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The Inevitable Virus

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A virus is not a virus. At least in the way we have previously described the characteristics of a computer virus compared to that of a biological virus. In “The Spam Book” by Jussie Parikka and Tony Sampson the characteristics of a computer virus living in the networked spaced are analyzed, which leads to a greater understanding of how contagion spreads and ultimately, how the Internet space functions as a whole. Because of the analogies placed around computer viruses as similar to biological entities of the same name, we assume a negative connotation, but that may not be the case,as a virus challenges systems to evolve.

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.

Written by HiuHiMedia

October 3, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Technology

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Technological Butterfly Effect

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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.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 6, 2011 at 5:43 am

Posted in Technology

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Blown to Bits

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“The truth of the matter is that as a society, we don’t really know how to deal with these consequences of the digital explosion.”
-Blown to Bits
The digital explosion challenges our definition of the individual. Why? Because the digital explosion manifests everywhere, all the time, and it hasn’t stopped yet. in their book, “Blown to Bits”, Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis discuss how we are in the middle stages of the formation of the digital revolution and we have no idea what the final shape will look like, nor do we understand our place as individuals or communities within the new framework. We are all acting as information consumers and producers shifting, morphing into each other’s roles with no clear guidelines of how to interact in the new world.
A large portion of “Blown to Bits” focuses on privacy. Personal privacy has shifted drastically in the name of convenience and accessibility. People are willing to give away their information for a small benefit with little concern regarding the distribution, theft, and exploitation of said information. We have an awareness that we should guard against security breaches, but we are slow in taking the necessary steps for protection. For example, how many of us actually read through the terms and conditions when we sign up for an online account?
Ignoring our right to privacy puts the individual in a vulnerable position, not just for those who are willing and able to exploit for illegal purposes, but for those who want to know more about us. The individual is  blind to how their actions are monitored. The structure of the internet allows for seemingly endless amounts of storage and what better way to utilize that storage than keeping track of how consumers think? Performing a simple web search can provide a profile of your interests and needs, “the search tools that help us find needles in the digital haystack have become the lenses through which we view the digital landscape. Businesses and governments use them to distort our picture of reality (110).”
So in essence, a search is not just a search, it is a powerful form of control. You are being led through the mire, shaped by an algorithm designed to nudge you in a certain direction. “Every communication technology has been used to control, as well as to facility, the flow of ideas (237).” Freedom, even on the internet, is not free because you have valuable time and consumer dollars to spend and someone out there knows better than you how to spend it.
Most of the time we willingly ride along with the flow of information, unaware of the control cogs working in the background, but what happens when we feel “freedom” on the internet has gone too far by threatening our right to privacy? The threat often causes a reactionary response, a public outcry that leads the charge to set strict regulations to protect the privacy rights of the individual. The problem that legislators have come up against when trying to determine protections is that stricter regulations mean inhibiting the flow of communication.
Let’s stop the loss of privacy by shutting down the internet!
Unfortunately, we cannot control how our private information is exposed by restricting technology.  We have to acknowledge the social component of the issue, which in this case is our willingness as individuals to give up our freedom for convenience. Designing better controls and safeguards, strengthen policing, and reassuring a frightened public is fruitless because all that electronic privacy and information is just a cloud of bits. We need to confront the perception of personal privacy. “What will replace that if the concept of personal identity becomes meaningless?” Will the very notions of privacy and identity be destroyed in the explosion? (297)”
In “Blown to Bits we see the internet is still exploding, privacy boundaries will continue to be breached, a person’s fingerprints will be mapped across the internet. It is meaningless to try to control the sharing of electronic information in this developing world. The idea of individual of privacy is a construct, a myth, so you might as well stop the resistance and go with the flow.

Written by HiuHiMedia

January 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Share and Share Alike

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My dad introduced me to the prospect of music sharing via the internet. Growing up, we didn’t have such things as cable TV, a dishwasher, or electric heat, but we did have a Micron computer with dial-up internet access. Dad had accounts for Napster and Kazzaa and was constantly downloading his precious blues and jazz albums.

