Another (what I am sure is going to be a) great event organized by the Center for 21st Century Studies at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee: The Dark Side of the Digital.
Think of it less as the Dark Side à la Star Wars, but instead rephrase Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the very last words of the album, after the final pulsations.. “There is no dark side really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”
More viral analysis is out: a special issue of WSQ just came out, a special issue on Viral – edited by Patricia Clough & Jasbir Puar. It is an extensive one, so do try to grab a copy somewhere. It also includes a review of Insect Media. The book is reviewed alongside Jodi Dean’s Blog theory and Steven Shaviro’s Cinematic Affect. Great to be featured alongside such writers.
Besides that special issue, another one to keep your eyes open for: Tony Sampson’s monograph Virality is now out! An excellent analysis which indeed “resuscitates Tarde” and analyses cultures of virality from memes to terror and love. I also really enjoy the manner in which Sampson employs notions of hypnosis into an analysis of network culture. it reminds of the idea of “evil media” that Fuller and Goffey have the past years developed (check out The Spam Book for a short intro to what Evil Media Studies is.)
It’s the opposite to “do no evil”, a call to think through the dirty materiality of media. Trick, deceive, bypass, exploit, short-circuit, and stay inattentive.
Hence, it is not only about “evil objects” as I perhaps myself have focused on (in Digital Contagions, and in other places), even if such objects can be vectors for and emblematic of stratagems of evil media. Evil media studies focuses on strategies that are mobilized as practices of theories. These strategies reach across institutions, and hence it is no wonder that Geert Lovink recently flags this as one approach through which to energize media studies.
Or more formally – Evil Media Studies “is a manner of working with a set of informal practices and bodies of knowledge, characterized as stratagems, which pervade contemporary networked media and which straddle the distinction between the work of theory and of practice”, write Andrew Goffey and Matthew Fuller in the chapter by the same name in The Spam Book.
For me, the attraction in Goffey and Fuller’s call is that it is material – material that is dynamic, non-representational, machinating and filled with energies that flow across software, social and aesthetic.
- Bypass Representation
- Exploit Anachronisms
- Stimulate Malignancy
- Machine the Commonplace
- Make the Accidental the Essential
- Recurse Stratagems
- The Rapture of Capture
- Sophisticating Machinery
- What is Good for Natural Language is Good for Formal Language
- Know your Data
- Liberate Determinism
- Inattention Economy
- Brains Beyond Language
- Keep Your Stratagem Secret As Long as Possible
- Take Care of the Symbols, The Sense Will Follow
- The Creativity of Matter
(the list from “Evil Media Studies” by Goffey and Fuller, in The Spam Book: On Porn, Viruses and Other Anomalous Objects From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, eds. Parikka & Sampson, Hampton Press 2009).
>Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection (ISEA 2010 Version)
Before leaving finally for ISEA 2010 in Germany I shall post this — a short intro, or summary, or the extended abstract of what we are going to talk about there with Tony Sampson. It continues the Spam Book themes, and addresses more concretely the link between such processes as contagion (and in relation to heterogeneous bodies from social relations to software) and capitalism — more specifically marketing techniques, and various ways of harnessing the pull of connectedness.
Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection
Tony D. Sampson (University of East London, UK)
Jussi Parikka (Anglia Ruskin University, UK)
In February 2010 an outbreak of media panic spread through the British tabloid press concerning a marketing campaign called DubitInsider. The DubitInsider website recruits 13-24 year olds who consider themselves to be “peer leader[s] with strong communication skills” to act as “Brand Ambassadors”. This requires the clandestine passing-on of product suggestions to peers via posting on message boards and social networks, emails and instant messenger conversations, organizing small events and parties. DubitInsider ignited the moral indignation of the tabloids not because of its covert nature, but since Brand Ambassadors were apparently paid to market “unhealthy” junk foods to minors. Tapping into the social influence of the consumer is nothing new. Seeking out so-called influentials is the basis of seasoned word-of-mouth campaigns and persists in “word-of-mouse” variations. For example, in4merz.com exploits the anticipated contagiousness of relations established between friends “on and offline” to promote music acts. “In4merz is about matching our artists to your friends who may like them.”
Young In4merz create posters, banners and videos about acts, Twitter about them, leave comments on Facebook etc. For each level of promotion, In4merz earn points that convert into CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and potential backstage access.
What interests us, as analysts of network dysfunctionality, is how the logic of these marketing strategies overlaps with the same anomalous abstract diagrams that distribute spam and viruses. In a different context, hiding unsolicited brand messages in social media and the potential for the bulk sending of veiled product promotions for financial reward could arguably be called spamming.
Furthermore, designed as they are to spread Trojan-like suggestions through imitative social networks, whether or not the strategies actually become contagious, their aim is to go viral. When removed from the context of the anomalous Nigerian cybercafe or computer virus writing scene, and played out in the marketplaces of food and pop culture, the emergent spam logic and virality of network capitalism becomes part of a broader indexical change concerning the way contagious communication networks, vulnerable bodies and unconscious behaviours can be harnessed.
The logic adopted becomes a normalized online marketing activity, not only performed by corporations, but embedded in social relations of individuals as part of the strategies of business enterprise and brand design.
