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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.

Digital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion-event (London)

February 13, 2013 1 comment

books-pattern-copyDigital Culture: Anomalies, Archaeology and Contagion
- a seminar and a book launch at Kings College, London, with Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson

March 20, 2013 – Wednesday at King’s College, London, Strand Campus.
4.30-7.00
Seminar 4.30-5.30 in room K.311 and the book launch  5.30-7.00 in the the Small Somerset Room.

In 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 book launch, 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 from which our network culture emerges. Parikka’s recent book 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 theorists 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.
The event page on Facebook.

Jussi Parikka: What is Media Archaeology? Polity Press: Cambridge, 2012.
Tony D. Sampson: Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.

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 and writer currently lecturing 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 http://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/

To find the venue:
London, King’s College, Strand Campus.
Directions.

4.30-5.30 in K3.11 on the Strand Campus of KCL.

K3.11 (King’s Building, Third Floor, Room 11)

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.

From 5.30-7.00 the Small Somerset Room

On Virality

January 26, 2013 1 comment

Tony D. Sampson’s new book Virality is a good read: on network culture, Gabriel Tarde, affect, HCI and politics. I interviewed Tony for the Theory, Culture & Society blog and he elaborated some of his thinking behind the book in relation to Evil Media and non-cognitive capitalism.

The TCS blog has also – for a limited time though – the PDF of the forthcoming TCS review of Sampson’s book.

Tony Sampson’s Virality was published by University of Minnesota Press (2012).We are planning a contagion and archaeology seminar at Kings College London on March 20 that will also act as a joint book launch for the two publications (including my What is Media Archaeology?)

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

Inside Digital Life-interview

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

I was interviewed during my Barcelona visit by the nice people of CCCB.

Categories: media studies, viruses

Viral Capitalism – redux

July 12, 2011 2 comments

Capitalism is sticky – it is able to attach to such a variety of objects, things, practices, and new fields that it almost seems to be productive in itself. Reading some interesting texts recently, I thought to pick up the concept of “viral capitalism” that I discussed in an earlier piece in 2005 and in Digital Contagions as an attempt to understand how it worked in relation to security politics of software in digital culture. Hence, it played the dual role of referring to virus cultures and anti-virus discourse, as well as pointing to a wider logic outside software of capitalism as that sticky, viral-like mode of spreading – not however just objects that are contagious, but environments, or milieus in which infection becomes possible. In such affective environments, capitalism as a sticky machine is able to operate. As part of the logic of security, then, it relates to how in milieus of (in)security , you are able to modulate affects, actions, practices and discourses so that you can get value even from risks, accidents and insecurity.

As such, one could say that an idea of viral capitalism relates to;

- the attraction power to which capitalism bases so much of its marketing power; this is the power of the affect to draw us in, to create worlds in which we feel natural to live in (capitalist worlds as leibnizian, as analyzed by Lazzarato). This is the aesthetic power of affect/attraction.
- Pass-on-power where social relations are in their already mimetic (Tarde) and infectious nature as if ready for appropriation into for instance marketing; (stay tuned for something we have written together with Tony Sampson – see his piece on Contagion Theory).

- The power of capitalism to turn even adversary practices as part of itself, directly or indirectly.
As a figure of network politics, viral capitalism functions in the aesthetico-technical regime.

An excerpt from Digital Contagions:
In a way, it seems as if capitalism invents such accidents and risks to keep itself busy. This idea that “if it’s not broken, break it” provides, then, an interesting way to approach the functioning of so-called information capitalism. Dangers and risks produce excellent needs and products in the consumer market, which aims to provide tools for controlling the uncertainties and anxieties of everyday life. The previous themes can be synthesized under the notion of viral capitalism, which stems from an idea of capitalism as capable of continuous modulation and heterogenesis. […]

The power of capitalism resides in its capability to appropriate the outside as a part of itself. In a sense, capitalism incorporates the ability to subsume heterogenesis as part of its production machinery, and heterogeneity is turned as part of the capital itself. In its functioning, capitalism is a continuing abstract machine of the new, inventing itself all the time, refusing to tie itself to any transcendent point (even though the actual workings of capital do constantly stop at some intervals of profit-oriented points, such as companies, corporations, and monopolies).

Of course, similar trends occurred in the cultural history of diseases long before viruses. As Nancy Tomes notes in her history of germs in America, the fear of microbes was, from the 1880s onward, turned into a lucrative business, with special goods and services designed for hygiene. This meant, for example, “safeguards against the dangers of sewer gas and polluted water, such as special toilet attachments and household water filters”, and on to antiseptic floor coverings and wall paint as well as sanitary dish drainers and fly traps. Hence, commodity interests were very active long before the media ecology of capitalist network culture.
Massumi argues that in information age capitalism, it is the circulation of things that counts, replacing their mere production as the key energetic principle of surplus value. This amounts to a change also in the commodity’s status where it becomes a self-organizing and living entity—a form of self-reproductive object. “The commodity has become a form of capital with its own motor of exchange (fashion, style, ‘self-improvement’) and cycle of realization (image accumulation/ image shedding (…)). Its value is now defined more by the desire it arouses than by the amount of labor that goes into it.”The commodity works as a virus— and the virus as part of the commodity circuit.

[…]

Luciana Parisi has made important remarks concerning the basis of information capitalism and the problems with Hardt and Negri. According to Parisi, the Empire becomes too easily a transcendent apparatus of power opposed to the creative virtualities of the multitude, which leads to a dualism of death and life, organic and inorganic. Instead, she proposes an endosymbiotic conception of capitalism, where it “exposes a machinic composition of molecular bodies involving continual and differential degrees of variation between bodies that capture and bodies that are captured.” Hence, she proposes an ongoing nonlinear symbiosis instead of a dualism. Capitalism, despite functioning as an apparatus of capture, does not proceed in a rigid manner of linear capture but proliferates differences in its wake. As Massumi writes, the rationality of neoliberalism works through a type of pragmatics, not perhaps so much through grounding principles or normative laws. Its cultivation of the metastable systems of markets and affects resides in its focus not on truth but on how the future (the unknown) can be managed on the basis of the data of the past (statistics). What matters is how to keep things running.

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).

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