Alexander R. Galloway's Position Paper
I'm interested in an event. The event itself goes by many names and is described in different ways by
different kinds of thinkers. In the work of Martin Heidegger it is called the end of philosophy; others
use the name the end of history; in science it is called cybernetics, or ecology, or systems theory; in
economics it is called postfordism; in industry it is called computer networking; in philosophy some
say it goes simply by the name of Gilles Deleuze. In general we can call this event the emergence of the
networked form of mediation.
It is common to talk about networks in terms of equality, that networks bring a sense of
evenhandedness to affairs. It is common to say that networks consist of relationships between peers,
and that networks standardize and homogenize these relationships. It is not important to say that such
characterizations are false, but rather to suggest that they obscure the reality of the situation. Networks
only exist in situations of asymmetry or incongruity. If not no network would be necessary--
symmetrical pairs can “communicate,” but asymmetrical pairs must “network.” So in addressing the
question “What can a network do?” it is important to look at what it means to be in a relationship of
asymmetry, to be in a relationship of inequality, or a relationship of antagonism. I think the most
important place where asymmetry, antagonism and inequality have been thought through is in political
and social theory, particularly in military theory. This is because military theory is one of the key places
in which the pure energy of antagonism has been explored via the theme of the asymmetrical threat. It
comes by many names. Sometimes the asymmetrical threat is called the insurgent, the partisan, the
irregular, sometimes a riot, a crowd, sometimes it's called a popular rebellion, or a guerrilla force.
These are some of the many synonyms for the networked form of antagonism. It is why today
whenever you hear of terrorists you hear of “terrorists networks.”
What is network politics? What can a network do? There is a common way of answering this question:
networks can bring down governments; networks can build new empires out of the ashes of the old;
networks can use connectivity itself to propagate quickly into new spaces; networks are the masters of
both center and perimeter; networks can use the “long tail” to counterbalance spikes of high intensity;
networks are also often described as “out of control,” that they tend to neuter the effects of traditional
power centers; in short that networks and hierarchies are always in opposition to one another, even as
new networked sovereigns appear on the scene. But I will not answer the question in precisely this
Instead I'll answer the question using a concept from computer science: protocol, and in particular the
Internet protocols. I've spent some time reading through the Internet protocols and have tried to analyze
them not simply from a technical perspective, but rather to ask what are the principles of organization
that are embedded inside this technical system? This would require a very long answer. So instead,
allow me to summarize some of the results of this analysis. These then are some of the virtues of the
kinds of systems that are governed by protocol.
The first is that the Internet protocols allow for inter-operation between computers. Protocol’s virtues
include robustness, contingency, inter-operability, flexibility, and heterogeneity. The so-called
“Robustness Principle,” which comes from RFC 761 on the transmission control protocol (TCP), one
of the most important political principles of distributed networks, is stated as follows: “Be conservative
in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.” This is called the Robustness Principle
because if a technical system is liberal in what it accepts and conservative in what it does the technical
system will be more robust over time. (But of course wouldn't it ultimately make more sense to relabel
this the Imperial Principle? Or even the Neoliberal Principle?) This indicates a second virtue of
protocol: totality. As the Robustness Principle states, one must accept everything, no matter what
source, sender, or destination. Because of this I want to say that protocol or a system that uses protocols
is a system of distributed management that facilitates peer-to-peer relationships between autonomous
entities. And because of these virtues and these qualities and owing to the global adoption of the
protocols, we can say that the Internet is the mostly highly organized mass media hitherto known.
Finally, the last point by way of summarizing what protocols are and how they work is that as a logic of
organization, the Internet protocols operate largely outside the two spheres most commonly identified
when talking about power and control, which are the state (the world of law, the juridical world) and
the commercial or corporate sector. Yes of course, members of industry participate in the drafting of
protocols, and legal forces influence how technology develops, this is clear, but nevertheless viewed as
a technical infrastructure, the protocols are largely outside these other two spheres. Hence my
suggestion that we require a method of analysis unique to protocol itself. Through this we can begin to
answer the question of network politics.
By joss.hands at 10/02/2010 - 18:05 Alexander R. Galloway's Position Paper Login or register to post comments
In response to Alexander Galloway's Positions Paper
by Shintaro Miyazaki, independent PhD Researcher, Humboldt University Berlin
Alexander R. Galloway's position paper inspired and confirmed some of my key concerns regarding epistemological insights of networks today. Mainly two aspects come into question: Firstly the media theoretical establishment and introduction of the protocol into critical media studies and secondly his interest in the event. Both aspects lead to my notion of algorhythm, which is a wordplay, which takes its potential as a new media archeological concept seriously. Algorhythm is the combination of the word algorithm with rhythm.
,Protocol' is a very versatile notion regarding its potential for mediating between politics, technical conventions and non-human actants and assemblages. Nevertheless it doesn't look deep enough into aspects of time, which I think become more and more important, when studying the epistemology of networks. Following the media archeological methods of Wolfgang Ernst (Humboldt University Berlin) and his interest into time-critical media operations, I developed my notion of algorhythm, which would also re-enforce Galloway's emphasis on the event. Algorhythm is trying to understand enhanced media technologies from a sonic, sometimes even musical perspective, which means that I am interested in temporal structures of networks. Rhythms are full of little events. Additionally in ,,Protocols'' Galloway equals protocol with algorithm, which confirmed my analysis of the ethernet protocol as an algorhythmic structure. Thus what we need is a new way of "understanding materiality not based on a substance or a form, but as a temporal variation of affective assemblages" (Jussi Parikka in "Politics of Swarms"). Temporal variation - in my opinion - is an important feature of rhythms.
The first and easiest method to hear "algorhythms" of a network - in my study case the Ethernet - is, when you merely hook up one pair of the 10Base-T cable into a audio mixing device with preamplifiers and adjust the volume to a certain level, that you can hear, when there is transmission activity between two computers, a stream of sounds similar to a geiger counter. If we inspect the structure of the transmitted data packets (also called frames), which means that we need to measure, digitalize and record the electric signals in the ethernet-cable fluctuating between -2.5 Volt and +2.5 Volt, with a ultra-fast digital-analog converter, we will find on a macroscopic level, rhythmic sequences of little ultra-short high-bandwidth bursts, which have a very high pitch. You can listen to the examples online. Details can be read in my draft version of a forthcoming article, "Hidden AlgoRHYTHMS Everywhere".
The notion of an algorhythm can also be connected to the Deleuzian concept of assemblages/ agencies. In their pragmatics Deleuze & Guattari propose a method, which starts with making copies, then drawing maps/ cartographies, think about the abstract machines and creating the diagrams and finally sketching and conceptualizing the programs of the assemblages, which make effects, movements and actions out of those assemblages (On Several Regimes of Signs, A Thousand Plateaus.)
I would place emphasis here on the programs, therefore on the algorithms and protocols, which control the rhythm of our network transmissions. Algorhythms act therefore as hidden control structures, in which power relations are implemented and which also act as power controlling or enabling mechanisms as all forms of media operations do.
The notion of algorhythm is able to show more precisely the media archeological hidden structures of networks than the term "protocol", because it points at materialistic, effective and affective temporal structures of micrological processes, which we cannot perceive as they get more and more ,calm'. Networked and ubiquitous "calm" technologies are made calm with the intention to hide important epistemic things (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things), their assemblage and effectivity in order to create the illusion of magic. The ethics of media archaeology are the exact opposite: Dig intellectually as deeply as possible into the material (spatiality) and rhythms (temporality) of media technology, which store, transmit and calculate information and emotion: Mining and auscultation.
contact: miyazaki DOT shintaro AT gmail DOT com
By Shintaro Miyazaki at 09/05/2010 - 12:20 Login or register to post comments