I never thought that what he was doing was illegal, he was a lawyer after all, and he downloaded music from others but uploaded his own rare albums to share. What drove me and my brother nuts was that his downloading and uploading took all of the bandwidth, causing our computer to clunk along as we tried to play Sim City 3000.

I too joined the underground opium den of downloading music and movies, but I waited until college where I had a faster connection speed. But I didn’t just download from torrent sites. I began uploading my own photographs on Flickr, I wrote my brilliant musings on a blog, I joined message boards for help with my classes, and had my very own Myspace page where I shared my hopes, dreams, and favorite memes with the whole world.

This was all sharing. Sharing of ideas, information, and art most of it legal, but some of it was considered illegal because of intellectual property laws. It was shocking to me to read Information Feudalism and understand how the production and protection of intellectual property consumes our society, always ticking away in the background while average citizens are completely oblivious.

To pick one topic to rail against the machine, The Man, of the knowledge game is impossible, it all just makes me furious. Our basic human rights are being haggled over and manipulated by multinational companies who use modern cartels and monopolies to control the system while the people are completely blind and powerless to stop it.

But are we?

We are not powerless. the authors of Information Feudalism suggest that a negotiating process of democratic bargaining will ease the tension between intellectual property importers and exporters.

“First, all relevant interests have to be represented in the negotiating process (the condition of representation)…Second, all those involved in the negotiation must have full information about the consequences of various possible outcomes (the condition of full information). Third, one party must not coerce the others (the condition of nondomination) (Darhos 14).”

Darhos later adds a fourth condition of deliberation, these conditions seem plausible only on larger scale negotiations between countries, but never fear individual, you also have power to wield.

The internet.

The internet is (mostly) free, shared knowledge. It is uncontrollable, unreachable by the hands of patent lawyers and CEO’s. The more corporations or governments try to control the flow of that knowledge, the more elaborate and creative ways will be created to go around those protocols.  The internet allows individuals to share, collaborate and create without limits, and if you don’t like something, you can unplug from the network. Our generation has grown up understanding and use the power every day. It shapes the way we see ourselves and the world, and no amount of lawsuits, lobbying, or threatening letters from my internet provider will change that.

Written by HiuHiMedia

October 20, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The New Medium of Writing

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For the purposes of this post I will call myself a writer. I have always loved tellings stories and majored in creative writing in college. The method I use as a writer is to create a story from photographic images archived in my mind. I have to pick the right photographs that best represent scene, character, action, climax, diamante and then translate those photographs from mental images to 2D written words on a page. I’ve tried hundreds of times to arrange the words just right; pouring over my worn thesaurus, adjusting and readjusting meter and tone. I cut paragraphs, characters and plot until the piece becomes as over-processed mess.

Sometimes that mess is published and I’m shocked, shocked! that people enjoy, even praise my work. Taking classes in creative writing was supposed to help soften the blow of critique, but workshops make me crave critical eyes. I want those glaring red slashes and question marks. I must be some kind of masochist because I beg to be exposed for a fraud disguised as an aspiring writer. Or maybe I’m not a fraud. Maybe the problem is that translating imagination into print is a difficult, if not impossible task.

Reading Hayles’ Material Metaphors article made me think about the print medium’s meaning in literary studies. As a writer and book-lover, I have to admit that before reading this article my view was that of a purist. I love having a hardbound copy of book in my hands, its weight and musty smell are old friends. I love the thrill of entering a physical bookstore, all those copies of books ready to be enjoyed. I refuse to own a Kindle because I am afraid an electronic book reader threatens the connection I have with the book, and therefore the ideas captured in print within the book. I have a difficult time separating the medium from the message, so to speak.

