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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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Section III: Life: Viral Ecologies

Extract

· I I I · life Viral Ecologies This ability to reproduce is, of course, the most important and distinctive feature of viruses. For the first time in the history of technology, mankind has created an artifi- cial device that is capable of reproducing itself and, without further human interven- tion, pursue a course of action than can cause harm, even if the original programmer had no such intention.1 —John McAfee and Colin Haynes (1989) At the center of these problems one finds that of error. For, at the most basic level of life, the processes of coding and decoding give way to a chance occurrence that, before becoming a disease, a deficiency, or a monstrosity, is something like a distur- bance in the informative system, something like a “mistake.” In this sense, life—and this is its radical feature—is that which is capable of error. And perhaps it is this datum or rather this contingency which must be asked to account for the fact that the question of anomaly permeates the whole of biology. And it must also be asked to account for the mutations and evolutive processes to which they lead.2 —Michel Foucault (1985) Prologue: The Life of Information The media archaeological roots of self-reproducing technology and the fear of technological automata reach much further back in time than has been 174 digital contagions suggested earlier. The interesting thing is how certain themes come to dom- inate both the biological and the technological focus. As the epigraph from Foucault...

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