I recently had an article published through CTheory, one of the world’s leading journals of theory, technology, and culture. The article is titled “Moving Across the Internet: Code-Bodies, Code-Corpses, and Network Architecture.” The article emerged from a presentation I gave at last year’s Critical Digital Studies Workshop that was titled “Moving Online: Your Packets, Your ISP, Your Identity.”
Across the Internet, an arms race between agents supporting and opposing network-based surveillance techniques has quietly unfolded over the past two decades. Whereas the 1990s might be characterized as hosting the first round of the encryption wars, this paper focuses on the contemporary battlescape. Specifically, I consider how ISPs “secure” and “manage” their digital networks using contemporary DPI appliances and the ramifications that these appliances may have on the development, and our understanding, of the code-body. DPI networking appliances operate as surveillance devices that render the digital subject constituted by data packets bare to heuristic analyses, but, despite the ingenuity of these devices, some encryption techniques successfully harden otherwise soft digital flesh and render it opaque. Drawing on Kant and Derrida, I suggest that ISPs’ understanding of the Internet as one of packets arguably corresponds with a Kantian notion of reality-as-such and offers a limited and problematic conception of the code-body. Turning to Derrida, we move beyond protocol alone to consider the specters that are always before, and always after, the code-body; Derrida provides a way of thinking beyond Kantian conceptions of space and time and the reality-as-such code-body and lets us consider the holistic identity of the code-being. Further, Derrida lets us interrogate the nature of DPI networking appliances and see that they resemble thrashing zombie-like code-corpses that always try, but perpetually fail, to become fully self-animated. While Derridean insights suggest that ISPs are unlikely to be successful in wholly understanding or shaping code-bodies, these corporate juggernauts do incite identity transformations that are inculcated in cauldrons of risk and fear. Not even Derridean specters can prevent the rending of digital flesh or act as a total antidote to ISPs’ shaping of consumers’ packet-based bodily identity.