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Plant on Tulipmania

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Sadie Plant is such an iconic figure in the study of digital culture and media theory. Here’s her short text on tulips, viruses, spam and modern economy. She wrote this as the Foreword to our Spam Book and here you can access it as a teaser-trailer to the book itself! It speaks of digital anomalies but through the colourful words of tulips and the tulipmania:

“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. “

(As an addition, here’s our Introduction to the same volume, written together with Tony D. Sampson: “On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture“).

spam book cover

A Hefty Companion

March 17, 2013 1 comment

1444332244A Companion to New Media Dynamics is out now. And admittedly, it is quite expensive. But try to get your library to order a copy, as it does contain some really handy chapters on media culture, networks, politics of platforms, mobility, and more! I just finished reading a nice Sean Cubitt-piece (on media studies and new media studies), and will continue with some of the other great looking texts.

I co-wrote with Tony Sampson a piece on spam, network virality and contemporary capitalism and marketing: “Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection”. It continues our joint interests into networks as well as viral capitalism, but with a specific Tardean twist.

The Dark Side

December 12, 2012 3 comments

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.”

 

New virals

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.)

Categories: Jodi Dean, Shaviro, Spam, viruses

Do Some Evil

June 14, 2011 2 comments

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.

  1. Bypass Representation
  2. Exploit Anachronisms
  3. Stimulate Malignancy
  4. Machine the Commonplace
  5. Make the Accidental the Essential
  6. Recurse Stratagems
  7. The Rapture of Capture
  8. Sophisticating Machinery
  9. What is Good for Natural Language is Good for Formal Language
  10. Know your Data
  11. Liberate Determinism
  12. Inattention Economy
  13. Brains Beyond Language
  14. Keep Your Stratagem Secret As Long as Possible
  15. Take Care of the Symbols, The Sense Will Follow
  16. 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)

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

>

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).

>More spam to the world

August 17, 2009 Leave a comment

>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

Contents:
Foreword, Sadie Plant.
On Anomalous Objects of Digital Culture: An Introduction, Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson.
CONTAGIONS
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.
BAD OBJECTS.
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.
PORNOGRAPHY.
Irregular Fantasies, Anomalous Uses: Pornography Spam as Boundary Work, Susanna Paasonen.
Make Porn, Not War: How to Wear the Network’s Underpants, Katrien
Jacobs.
Can Desire Go On Without a Body?: Pornographic Exchange as Orbital Anomaly, Dougal Phillips.
CENSORED.
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.
CODA
On Narcolepsy, Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker.

Categories: Spam, The Spam Book, viruses

>Recycling Centre for Digital Waste, or how to stop worrying, and love spam, porn and viruses

August 9, 2009 2 comments

>I am still waiting to see the actual physical Spam Book that should be in print now. We are planning a launch event I believe for the 23rd of September in London, at Goldsmiths College. More on that later – now I am just anxious to see the actual book. Meanwhile, I wrote a very short Afterword for my friend Juri Nummelin’s new collection of Spam – a collection of spam poetry again. I like his way of applying some classic avant-garde art methodologies to current digital culture — in a way, taking “spam texts” etc. “seriously”, i.e. treating them as interesting pieces of living literature in themselves. Btw. after this text, I wanted to add my new favourite spam mail that I received today. Its only a variation of an old theme, but hilarious, I find.

Here’s the text, anyway:

