The invisibility of software objects has in practice confounded a media studies approach orientated toward a representational analysis of phenome­nological “content.” Software considered as a specific set of instructions running inside a computer is obviously something more akin to a perform­ance, rather than a product of visual culture. To combat the often-simplistic analysis of software, Lev Manovich proposed, back in 2001, that media stud­ies should move toward “software studies,” and in doing so he provided an early set of principles for an analysis of new media objects. Manovich’s prin­ciples of new media include numerical representation, modularity, automa­tion, variability and transcoding. New media in this way is based on the pri­mary layer of computer data—code—that in its programmability separates “new” from “old” media, such as print, photography, or television.51 However, since then, Chun noted how Manovich’s notion of transcoding— that software culture and computation is about translating texts, sounds, and images into code—is not a sufficiently rich notion.52 Instead of registering (repeating) differences that pre-exist, Chun argued that computation makes differences and actively processes code in and out of various phenomenolog­ical contexts, such as text or sound. Her argument is supported by virus researchers who note that even a simple opening and closing of an applica­tion, or rebooting of a system, can make changes to boot sector files, log files, system files, and Windows’ registry.

For example, opening and closing a Word document is a computational process that may result in, for example, the creation of temporary files, changes to macros, and so forth.53 However, these processes do not directly come into contact with the human senses (we cannot always see, hear, touch, taste, or indeed smell an algorithmic procedure) and there is consequently a deficit in our cognitive and conceptual grasping of software objects and processes, as such. Yet, despite the abstract nature of mathematical media, these processes are completely real and demand attention from cultural the­ory, not least because the contemporary biopower of digital life functions very much on the level of the nonvisual temporality of computer network. This is why cultural theory needs to stretch its conceptual capacities beyond representational analysis and come up new notions and ideas in order to bet­ter grasp the technological constellations and networked assemblages of “anomalous media culture.” By proposing novel concepts, like those sug­gested by Deleuze for example, we do not aim to prescribe a trendy cultur­al theory, but rather enable a rethink of the processes and emerging agendas of a networked future.

The anomalous objects discussed in this volume can therefore be taken as indices of this novel media condition in which complex transformations occur. Yet, while on an algorithmic and compositional level, the objects and processes highlighted in spam e-mails, computer viruses, and porn commu­nities are not in anyway different from other objects and processes of digi­tal culture, there is clearly a repetitious and discursive filtering process going on: If software is computation that makes a difference (not just a coding of differences), then there is also a continuous marking out of what kind of processes are deemed as normal, abnormal, and/or anomalous. In other words, there is an incessant definition and redefinition of what, on the one hand, makes a good computation, a good object, and a good process, and on the other hand, what is defined as irresponsible and potentially a bad object or process. However, as noted earlier, the material and expressive boundaries of these definitions are not at all clear. We may, in this light, therefore sug­gest that such turbulent objects are considered as standard objects of net­work culture.54 Instead of merely being grasped as elements that should be totally excluded from the economic, productive, and discursive spheres of the knowledge society, they are equally understood as captured and used inclusively within the fabrication of digital assemblages. For example, the anomaly takes on new functions as an innovative piece of evolutionary “viral” or “spam” software (in digital architecture or sound production for instance), or is translated into new modes of consumer organization and activation (viral marketing), or becomes adapted to serve digital sociality in practices and communities (pornographic exchange). Ultimately, if capital­ism is able to make novel use of these critical practices of resistance, then cultural and media theorists should do likewise. Otherwise, they will remain anomalies for a theory unable to perceive of new modulations of power and politics functioning on the level of software.

From the varied perspectives offered in this volume the reader will notice that our take on the anomaly is not considered sacrosanct—anomalous digi­tal objects are distributed across many scales and platforms. However, we do feel that all of the following chapters intersect with our notion of the anom­alous object, albeit provoking a controversy around its compositional theme. Therefore, in order to introduce a sense of organization to the mixture of viewpoints put forward in The Spam Book we have divided the chapters in subsections: Contagions, Bad Objects, Porn, and Censored. Each subsection has an introduction setting out how we, the editors, grasp the position and the value of each chapter. As we have already suggested, there are of course many takes on the digital anomaly, but what The Spam Book proposes to do is shed some light on what has, until now, remained on the dark side of media and communication and cultural analysis.

 PART I CONTAGIONS

NO METAPHORS, JUST DIAGRAMS . . .

Digital contagions are often couched in analogical metaphors concerning biological disease. When framed in the linguistic structures of representa­tional space, the biological virus becomes a master referent, widely dispersed in the fields of cultural studies, computer science, and the rhetoric of the antivirus and network security industries.55 The figurative viral object becomes part of a semiotic regime of intrusive power, bodily invasion, uncontrollable contamination, and even new modes of auto-consumerism. Nevertheless, although representational analysis may have an application in a media age dominated by the visual image, the approach does not, in our opinion, fully capture the imperceptible constitutive role of contagion in an age of digital networks.

