Computer viruses are seen as anomalous, nothing but trouble in what would be, should be a Utopian space where higher forms of communication are free to spread. Emboding the ideal of the 18th century coffee house; a meeting place where ideas were cultivated into diplomacy through connectivity to bring about the will of the people. If only there wasn’t so much junk floating around, infecting the conversation and getting in the way. But that junk is not junk at all. It’s inherently part of the system. It’s part of the information flow, the same (albeit often annoying) as any other discourse happening online. Viruses, spam, anomalous entities take up just as much traffic in the Internet space as “normal” operations, so why then, do we see it as an infecting, dark agent of destruction? Because it is. And it isn’t.
One of the more interesting points of “The Spam Book” is that an attempt to eradicate computer viruses by mapping their life cycle may lead to new realizations that our initial vision of the structure of the Internet space was all wrong.
“The very notion of technology as a tool for management and manipulation (which then becomes a means of capitalist profit) is here giving birth to another kind of world composed of a multitude of tiny, self-organizing entities that neither form part of the natural order nor directly serve human interests., although the hope is that they can be gently nudged into doing so. For many, however, this is indeed a frightening prospect: a swarm of hopefully friendly creepers (38).”
In an Internet space where nodes are multiplied on top of nodes, with unnumbered possible points of connectivity the task of combating the spread of dangerous viruses and other spam seems impossible. They act differently than a biological virus because they have open, limitless space that is “scale-free” in which they are free to communicate, mutate, infect and die off. But is it best to act as a defensive player, building firewalls and seekers to combat and destroy, or is it possible to shift roles to a new paradigm?
“Furthermore, what makes this approach different from other studies of contagion, like those that focus on network security is that emergent virality is not solely grasped in oppositional terms of “bad’ code threatening to destroy a ‘good’ system. On the contrary, contagion modeling suggests that a system, however stable it may appear, cannot determine its own stability. Viral environments are thus not regarded here as a manifestation of some dreadful dark side of organic unity (41).”
Tracking the movements of a virus across the digital landscape and various mutations, life cycle and parasitic characteristics helps provide insight into virus potentials as well as the construction of the network space. A shift in understanding contagion can lead to a new relational concept between “good” and “bad”.
“The Spam Book” editors give several solutions that have been proposed to handle contagion, but few seem to have an overarching commentary on what is really happening online. Maybe that is because we don’t know for sure and we can’t predict with any real certainty. The information bits have blown up exponentially, too fast for our policing and procedural capabilities. What we can do is continue to ask questions; “…power and resistance are intimately coupled to pragmatic questions concerning stability and instability of connectivity in a network (45)” The questions addressed by the editors include the amount of connectivity we experience makes us more susceptible to mass contagion, offensive and defensive modes of network conflict, and arguments over the conception of epidemic network power as defined and promoted by media and government powers.
This is at the heart of the editor’s argument; we have to let go of the notion that we have any sense of control over what is happening online. We cannot control the rate of connectivity, nor should we want to. There is not a clear delineation between good and bad online and that includes viruses and other “threats” as designated by current societal norms. We have a media/ government promoted fear of them, but they are a natural part of the web ecosystem.
A computer virus may have similar characteristics to a biological contagion, but using the terminology in tandem causes problems with how we see the role of a computer virus. They do not work the same because the structure of the space in which they separately live is different. Contagion will inevitably spread in a network of unnumbered nodes and it is impossible to accurately map the strength or weakness of those nodes in order to fight the viruses. The argument presented in The Spam Book” by Jussie Parikka and Tony Sampson suggests we must shift toward the belief that virus enemies can be advantageous and those we consider to be anomalous are an active, ever-present, internal part of the free-space system.
To balance freedom versus control on the Internet, we must acknowledge historical norms and meanings that cross physical borders. This is especially true when we give credence to the fact that we now live in multiple communities that have various ethical, financial, and value structures. But what then is the thread that will weave all participates on the Internet together in a harmonious unit?
I will not lie, reading and comprehending Lawrence Lessig’s “Code 2.0” was a challenge. It was even more of a challenge to flesh out what Lessig felt was a sufficient answer to the blending of the online community. He speaks of how social control can be embedded in the code that works in the background of the Internet, but that code has a bias inherent by the writers of the code. The engineers hold the balance of power. Do we trust technology engineers with the infrastructure of future society, those hackers and cyberpunks inserting their will by wielding their technical knowledge? No. Saying we are uncomfortable with the idea is a drastic understatement. Look at Wiki-Links, which in essence was created by the hacker culture and is now infamous for their tactical movements online and off.
One of the more important effects of the Wiki-Links scandal was that it helped the general public realize that our view of both the Internet and physical space has changed forever, and with that shift comes the framing of new community values. But each community whether real or Internet based has the freedom to decide what their values will look like and the freedom to ignore other community’s chosen structure. Lessig says “When we live in multiple communities, accountability becomes a way for one community to impose its view of propriety on another. Because we do not live in a single community, we do not live by a single set of values. And perfect accountability can only undermine this mix of values (219).” He does not believe there is one solution, or one structure that works across the network space.
One way to argue the parameters of this mix of values is to look closely at copyright law, which is hotly debated as it effects every level of communication, networked technology. Lessig says “We are not entering a time when copyright is more threatened than it is in real space. We are instead entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg (175).” This power of regulation is only becoming more fine-tuned as corporations, government entities, and media understand the flow of the networked space better. They will use that flow to their advantage, which relates to my topic of research, how corporations harness connected communities through crowd sourcing. But then what about copyright?