Spamming and virality are no longer anomalies then, but are fast becoming the standard, acceptable way of doing business in the digital world. If the peer-to-peer recommendations and thumbs-up-buttons of “word-of-mouth 2.0” characterize the current paradigm of social media, these campaigns are indicative of a more aggressive and targeted Web 3.0 marketing of suggestion already on the horizon. This is a Web 3.0 that appeals directly to a user’s emotional landscape and desire for intimacy (Ludovico 2005), and exploits the ready made expediency of contagiousness networks that pass on suggestion.
Following a similar neo-monadological approach set out by Lazzarato (2004) we articulate the dynamics of spam, viruses, and other related “anomalies”, as constituent parts of new infectious worlds “created” by the business enterprise. We focus on the specific creative capacities of dysfunctionality in the production of network environments, and how “learning” from the irregularities of normalized communication adds new flesh to this world. We discuss how new knowledge concerning the productive powers of the anomalous is filtered through what Thrift (2005) calls the cultural circuit of capitalism: “… a feedback loop which is intended to keep capitalism surfing along the edge of its own contradictions”.
This new knowledge, acquired from the accidental events of the network, is seized upon by the business enterprise, leading to new consumer modeling intended to make ready environments so that the capricious spreading of social influence can be all the more effectively triggered and responded to.
Zittrain (2009) argues that viruses, spam and worms are threats to the generative principle of the Internet. Similarly, we contend that such software-driven social actions are exploitative of the open principles of the Internet, but further acknowledge the extent to which these practices have enthused and inspired the business enterprise. As we see it, “bad” software is not necessarily “malicious”. It becomes integral to an alternative generative logic of capture implicated in the production of new worlds of infection. We will discuss how these epidemiological worlds were mapped by computer scientists in the 1980s before they pervaded the burgeoning offshoots of the billion dollar network security industry. We further chart how they were modeled by network science as early as the 1960s and are currently being exported, via the circuitry of capitalism, to the business enterprise.
To be published in full as a chapter in The Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics, Hartley, Burgess and Bruns (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell, (forthcoming).
>Finally its coming out: The Spam Book – On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalous Objects from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, edited by yours truly and Tony D. Sampson (UEL). Its was with the publisher for about 18 months, which testifies to the fact that always when you write cultural/media studies, write a) about history, b) write about metaphysics so that what you claim cannot be said to grow old when the next version of your favourite software/operating system comes out.
Writing about spam and editing this book was fun. It was bizarre to understand the lack of research into this defining feature of digital culture, and only now PhDs and research into spam cultures are emerging. For me, spam is a perfect index, or more accurately a vehicle that we can use to drive into such themes as security, delineation of order and disorder in software cultures, capitalism and the non-signifying production of value, desires of consumerism and the weird automated processes running wild on the underbelly of networks.
From the back cover of the Spam Book:
For those of us increasingly reliant on email 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. This book is an aberration into the dark side of network culture. Instead of regurgitating stories of technological progress or over celebrating creative social media on the Internet, it filters contemporary culture through its anomalies. The book features theorists writing on spam, porn, censorship, and viruses. The evil side of media theory is exposed to theoretical interventions and innovative case studies that touch base with new media and Internet studies and the sociology of new network culture, as well as post-presentational cultural theory.
And some blurps…
“Parikka and Sampson present the latest insights from the humanities into software studies. This compendium is for all you digital Freudians. Electronic deviances no longer originate in Californian cyber fringes but are hardwired into planetary normalcy. Bugs breed inside our mobile devices. The virtual mainstream turns out to be rotten. The Spam book is for anyone interested in new media theory.” —Geert Lovink, Dutch/Australian media theorist
“What if all those things we most hate about the Internet—the spam, the viruses, the phishing sites, the flame wars, the latency and lag and interruptions of service, and the glitches that crash our computers—what if all these are not bugs, but features? What if they constitute, in fact, the way the system functions? The Spam Book explores this disquieting possibility.”
—Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University
Foreword, Sadie Plant.
On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture: An Introduction, Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson.
Mutant and Viral: Artificial Evolution and Software Ecology, John Johnston.
How Networks Become Viral: Three
Questions Concerning Universal Contagion, Tony D. Sampson.
Extensive Abstraction in Digital Architecture, Luciana Parisi.
Unpredictable Legacies: Viral Games in the Networked World, Roberta Buiani.
Archives of Software—Malicious Codes and the Aesthesis of Media Accidents, Jussi Parikka.
Contagious Noise: From Digital Glitches to Audio Viruses, Steve Goodman.
Toward an Evil Media Studies, Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey.
Irregular Fantasies, Anomalous Uses: Pornography Spam as Boundary Work, Susanna Paasonen.
Make Porn, Not War: How to Wear the Network’s Underpants, Katrien
Can Desire Go On Without a Body?: Pornographic Exchange as Orbital Anomaly, Dougal Phillips.
Robots.txt: The Politics of Search Engine Exclusion, Greg Elmer.
The Internet Treats Censorship as a Malfunction and Routes Around It?: A New Media
Approach to the Study of State Internet Censorship, Richard Rogers.
On Narcolepsy, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker.