12/04 – Control Systems, Control Societies

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Readings: Protocol; Foucault Beyond Foucault

  1. Galloway argues that our current system of control comes from the distributed network of technology within the digital computer and the management of the digital system. We no longer have central control, rather, we have distributed control that is produced and disseminated via protocol. The qualities of TCP/IP facilitate peer-to-peer communication and make it a distributed technology in sharp contrast to DNS which is highly hierarchical and decentralized: “one protocol radically distributes control into autonomous agents, the other rigidly organizes control into a tree-like decentralized database” (53). “Protocol is a universal description language for objects. Protocol is a language that regulates flow, directs netspace, codes relationships, and connects life-forms” (74). Thus protocol not only regulates technology but also society and the body. If this is the case, then how might we intervene in this distributed system of control? How might books such as Rice’s be troubled by Galloway’s argument? Should discussion regarding technology, then, be even more political rather than apolitical?

    So, if protocol is our current form of control how can we resist it? Protocol allows nodes to connect to the network and “Only the participants can connect, and therefore, by definition, there can be no resistance to protocol (at least not in any direct or connected since)” ( 147). Since protocol is a technology of inclusion there no longer is an outside from which resistance to power can be organized: “I suggest that to live in the age of protocol requires political tactics drawn from within the protocological sphere.” (Galloway, 2004: p. 151) These political tactics are deployed by hackers, tactical media activists and Internet artists who play with protocol and pin down its flaws and limitations: “The best tactical response to protocol is not resistance but
    hypertrophy.” (Galloway, 2004: p. 244). But, so change is possible, but only within the system? Is this another matrix?

  2. Sorry, kind of a long one…

    In Foucault beyond Foucault, Nealon observes that so-called “late” capitalism operates by the logic of constant inclusion(s). Returning to the earlier mode of sovereign power, as outlined by Michel Foucault, one can observe that these modes of power are fundamentally different. Whereas control societies derive power from the inclusion of everything, continually working to harness value and labor, more traditional modes of power work to exclude; to place those with diseases, those that have committed “criminal” transgressions, and even, the poor or disadvantaged outside of the social sphere.

    Despite certain divergences, it seems that Galloway is invested in a similar understanding of power and progression. This becomes especially evident with regard for Galloway’s discussion of the mutating power structures that eventually result in the very features of digital interaction that we experience today. If Nealon’s work, as he notes himself, is to take Foucault beyond Foucault, one might read that Galloway is, quite similarly, interested in taking Gilles Deleuze’s theories beyond the grave. Although this comparison is warranted on several levels, Galloway’s text is ultimately a little less satisfying than Nealon’s. This is especially the case with consideration for Galloway’s discussion of DNS (distributed network systems). Here, as in other parts of Protocol there is room to read that Galloway is contradicting himself. Whereas he initially concludes that the, “ultimate goal of the Internet protocols is totality,” as he argues that the flexible “virtue” of the Internet encourages it to, “accept everything, no matter what source, sender, or destination,” in later observations Galloway diverges from this hypothesis. When he begins discussing DNS, the “language” of the internet, he argues that, “it governs meaning by mandating that anything meaningful must register and appear somewhere in its system.” Galloway argues that this is the very nature of protocol (Galloway 50 – emphasis mine). Perhaps, what becomes most problematic is the very language that Galloway uses to describe this process. Although one might interpret that Galloway is still affirming the existence of a particular type of inclusion, somewhat similar to what Nealon observes in his text, his use of the term “meaningful” is greatly misleading. This is to say, that one would have to read protocol as something entirely different than what Galloway initially described; one would have to understand protocol as including by means of a strange exclusion. In essence, by saying that protocol works to include that which is “meaningful”, Galloway automatically excludes everything that is not. What we have here is a description of protocol that ultimately places it within the methodological bounds of sovereign power. Though, as Nealon argues, these phases of power can and do coexist, Galloway’s later observations concerning “meaningful” inclusions seems representative of the very stages of technological interaction that he argues we have already passed; the fully centralized systems of the early digital age.