Hayles believes that the concerns I feel can be alleviated if I embrace materiality, where technology and the mind intersect into a more fully encompassed medium. Materiality that “emerges fromt the dynamic interplay between the richness of a physically robust world and human intelligence as it crafts this physicality to create meaning” sounds like what I’ve been looking for as a writer; a way to project my mental pictures to the reader in a new, more effective way. I love print but I feel stifled as text alone cannot convey the rich, meaningful landscape in my mind. The promise that materiality won’t eliminate print, but will add to the reader’s experience of the text is intriguing. What kind of digital possibilities beyond hyperlinks and embedded content could there be to convey a 3D story?  What might this technotext look like? Will it be so effective that the book will become outdated, and eventually die off?  These are questions I don’t have answers for, but I am open to looking at my own writing and at literary studies from a different perspective. In fact, I find the possibilities as exciting as sitting down to craft a new story.

Written by HiuHiMedia

October 6, 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in Technology

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Techno Burgers

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I’m sitting on my couch watching TV, not feeling the least bit hungry when a commercial hawking the biggest, juiciest, most perfectly staged hamburger I’ve ever seen flashes across the screen. Suddenly my stomach grumbles, my mouth waters, and my eyes grow in proportion to the cheesy burger. Growing, grumbling, growing, grumbling until I just can’t take it anymore. My brain hears my gastromic orchestrations and says, “Hey stomach, that restaurant is just down the street. It would be so easy to get in your car and  buy a burger to ease your pain” and my stomach agrees: Must. Have. Burger.

Somehow, 5 minutes later, I find myself in the drive-thru, ordering a 2,000-calorie burger I didn’t know I wanted, But I feel in control. This burger was my decision and darn it I went out and got it. Victory is mine!

This scenario has happened to me (more than once) and I’m willing to bet it’s happened to you (unless you have self-control, which I lack). But how does an impulsive burger run have anything to do with technology?

My desire for a burger began with technology. I was watching TV and advertisers spend billions of dollars to make sure that their product gets into my psyche and stays put. TV happens to be the medium to best reach me during my hour of weakness. And they don’t just target me as an individual, they target the collective of people who watch my TV show, read my favorite magazine, or visit my preferred online shopping site.

But it’s not solely the advertiser. I, the individual, look for the fastest shopping experience, most streamlined method of communication, and the one product that will make my life easier. Why? Because I want to enjoy all the extra time technology promises. I can stream Netflix from my computer or text Grandma instead of enduring a 3-hour phone update. Look at all the extra time I have! Isn’t technology amazing?

Yes, it is amazing. It also threatens the idea of the autonomous individual. We all use technology all the time, and we all want the newest and greatest. The idea of “The American Dream” comes to mind, complete with ipads for the entire family. It sounds ridiculous to go against technology when it is so accessible and convenient, and yet my parents refuse to buy a cell phone on principle.

Herbert Marcuse discusses how the new, mechanized system of labor, fueled by technological advancements, supports a collective standardization and collective achievement, thereby replacing an individualist, predominantly agrarian labor structure.

Does this mean that Individuality is dead?

We are all cogs in the big machine, consuming, producing, with the same voice and the same desires, but then again, maybe not. Marcuse defends that individuality isn’t dead; it just becomes unnecessary in large-scale industry and mass culture structures. The individual within each of us fights against the idea of being one of the lemmings, part of a collective that is easily swayed by structures created for mass control. But when we allow technology to streamline our daily tasks, we allow more time for other pursuits.

“Moreover, mechanization an standardization may one day help to shift the center of gravity from the necessities of material production to the arena of free human realization. The less individuality is required to assert itself in standardized social performances, the more it could retreat to a free ‘natural’ ground.”

If technology made my crave the hamburger so much I had to buy it, you could say I was now free. I didn’t have to spend time thinking about what I wanted to eat, I didn’t have to grow the ingredients, butcher the cow, or prepare the meal. I have an instant hamburger, a burger that has been served over a billion times, but its homogeny has possibility. I could cut it in little bits and pass it out to all my friends so they could share my experience. I could add some guacamole and jalapenos for a new flavor combination, or I could use the hamburger a inspiration for my next work of art.  The hamburger potentials are endless, and dare I say transcendent, all because I am free to get creative.

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 1, 2010 at 3:12 am