Waste is the truth about our culture. Garbage, waste, all the residue from our daily chores is a reminder of a future-to-come that is constantly present in predictions about the impending eco-crisis and pollution of the living environment beyond repair. Waste is not only a passive negation of what is useful, but is itself a produced part of our culture, a continuous reminder of the libidinal urges of consumer culture. It’s the living dead, the zombie, that haunts the brains and bodies of consumers. Just like we produce goods, we produce waste.
In a parallel manner, all the waste that we call spam (e-)mail is the truth about network culture. It’s the hyperbolic development of the desires, perversions, and fantasmas that connect our brains to consumer cultural mechanisms. The continuous hints of your insufficient penis size or inability to perform in bed, the promises of gigantic richness, incredible deals in software or pharmaceuticals, all that is only a tickling of that cerebral state that capitalism has been preparing for decades. It’s part of the trend identified by the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato. Contemporary capitalism is decreasingly interested in producing concrete goods and products. It focuses more and more in a Leibnizian creation of worlds, in which consumerism can flourish. Capitalism produces worlds and desires. Our network world is the world of spam and excess. This book by Juri Nummelin is also a glimpse to the circulation of desires and perversions of this network culture of capitalism.
We all receive spam e-mails and other waste, so the idea of collecting, archiving and even publishing that excess is an act not entirely without absurd connotations. It continues the Dadaist and Surrealist interest in archiving the accidentalities of modern culture. Such acts of archiving the surreal of everyday culture are valuable in exposing the contingencies of any archival logic. So is Nummelin an archivist of garbage and waste? Or is he working as the recycling centre for digi-waste? Perhaps. But at the same time Nummelin is the Dadaist of network culture who has an extreme interest in the poetic in the banal, in such acts of communication (yes, we should call those software enabled non-human acts of mass spamming communication in this era of the posthuman) which approach the degree zero of language, in the found objects of digital culture, which hide in their everyday guise a very avant-garde aura.
Spam mail, viruses and all that we have learned to hate and despise in digital culture is a reminder of the fact that most of everyday Internet traffic is far from “useful” or “nice”. Most of the global info-wonder is built on spam, porn and in general to the darker sides of our libido. This is also why so much of spam email seems to be coming from the Others of our culture: Africa, Russia, outside the so-called organized society. Spam email is the travel literature of contemporary culture to the heart of darkness to have a date with Kurtz; of course, the only one we meet there is the pulsating core of our own consumer society. Spam emails, if you actually read them, maintain several such fantasies that are a combination of the sexualized Other and from universes not too far from Philip K. Dick’s novels.
And spam, porn, and viruses are far from useless nuisances. With them, we have seen the development of a gigantic subsection of digital industries, namely security. From security software to various trainings, we are being taught to be responsible Net-users by underlining the grave dangers of spam for our sanitized, clean digi-future. For years, there has been talk of the necessity of a new closed Internet. Corporations would be guaranteed a frictionless world of communication and flow of information, but would leave the so-called average people in their miserable worlds of porn and spam. Weirdly enough, it resonates with such science fiction scenarios where most of humanity has been left after the apocalypse to sink in a world of dirt and lowly libidinal drives.
In the midst of the gloomy future scenarios and production of fear, such poetic recycling is however more than welcome. They are the modern surrealist techniques of tackling with the absurdities and layers beyond meaning of communication; the accidental, the haphazard, the unconscious that can be revealed through artistic methodologies. Media theorists such as Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker have written about such dream sides of software, and there is a growing body of net art that is more interested in the dark sides of network culture than its polished progress stories. Through such methods we learn of another kind of a message: don’t be afraid to embrace your spam! They tell you the truth about the processes of interpellation that try to hail you as the proper capitalist subject! Love your spam as you love your emails from friends!

And then, the email from Sergeant David Bruce:

Re:09-08-2009

No label []
Sgt David Bruce sent it to me on Aug 9, 2009, 3:39 AM Show details
Dear Sir/Madam

My name is (staff Sgt.) David Bruce i am an American soldier, serving in the Military with
the
army's 3rd infantry division.


i have a very desperate need for Assistance and have summed up courage to contact you.
I found your contact through internet serching and I am seeking your kind Assistance to
move the sum of Five million United States dollars (us$5,000,000) to you, as far as I can
be assured that my share will be safe in your care Until i complete my service here.


Source of money: some money in US currencies were discovered in barrels at a Farmhouse
near one of saddam’s old palaces in tikrit-iraq during a rescue operation, and it was
agreed by staff Sgt Kenneth buff and i that some part of this money be shared Between
both of us before informing anybody about it sinceboth of us saw the money first.


This was quite an illegal thing to do, but i tell you what! no compensation can make up
For the risk we have taken with our lives in this hell hole, of which my brother in-law
Was killed by a road side bomb last time.


The above figure was given to me as my share, and to conceal this kind of money become a
Problem for me but with the help of a British contact working here and with his office
Enjoying some immunity, i was able to get the package out to a safe location entirely Out
of trouble spot.


he does not know the real contents of the package, and he believes that it belongs to a
British American medical doctor who died in a raid here in Iraq, And before giving up,
trusted me to hand over the package to his family in country.


I have now found a very secured way of getting the package out of Iraq to you at home For
you to pick up, and i will discuss this with you when i am sure that you are willing To
assist me and that my money will be well secured in your hand.


I want you to tell me How much you will take from this money for the assistance you will
give to me.


One Passionate appeal i will make to you is not to discuss this matter with anybody,if you
have any reasons to reject this offer, please and please destroy this message as any
Leakage of this information will be too bad for the u.s. soldier's here in Iraq.