    Although I was initially tempted to disregard the severity of this moment in Galloway’s text, other sections of Protocol are equally disturbing. Namely, I’m interested in Galloway’s discussion of “net art” within the final chapters of Protocol. Here, he makes the argument that although new media subsume some of the characteristics of previous forms, there is usually something new that serves to differentiate emerging media. With the computer, following on the work of Marina Grzinic, Galloway argues that the technical glitches or inadequacies of the computer serve to differentiate it from previous media forms:

    “Following Grzinic, I suggest here that 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.”

    To any reader of Galloway’s text two important concerns should arise:

    First, this seems, again, to contradict the logic of Galloway’s original argument. If Galloway is initially interested in a system that includes everything, why does he insist that the medium of the computer/digital has to be outside of other media forms? And this brings me to my second point…Wouldn’t the more appropriate argument be to acknowledge that the computer/digital medium is actually working to be everything else as opposed to something wholly different? Isn’t the supposed advantage of the computer that it can do what everything else does from one site? I realize that the medium is different in certain ways, but I also think that when Galloway moves the computer/digital into a different place he forgets both the logic of inclusion and, to use a very Deleuzian term, the “flows” that move between everything. In a sense, the computer/digital doesn’t really work to go beyond in so much as it works to be everything; to include everything; especially capacities. On the other end of the spectrum, something that Galloway should have at least been able to acknowledge in 2003, other technologies are trying to become the computer/digital. My polemical point is that if the computer/digital becomes emblematic of the transition to “late” or “later” capitalism, and Galloway initially follows on the Deleuzian/Foucaultian thread that the forces of capitalism seek to include, than the most appropriate argument/observation would be the one that works not to place the computer and its practices somewhere else, but rather, in Foucault and Nealon’s terms, everywhere – the ubiquitous and invisible power that Nealon references in Foucault beyond Foucault. With reference to the last part, Galloway would really have to consider why maps become gps systems, why web sites still feature radio stations, and why those producing software, programs, etc. are trying to take things back to antiquity – think about the green screen Gmail that we discussed in class the other day…

    Although one may be tempted to argue, as with other texts, that the problem with Galloway’s Protocol results from the very technological developments that occurred after the publication of his text, I don’t think that this argument is really viable. It is not so much that the technologies or practices that he discusses have become obsolete as much as Galloway seems to ignore the (very sensible) logic that he promotes within the initial sections/chapters of his book.


  3. In Galloway’s Protocol, Galloway argues that protocol is the very thing which allows for simultaneous openness of organization to the internet primarily because the undercurrent of regulations for protocol are indifferent to content. To showcase this, Galloway discusses the ways websites are formatted the same way regardless of content. However, Galloway further argues that protocol is also an extreme form of control in that it restricts and normalizes all content. Thus, for Galloway, the internet is never really free. In his book Becoming Beside Ourselves: The Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being, Brain Rotman discusses the ways in which the binary alphabetic code of o and i has become manipulated by the very protocols Galloway suggests. But, for Rotman, “…the text’s opposition to pictures—its ancient iconoclastic repudiation of the image—is being reconfigured by its confrontation with the digitally produced image” (3). Therefore, for Rotman, “…the alphabet omits all the prosody or utterance and with it the multitude of bodily effects of force, significance, emotion, and affect that it conveys” (3). For Galloway, “Standardization is the politically reactionary tactic that enables radical openness.” Therefore, the internet is “a complex of interrelated currents and counter-currents,” which interact in “multiple, parallel, contradictory, and often unpredictable ways” (143). Rotman, arguing in favor of the “lettered Self” argues that western culture’s cognitive technology is reoccurringly alphabetic, resulting in an alphabetic discourse— “shaping and textualization of thought and affect, a bringing forth of a system of metaphysics and religious belief, so pervasive and total as to be—from within that very discourse—almost invisible” (2). In this sense, the alphabet as a technology is equally as restrictive as Galloway’s protocol. A fall into technesis, however, would be a body-denying move into the discourse of technology that remains an undercurrent of 20th century thinking about both the nature and materiality of technology and agency (6). For Rotman, “language is a bio-cultural given rather than a technological medium” (1). It seems, then, that technology is merely a continuation of space designed to foster hetero-normative communication and responses—fruthering the isolation of marginlaized identities.

  4. Hey, I’m presenting a book this week, so I’m taking my mulligan on this post.

  5. If Nealon’s analysis of Foucault is accurate, and our contemporary culture is marked by a penchant for resistance, then I wonder what effect this resistance-as-Norm has on pedagogies like Jeff Rice’s rhetoric of cool or even Girl Talk’s “copyright infringement” as musical breakthrough. It’s clear that Rice finds his alternative means of text construction to be pedagogically unique, but to teach solely according to Rice’s plan in most American universities would indeed be resistant to the guidelines of many English departments, just as Girl Talk’s work has caused quite a stir with the RIAA. How much deeper will this societal resistance go?

    Also, the conclusion of Galloway’s book reminded me of Silvan Tompkins’ study shame, fear, (and similar affects) and their effects on behavior according to social norms in addition to protocols. I’d be interested to see what Tompkins, Brian Massumi, and others in affect theory would have to add to Galloway’s discussion.

  6. The Luddite Returns

    Protocol is not control, Protocol is a becoming. Our bodies and minds have been invaded by Protocol. We are becoming Protocol. The rhizome of protocological growth is the growth pattern of the virus that infects our viscera. There is no escape from Protocol. The protocological rhizome is the handshake of the SYN and the ACK—we shake the hands of each other, the computers shake the hands of each other, we shake the hands of the computers, the mouse becomes our hand, “Legions of computer users live and play online with no sense of radical dislocation” (64). We live in, breathe in, and play in the rhizome, and the virus becomes us. There is no escape.

    “The goal of continuity is to make the Internet as intuitive as possible, to make the network a natural-feeling extension of the user’s own body. Thus, any mediation between the user and the network must be eliminated” (68). No mediation between man and machine, we need seamless integration of Protocol. Don’t ask questions, follow the Protocol. One big happy rhizome of SYNCHRONIZATION and ACKNOWLEDGEMENT … as long as the computer’s hand gets shaken and any dead links are eliminated.

    “This moment was further demonstrated in the summer of 1995 when the Max Planck Institute announced its success in creating a two-way communication link between a living neuron and a silicon chip” (112). The mouse is now my hand as it is guided by my mind, which is now indistinguishable from a silicon chip, or is the neuron inside the device? The communication travels both ways via Protocol so the directionality no longer matters. Control is decentralized, but it is still controlled. The hive mind sends the inputs in through the wireless router and I log on to obey the Protocol. My synapses grow along the path of the rhizome.

    Is this where we go from here? Is this the end? Can Protocol truly be explained as executable computer language, the milieu of hackers and cyber artists, or is it something a bit more sinister? “A goal of protocol is totality. It must accept everything, no matter what source, sender, or destination. It consumes diversity, aiming instead for university” (243). Is there room for an individual in the protocological universe? Or are we all tapped in to the cell phone linked, text messaged, cable modemed, totality?

    One big happy rhizome.

    I’m taking my backpack; my beer, wine and cheese-making equipment; and my compost pile, and I’m moving to the woods. You can keep your Protocols.

  7. Tonight I was watching John Stewart’s show and caught his interview with Adriana Huffington (promoting The Huffington Post’s new book about blogging). Prior to taping, Huffington apparently asked Stewart when he would blog for her site, to which he replied, “When would I have time? I have a tv show.” The question Stewart posed was, “When does the need [to blog] become pathological?” to which Huffington responded by saying, “I bet you have more thoughts than what you use on the show.” Huffington’s emphasis about blogging focused on issues of time (you lost a job, you have time to blog – for those facing the economic crisis) and the immediate need to share your thoughts, but virtually. This conversation between Stewart and Huffington raises some of Nealon’s observations about control society, such as, “At the end of the Foucaultian day, the danger and productivity of norms lies not in their proclivity to exclude people or practices, but rather in their intense and insatiable desire to include, to account for, virtually everything” (50). This need to account for everything echoes Huffington’s quip to Stewart about sharing all of his thoughts, not just the thoughts that are focused and showcased for his show. Ultimately, as Nealon suggests, “as far as discipline is concerned, efficiency is not, in other words, simply a question of working on the body or the will of the individual, but of positively developing and harvesting capacities, ever-more-minute amounts or levels of time” (36). So, my questions for this week concern clarification on ways of conceptualizing discipline in control society and what this discipline that we’ve become accustomed to, such as checking our email at midnight, looks like in Foucaultian terms when examining the productivity and danger of norms? Also, if we could discuss the last section about enactment and performativity of power, as opposed to empowerment, it would help me think through some issues for my seminar project.

