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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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Section I: Fear Secured: From Bugs to Worms


· I · fear secured From Bugs to Worms Society is becoming increasingly dependent on the accurate and timely distribution of information. As this dependency increases we become more vulnerable on the technology used to process and distribute information (…) This is particularly true for what are sometimes called infrastructural industries—banking, the telephone sys- tem, power generation and distribution, airline scheduling and maintenance, and securities and commodities exchanges. Such industries rely on computers and build much security into their systems so that they are reliable and dependable.1 —Information Security Handbook (1991) —Do you remember the VIRUS program? —Vaguely. Wasn’t it some kind of computer disease or malfunction? —Disease is closer. There was a science-fiction writer once who wrote a story about it—but the thing had been around a long time before that. It was a program that— well, you know what a virus is, don’t you? It’s pure DNA, a piece of renegade genetic information. It infects a normal cell and forces it to produce more viruses—viral DNA chains—instead of its normal protein. Well, the VIRUS program does the same thing. —Huh?2 —David Gerrold: When HARLIE Was One (1972) 2 digital contagions Prologue: On Order and Cleanliness Is there anything more civilized than being clean? Tidied up, smart, without a stain or sign of aberrant smudge, without a sign of disorder and disease. It’s where the cultural and the psychological seem to meet—or witness that they were never separate anyway. Sigmund Freud’s text on cleanliness and culture...

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