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Digital Contagions

A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses

Series:

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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Preface (Sean Cubitt)

Extract

preface Sean Cubitt There is a disturbing etymological puzzle underlying the title. “Contagion” appears to be a late fourteenth-century coinage, appearing in the wake of the Black Death in mediaeval French and Middle English, from the Latin roots “con,” meaning “with,” and “tangere,” the active verb “to touch.” The puzzle comes from another word we associate at least equally closely with electronic media, “contact.” Here the root words are the same, with the only exception that “contact” comes from the passive form “tactum,” “to be touched.” Oddly, most people probably feel positive connotations about “contact,” but negative connotations from “contagion.” We have had six hundred years to develop these connotations, and yet there remains a nub of their origins: the contagious principle of something coming to touch us or to touch us together is more sub- jective than the principle of contact, where any two things could be brought together. The usefulness of the electrical contact as a major metaphor, dating back through early electrical experiments and familiar from the literature of the pioneering days of motoring and aviation, gives it both a certain objectiv- ity and a sense of familiarity that we bring into the realm of communicative contact. Not so contagion, even though it is very close, at least etymologically. The spark that leaps across the spark plug or the telegraphist’s key has given us a metaphor of life since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and in that x digital contagions same moment opened up the contact to contagion, a...

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