  8. Sorry, I meant Arianna Huffington, not Adriana — that’s one of my students! (end-of-the-semester-synapses falling apart…)

  9. In Protocol, Alexander Galloway argues that the founding principles of the Internet is control and not freedom. OK, I get it, but don’t we need both? We need control on the net so that belongs to the golden arches and not the McDonald family of Arkansas. However, we also need the freedom for the McDonald family to post photos and write blogs. However, when will the laws be created so that the first amendment of someone’s write to publish is balanced with laws that are needed to keep our children safe from predators? One specific incident is the stupid Myspace mom who cyber bullied a daughter’s rival to commit suicide. When will those laws be written?
    As to Jeffrey Nealon’s Foucault Beyond Foucault I was drawn to the comments early in the text where the Bush-Gore election of 2000 didn’t really matter because the “nation-state was yesterday’s news and corporations were bound to run the world.” (3) This power change then shifted back to the nation-state after 9-11. Signs of national control over corporations were recently evident when the government said NO to the Big 3 request for $25 billion so close on the heals of banks being given $750 billion. I was then taken to Foucault’s theoretical question posed during the final pages of the first chapter: what does it cost? My thoughts returned to: What will it cost for the government to fund this bailout? We know the number—some astronomical billions that we cannot fully grasp—but what is the cost to my family if the loan is given to GM? Financially our stock portfolio might look a little better and my brothers (who are both White Collar GM employees) might still have a job. However, GM announced if even if it receives the loan, there will be 30,000 more jobs cut, dealers will be reduced, product line eliminated—so even if it receives the money, the financial costs are detrimental to our area. However, what would be the cost if the loan is not awarded?

  10. Protocol Questions

    • In the chapter entitled Hacking, Andrew Rice was quoted about the view of the hacker and his/her failure to recognize “private information property” of digitalized information. This makes me consider the deprivatization of information through the blog and other methods of entering private information into vulnerable sites (those accessible to others – in some fashion). If we are to take the position of the hacker and the private nature of personal information is becoming less and less private due to the very nature of the digital world (for the world of the digital revolves around “processing, copying, replication, and simulation” – pg 170), does this idea mean that the very nature of individual ideas and thought is to change as well? If things in the public sphere loose the private ownership of idea, does plagiarism become an ancient and defunct practice?

    • In reference to the conflicting diagrams of power and control, the author says that terror cells serve a different purpose than the oppressive regimes of the past. How are these not oppressive regimes? If they are serving to oppress individuals and amass power, although in practice different, wouldn’t it be best to look at them as similar bodies? I realize that terror cells are structurally different than a centralized governing body – but they do the same thing. I do not believe that those positioning for power are essentially different. They get similar results.

    Foucault on Foucault

    Power seems to take on a life of its own through this text. It develops a sentient nature and ability to critically examine its role and manipulates its position. It seems to be the ruler of mankind – a subversive and evil force that ensnares man – using us as pawns in a universal chess game.

    I think it is interesting that Power (with the capital P) isn’t introduced until the very end as a concept. My questions have to do with the resistance to this Power. Power is all encompassing – and becomes more and more an ingrained part of our lives than ever before as it becomes less and less an obviously visible structure. If Foucault is trying to get us to resist Power, how can this be done effectively by a people whose lives are so entangled within the confines of the Power structure that they cease to see it? How can people resist a system of capitalism that plays so deeply into the private world? If all personal is public – how can we resist? If we were to move into seclusion in order to resist, doesn’t Power win through the silencing of man?

  11. Alla y’all who want to relive my YouTube glory can link here

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