Galloway’s Protocol

Alexander Galloway
Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization
Area: Digital Media
Critical moments in the text

Xiii: “The concept of ‘protocol’ is thus meant to demonstrate the nonmetaphorical quality of networks. Or, put another way, the concept of protocol shows the predilection for general discussion of networks in terms of general tropes. […] A code is process-based: it is parsed, compiled, procedural or object-orientated, and defined by ontology standards”
Xxii: ‘The ‘wet’ biological body has not simply been superceded by ‘dry’ computer code, just as the wet body no longer accounts for the virtual body.”
10: From McLuhan: “the content of every new protocol is always another protocol.”
13: Foucault writes, “that biopolitics ‘tends to treat the ‘population’ as a mass of living and coexisting beings who present particular biological and pathological traits and who thus come under specific knowledge and technologies.”
25: “H & N specifically address new media in Empire, writing that, within the internet, ‘an intermediate and potentially unlimited number of interconnected nodes communicate with no central point of control.’ In their opinion this ‘decentralized’ architecture is ‘what makes control of the network so difficult.”
30: Hierarchy v. distribution
34: Rhizome
35: “If one route is blocked, another will do just as well.”
49: ‘Like this, the process starts at the most general point, then follows the chain of delegated authority until the end of the line is reached and the numerical address may be obtained. This is the protocol of a decentralized network.”
55: “It is precisely the tension between these two Machinic technologies—one deterritorializing and one reterritorializing—that creates the protocological system and allows it to be so powerful.”
59: “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”
61: “On the one hand, the Web is structured around rigid protocols that govern the transfer and representation of texts and images—so the Web isn’t ‘an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system’ as is D & G’s rhizome. But on the other hand, the Web seems to mirror several of the key characteristics of the rhizome: the ability of any node to be connected to any other node, the rule of multiplicity, the ability to splinter off or graft on at any point, the rejection of a ‘deep structure,’ and so forth.”
73: Kittler: “Looking at the ‘moment’ of 1900, he writes that ‘the ability to record sense data technologically,’ using such instruments as the phonograph and the typewriter, ‘shifted the entire discourse network circa 1900. For the first time in history, writing ceased to be synonymous with the serial storage of data. The technological recording of the real entered into competition with the symbolic registration of the Symbolic.”
75: “The internet is a delicate dance between control and freedom.”
82: Recap of protocol so far
142: “The generative contradiction that lies at the very heart of protocol is that in order to be potentially progressive, protocol must be partially reactionary. To put it another way, in order for protocol to enable radically distributed communications between autonomous entities, it must employ a strategy of universalization, and of homogeneity.”
164: Code
213: “Computer crashes, technical glitches, corrupted code, and otherwise degraded aesthetics are the key to this disengagement. They are the ‘tactical’ qualities of internet art’s deep-seated desire to become specific to its own medium, for they are the moments when the medium itself shines through and becomes important.”
Fave line:
57: “Fear of handling shit is a luxury a sewerman cannot necessarily afford.”
From Untimely Mediations:
While I found the entirety of Galloway’s Protocol pleasurable, I found my interest most peaked in one of the final chapters on hacking and viruses. Even more specifically, when Galloway discusses the ethics of hacking and relates the upsurge of computer viruses to the AIDS epidemic, I was intrigued because I had never read anything like that (sure, my knowledge of hacking is a bit slim and that could account for the oversight). For this week’s post, then, I want to discuss how ethics, control, and biopower are interrelated.
After reading Jill’s post, I, too, am impressed that Galloway spends significant time laying out the why/how intricacies of the internet as we know it today. Impressively, he wrote for an audience like myself (some techy knowledge under my belt), and also those with extreme fluency in the matter. Before Protocol, I didn’t know there was a “hackers code of ethics.” Following a lengthy discussion of code of ethics, Galloway mentions that, “hackers don’t care about rules, feelings, or opinions. They care about what is true and what is possible. And in the logical world of computers, if it is possible then it is real. Can you break into a computer, not should you” (168). While hacking could be seen as a point of non-resistance, from a Foucauldian standpoint, I’d have to agree with Galloway that we’re simply seeing a different/another form of control. However, what is most interesting about hacking and control is that the hackers seem to relinquish their bodily control to the machine. Even though they write the code that wreaks havoc, it is the transference of power from the individual (hacker) to the machine (i.e. damaging code replicating itself in other computers) in which we clearly see the moment of control being illustrated. Further, rather than trying to push through the control of the protocol, “hackers are created by protocol […] hackers are protocological actors par excellence” (158). Hacking cannot and would not exist without protocol.
AIDS/Computer Viruses:
“Computer viruses appeared in a moment in history where the integrity and security of bodies, both human and technological, was considered extremely important. Social anxieties surrounding both AIDS and the war on drugs testify to this” (179).
This quote suggests that bodies and computers are certainly interconnected through disease, subject to the same type of collapse. (Again, I had never seen these connections before, so I might sound n00b-ish.) During the AIDS epidemic and confusion, no one had [much] knowledge on its origins, treatment, or prevention, and we can see the same parallels to computer viruses. At the time, hacking hadn’t “hit it big” yet, and just like AIDS, the population that it infected was unaware of its powers. That is what’s most fascinating to me about this moment is that both the technological and the biological were experiencing the same sorts of attacks on their “bodies.” Further, “bodies,” and ultimately biopower, has become even misconstrued (i.e. selling bodies on eBay).


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August 2008
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