I do Not know how long we will remain here; month of May was the deadliest month for us to
be out Here. Totally, we lost 127 men and i have been shot,wounded and survived two
suicide Bomb attacks by the special grace of god.


This and other reasons i will mention later Has prompted me to reach out for help.I
honestly want this matter to be resolved immediately, please contact meas soon as Possible
with my private e-mail address which is my only way of communication (e-mail:
sgtdavidbruce1@yahoo.co.jp)


May god bless you and your family"
From David Bruce.
Categories: Spam, viruses

>Genitals in the Field of Vision

>If you happened to see an unusual amount of genitals a couple of days ago, you might have stumbled across Youtube’s “Porn Day” — a prankster or a media activist coup that was meant to raise awareness of the new music video policies on Youtube. So if you were looking for Hannah Montana or Jonas Brothers, you might have found something totally different, to put it bluntly. Responsibility was claimed by a Japanese message board community, but we could extend the logic a bit further.

It reminds first of all of the trick (real or folk lore) of inserting just a random image of a penis-in-action between film frames in the manner mentioned in the film Fight Club. The mind might not immediately notice what happened, but the brain and the nervous system registers that something was not right. It’s tempting to put your Zizek-hat on and start talking about ruptures in the fabric of the real world by an intrusion of something-that-does-not-fit-in. An unmotivated penis in the field of vision surely does that.
In such a manner, the thousands of porn clips posted on Youtube can be seen as such ruptures of expectations, of the narrative of the world to but it a bit metaphorically. Yet, we could as much claim that such a rupture is actually what holds together the logic of the Internet, and its the libidinal desires, the dirty side of us/our networks that maintains the libidinal economy and circulation. Its the anomalous that keeps the supposedly normal intact.
It took me three paragraphs to get to the point of flagging the new review (Mute magazine) by Luciana Parisi of Matteo Pasquinelli’s Animal Spirits. Parisi’s review is highly recommended. It picks up on the key strengths and weaknesses of Pasquinelli’s book, and resonates with some of the points I made in my review of the same book for Leonardo Digital reviews. Pasquinelli is able to complexify many of the dualisms haunting the supposedly liberating discourses of network culture and point towards the much more intriguing evil energies circulating through bodies, through networks. In the midst of the assumed free software and commons movements lies an assumption of the natural goodness of the human being (also targeting Chomsky) which neglects the at times implicit structurations of power that define any act of creation and cooperation. In other words, as also Parisi summarizes, the idea of freedom and non-rivalry of digital information hides the facts of “immaterial conflict” of living labour. To quote Parisi: “This conflict includes the economy of references, the race to meet deadlines, the competition for festival selection and between festivals and ‘the envious and suspicious attitudes among activists’ (p.49).”
Parisi also picks the point of critique that I did in my review. Pasquinelli’s critique against the code-theorists, and what seems to extend towards the whole of software studies, is way too broad and remains vague. Reading “code” and theorists of code only through an interest in codification that neglects the living materialities of the flesh, so to speak, neglects the more nuanced work done in software studies. Many of the theorists there, and who have paid attention to the concrete assemblages and practices of software as the key relay of network culture, have developed much more thoughtful ways of taking into account why code and software are not to be seen only as symbolic material but as Parisi writes, such modes of abstraction that involve energetic relations. I have recently tried to write about “ethologies of code” and point to the way how code should not be seen as representational and it should not be reduced to its function of codification of the intensities of any real of fleshy bodies. Instead, also code and software can be seen working through notions of relationality, affect and intensities of such relations. In the context of Pasquinelli, and Parisi’s review, she writes: “Codes are not simply binary systems of simulations that hide living conditions of existence. Codes are real abstractions that have an energetics equivalent to flesh and blood despite remaining utterly irreducible to any physical system. Pasquinelli’s insistence on the meta-structure of coding and the under-structure of living labour ultimately overlooks the materiality of code. Furthermore, by taking code culture at its face value, he ignores the weird and prolific underworld of esoteric software cultures.”
I find Parisi’s point excellent, and as said, something I have been developing is strongly in tune with this. Of course, the earlier projects on viralities and parasites tried already to take into account of such “animal energies” in network cultures, but the more recent paper is even more closely targeted on “ethologies of software.” Indeed, such points flag the need to be more aware of the dirty energies inside software cultures as well — the genitals and all in the field of not only vision but code.
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