If corporations use collective intelligence and creativity to bring about change, who or what is the source? In the case of crowd sourcing, the corporate sponsor takes ownership over any participants’ contribution immediately. There is no room for legal dispute, but that goes against the nature of creativity. The goal of crowd sourcing is to promote collaboration, but with zero possibility of attributing authorship to those deserving, In this way, it seems that freedom of expression could be threatened by the craze of crowdsourcing and all copyrighted property, intellectual or otherwise, is locked down.
What we think is a new method of utilizing the new reality of connectedness online and off seems like freedom because of its participatory nature, but is it really a promoter of freedom? My opinion is if we involve a corporate structure of any kind the answer is no. A resounding NO.
Lessig, I think would agree; “Creativity activity that never needed to grapple with copyright regulation must now, to be legal, clear a whole host of hurdles, some of which, because of insanely inefficient property system that copyright is, technically impossible. A significant portion of creative activity has now moved from free culture to permission culture. And the question of values of free speech is whether that expanded regulation should be allowed to occur unchecked (269).” Corporations take on the responsibility of copyright, along with the perks of ownership over creative product and actual and residual products, but what happens to the artist?
What happens to the individual with a brilliant solution to a real-world problem? They willingly give up their creative rights without understanding the impact. And they don’t understand the impact because current ownership rights and copyright laws did not have the complications of the Internet in mind when they were established. Similar to Lessig’s constitutionalist view, it is impossible to know what the framers of the constitution would say about laws relating to privacy and free speech on the Internet because they had no way of knowing what questions to ask.
We still are unsure of what questions to ask, and both the physical and networked space is convoluted and exciting. It’s easy to get swept up in a movement to effect change, the Internet makes collaboration a breeze, but we must be careful about who is making decisions in the background. The arguments over copyright and freedom of creativity we are involved in now will shape the future of utilization and information gathering/sharing.
What Lessig warns is that we have to acknowledge there must be a multi-layered system of protections inherently built in the collective networked community online and off. There are entities that push back against the system in small and big ways, and they are necessary for restructuring. With regards to copyright protections and corporate interests, awareness of individual creative rights is key to enacting and enforcing those rights.
Technology changes all the time; human nature hardly ever (Morozov 315).”
This quote feels like a nice starting place for trying to understand the relationship between how the Internet operates in relation to the individual. It is abstract and has a feeling of inclusivity and a sprinkling of truth that one feels when participating in the Internet space. One can easily spiral down the rabbit hole of questions of change, but for the brevity of this blogpost, I will hold back. Let’s stick to cyber-utopianism, and even smaller, how the battle for cyber-utopianism is failing, and how it needs to change focus with specific regard to how we harvest information from crowd-sourcing tactics.
In the “Net Delusion” by Evgeny Morozov, There is an assertion that Internet is not what media and Government (specifically western form of Government) think it is. “The border between cyber-utopianism and cyber-naivete is a blurry one. In fact, the reason why so many politicians and journalists believe in the power of the Internet is because they have not given this subject much thought. Their faith is is not the result of a careful examination of how the Internet is being used by dictators or how it is changing the culture of resistance and dissent (21).”
The Internet that was once seen as a novel “voice of the people” with the ability to overthrow an oppressive power source is now being used by effectively by the oppressive power source. As the quote above points out, naivete reigns over those nodes that have the ability to spread information faster. Because in the network space, there is no way to identify and isolate a single power source, and if you cannot isolate the source, how can we fix the problem? A further issue is if we cannot trust those nodes that are responsible for protecting democratic values, the network will spawn technological fixes that are unable to foresee all effected variables and potentialities.
Morozov applies these questions to democracy and governance on the Internet, but I would like to focus on a single technological fix that corporations are using as a way to gather information, problem solve, and generate high profits.
So what is the issue with corporations (as well as government and non-profit entities) wielding the power of the networked space to collaborate, streamline, innovate, etc. especially when many crowd-sourced projects are used to better communities small and large?
The issue is that everyone has jumped on the crowd-source bandwagon. I saw this when I attended the Interactive Media Conference at SXSW. Many panels I attended used the buzzword “crowd-source” but no one addressed the potential risk involved.
“As the Internet makes technological fixes cheaper, the temptation to apply them even more aggressively and indiscriminately also grows. And the easier it is to implement them, the hard it is for internal critics to argue that such fixes should not be tried at all (303).”
“The Net Delusion” points this issue out over and over. The excitement of a new technology blinds the network from acknowledging that anything new comes with unknown costs. And those costs will change, while the individuals linked probably wont. Those unseen costs will most likely require sophisticated solutions, and those sophisticated solutions have the potential to aggravate other social problems.
So now, something as simple as crowd-sourcing project proposals to help rebuild a community after natural disaster sounds like a great way to utilize network technology. When I google any topic relating to crowd-sourcing I get an endless list of websites that proclaim crowd-sourcing is the key to solve any problem! In three easy steps! Share this exciting news with your friends! But if you look deeper at the solution, you can see the spiral grow, partly because a technological fix is being used solve a non-technological problem, and partly because of the infinite number of risks.
“Well, perhaps it was a mistake to treat the Internet as a deterministic, one-directional force for either global liberation or oppression, for cosmopolitanism or xenophobia. The reality is the that the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously (29).”
I would like to emphasize the last part of this quote “the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously” and propose that this is true of all efforts for change made in the networked space, whether defined as good or bad. It is the seemingly abstract, always changing butterfly effect. Our reaction as individuals is to throw bigger, stronger more complex technology fixes at the problem, but what if the solution is smaller than that.
In his conclusion of “The Net Delusion” Morozov suggests that we, the nodes need to look further than utopian solutions and complicated technological fixes, but not look further, look in a more finite way, closer at how networks operate on a small scale. In this regard I agree with his conclusion, we need to first notice the flicker of the butterfly wing.