Indeed, when contemplating the metaphor of contagion, it is important to acknowledge two constraining factors at work. First, the analytical focus of metaphorical reasoning may well establish equivalences, but these resem­blances only really scratch the surface of an intensive relation established between a viral abstraction and concrete contagious events. Second, it is important to recognize the political import of the analogical metaphor in itself. It has an affective charge and organizational role in the spaces, prac­tices, and productions of digital network culture. For example, as seen in this section, the resemblances established between neo-Darwinian genes and computer viruses have imposed the logic of the arms race on evolutionary computing.56 In conjunction with epidemiological and immunological analogies, the digital gene delimits the patterning of software practices, excluding the contagious anomaly from the norms of code reproduction.

In light of the often-divisive imposition of the metaphor in the materi­ality of digital network culture, it is important that the this volume provides a potential escape route out of the analytical constraints of representation. Gilles Deleuze could, in our opinion, function as one alternative thinker who provides a set of tools for a post-representational cultural analysis. Via Deleuze we can substitute the metaphoric burden of the biological referent on its digital “viral cousins” with an exposition of the constitutive role con­tagion plays in material spaces, time-based practices, and productions. In place of the negatives of the metaphor we find an abstract diagram with an affirmative relation to the concrete contagious assemblages of digitality. To be more concise, the diagrammatic refrain is what holds these assemblages together, or even more succinctly, attempts to delimit and control the iden­tities of these larger unities. Think of the abstract diagrams used in this sec­tion as descriptions of the intensity of relations, repetitiously “installed” in the concreteness of the digital assemblages addressed in each chapter.

We begin the section with John Johnston’s chapter on the computer viruses’ relation to artificial life (ALife) research. Johnston loses the familiar metaphorical references to the spread of biological disease and instead explores the complex relationality between illicit virus production and the futures of ALife research. The chapter is stripped bare of the verbosity of Deleuzian ontology, yet arguably, the abstract diagram is ever present. It is apparent in the chapter’s endeavor to dig beneath the surface of analogical reasoning and instead explore the limitations and mysteries of “imitating biology.” In this way, Johnston refocuses our attention on the problematics of establishing a link between organic life and nonorganic digitality. In fact, Johnston’s diagram presents a somewhat challenging distinction between the two, and as a result he questions the viability of virally coded anomalies, which are both outside of the natural order of things and at risk of exceed­ing the services of human interest.

Tony Sampson’s chapter (chap. 2) uses three questions to intervene in a conception of universal contagion founded on the premise of “too much con­nectivity.” Beginning with a brief account of the universality of the conta­gious event, he locates the prominence of a distributed network hypothesis applied to the digital epidemic. However, Sampson points to an alternative viewpoint in which evolving viral vulnerabilities emerge from a composition of stability and instability seemingly arising from the connectivity and inter­action of users. Chapter 2 then moves on to argue that efforts made by antivirus researchers to impose epidemiological and immunological analo­gies on these emerging susceptibilities in digital architecture are very much flawed. For example, the crude binary distinction between self and non-self is regarded here as ill-equipped to manage the fuzzy logics of an accidental topology. Indeed, Sampson sees the problems encountered in antivirus research extending beyond the defense of the body of a network to the con­trol of a wider network of interconnecting social bodies and events. He con­cludes by speculating that the problematics of anomaly detection become part of a broader discursive and nondiscursive future of network conflict and security.

In Chapter 3, Luciana Parisi pushes forward the debate on the univer­sality of viral ecologies by seeking to avoid distinctions made between digi­tal and analogue, technical and natural, and mathematical and biological architectures. The focus of her analysis moves instead to the material capac­ity of infectious processes, which exceed the organizational tendencies of algorithmic logic. For example, Parisi investigates how the neo-Darwinian genetic code imposes an evolutionary schema on the diagram of digital con­tagion. However, unlike Johnston, Parisi argues that the organic and nonor­ganic of digitality are assembled together and that assumptions made in the practice of writing genetic algorithms fail to grapple with the symbiotic nature of what she terms the abstract extensiveness of digital architecture. Parisi employs a complexity of reasoning to explain her alternative blob architectures. If the reader is unfamiliar with the influential events theory of Alfred N. Whitehead or Lynn Margulis’ notion of endosymbiosis then the ideas expressed can be difficult to tap into. Nevertheless, a concentrated deep read will offer great rewards to those wanting to discover digital con­tagion in a novel and profound light.

Finishing this section, Roberta Buiani (chap. 4) proposes that virality is not merely an inherent “natural” part of the software code, but is continu­ously distributed as figures of contagion, virulence, and intensivities across popular cultural platforms. Making a useful distinction here between being viral and becoming viral, Buiani returns us to the limits imposed by the metaphoric regime of disease and the nonlimitative distribution of a flexible “single expression.” In its becoming, virality has the potential to produce creative outcomes, rather than just new threats—new diagrams perhaps?