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.
Link to article.
We live in a society where there is a strong desire to commoditize everything – water, energy, pollution, and each packet of data that is passed along digital networks. This desire comes from a position that (at least in part) holds that by giving everything a value, by associating costs with the degradation or poor management of commodities, it becomes possible for society to operate more ‘efficiently’. This is the great myth of capitalistic societies; that the deregulation of social goods provides a means to maximally divide wealth, opportunity, and power across the society. In Canada it is NAFTA, and its associated market pressures, that have been largely responsible for the deregulation of social programs and Crown Corporations that were previously responsible for providing core services to Canadians. We now see the specter of similar efficiencies mobilizing to ensure that bandwidth is distributed more efficiently, that people pay proportionate fees for the bandwidth and the actions they use that bandwidth for. In the process, private corporations will limit the possibilities of the Internet – they will stifle innovation by militating how their networks can be used and, as a result, inhibit development that can unexpectedly occur at each bend of these digital highways.
The Notion of Commons
It is possible that you’re not entirely familiar with the notion of the Commons, save for having heard in news reports of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, without any real guidance as to what the catchphrase means. To put it quickly, the Commons identifies all places, spaces, items, and products that belong to society at large rather than to any particular individual. This can be better explained by turning to town squares and roads. In the case of town squares, they operate as public space that is available to any and all members of the public to use. Because there is a greater advantage to having those spaces available to a large number of people than if there were not they continue to remain in public hands. By having squares as a public space it is possible to hold various town functions, rallies, readings, and other social events, whereas if they were privately owned the these goods would not have a space where they could be grown, potentially stunting the growth of the community’s identity.
There has been a sustained argument across the ‘net and in traditional circles, that privacy is being redefined before our very eyes. Oftentimes, we see how a word transforms by studying its etymology – this is helpful in understanding the basis of the words that we utter. What do we do, however, when we work to redefine not just a word’s definition (such as what the term ‘cool’ refers to) but its normative horizons?
In redefining the work ‘privacy’ to account for how people are empirically protecting their privacy, are we redefining the word, or the normative horizon that it captures? Moreover, can we genuinely assume that the term’s normative guide is changing simply because of recent rapid changes in technology increase the difficulty in exercising our right to privacy in digitized environments? To argue that these normative boundaries are shifting largely because of how digital networks have been programmed presupposes that the networks cannot be designed in any other way, that digital content will flow as it does now the same way that gravity acts on our physical bodies as it presently does. The difficulty in maintaining such an analogy is that it assumes that there are natural laws to an immanent programming languages that structure how we can participate in digital environments.