||Thursday, September 02, 2004
|Deconstructing Internet Protocols. I thought *I* was pushing the interdisciplinary
envelope pretty far, but someone else seems to be *way* out there. Alexander R.
Galloway, Assistant Professor of Media Ecology at New York University (my law
school alma mater), has recently written a book called Protocol,
which appears to apply critical
theory (a descendent of deconstruction a la Derrida) to Internet
Protocols! Here is the book's blurb:
Is the Internet a
vast arena of unrestricted communication and freely exchanged information or a
regulated, highly structured virtual bureaucracy? In Protocol, Alexander
Galloway argues that the founding principle of the Net is control, not
freedom, and that the controlling power lies in the technical protocols that
make network connections (and disconnections) possible. He does this by
treating the computer as a textual medium that is based on a technological
language, code. Code, he argues, can be subject to the same kind of cultural
and literary analysis as any natural language; computer languages have their
own syntax, grammar, communities, and cultures. Instead of relying on
established theoretical approaches, Galloway finds a new way to write about
digital media, drawing on his backgrounds in computer programming and critical
theory. "Discipline-hopping is a necessity when it comes to complicated
socio-technical topics like protocol," he writes in the preface.
Galloway begins by examining the types of protocols that exist, including
TCP/IP, DNS, and HTML. He then looks at examples of resistance and subversion
-- hackers, viruses, cyberfeminism, Internet art -- which he views as
emblematic of the larger transformations now taking place within digital
culture. Written for a nontechnical audience, Protocol serves as a necessary
counterpoint to the wildly utopian visions of the Net that were so widespread
in earlier days.
It seems somewhat related to Code
and Other Laws of Cyberspace by Lawrence Lessig, which according to
reviews I've read, has a thesis that plays on the dual meaning of code as
computer software and code as a body of law. We'll see.
I found Alexander's home page, which has
links to several essays, including an essay with the same title as the book. I
liked it so much, I emailed him at NYU to see if we might collaborate on
© