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Digital Contagions

A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses, Second Edition


Jussi Parikka

Now in its second edition, Digital Contagions is the first book to offer a comprehensive and critical analysis of the culture and history of the computer virus.
At a time when our networks arguably feel more insecure than ever, the book provides an overview of how our fears about networks are part of a more complex story of the development of digital culture. It writes a media archaeology of computer and network accidents that are endemic to the computational media ecology. Viruses, worms, and other software objects are not seen merely from the perspective of anti-virus research or practical security concerns, but as cultural and historical expressions that traverse a non-linear field from fiction to technical media, from net art to politics of software.
Mapping the anomalies of network culture from the angles of security concerns, the biopolitics of computer systems, and the aspirations for artificial life in software, this second edition also pays attention to the emergence of recent issues of cybersecurity and new forms of digital insecurity. A new preface by Sean Cubitt is also provided.


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Acknowledgments vii Preface ix Sean Cubitt Introduction: The General Accident of Digital Network Culture xiii Disease and Technology xiii Media Theory Meets Computer Technology: Definitions, Concepts, and Sources xxiv Eventualization xxix Section I: Fear Secured: From Bugs to Worms 1 Prologue: On Order and Cleanliness 2 Security in the Mainframe Era: From Creepers to Core Wars 8 The Shift in Safety: The 1980s 21 Fred Cohen and the Computer Virus Risk 33 The Morris Worm: A Media Virus 45 Viruses and The Antidotes: Coming to the 1990s 55 Viral Capitalism and the Security Services 65 vi digital contagions Section II: Body: Biopolitics of Digital Systems 91 Prologue: How Are Bodies Formed? 91 Diagrams of Contagion 98 The Order-Word of AIDS 108 Excursus: Faciality 114 Digital Immunology 117 The Care of the Self: Responsible Computing 129 The Psyche of the Virus Writer: Irresponsible Vandalism? 140 Intermezzo: Viral Philosophy 165 Section III: Life: Viral Ecologies 173 Prologue: The Life of Information 173 The Benevolent Viral Machine 181 Cellular Automata and Simulated Ecologies 189 Organisms of Distributed Networks 202 Ecologies of Complexity and Networking 217 Coupling and Media Ecology 229 Afterword: An Accident Hard, Soft, Institutionalized 247 Appendix: A Timeline of Computer Viruses and the Viral Assemblage 257 Bibliography 265 Index 289

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