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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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Introduction: The General Accident of Digital Network Culture


introduction The General Accident of Digital Network Culture As usual, everything negative remains untold, yet it is, interestingly enough, always there, in an embryonic form. How is it possible to state that technologies are being developed, without any attempt being made at learning about the very specific acci- dents that go with them?1 —Paul Virilio (1999) Any information system of sufficient complexity will inevitably become infected with viruses: viruses generated from within itself.2 —Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992) Disease and Technology The history of media and technology is a history of accidents. Things break down almost as often as they actually do what they are supposed to do. We fantasize about machines of ultimate communication and functionality, but the reality is different and goes back to a variety of technologies of movement, communications, and transmission. The train introduced the train accident, with the boat came the boating accident, and inherent in several techniques of data storage, such as papyrus, paper, and film, is the always present pos- sibility of the erasure of information.3 Media are always embodied, and this xiv digital contagions embodiment is always related to the rather simple physics; things decay and rot; any communication medium is vulnerable to passing of time as much as the speed that might bring about a crash. One could, indeed, write a whole shadow history of technology through how it does not work; how it breaks down; how it frustrates and messes things up; how it disappoints and does not meet...

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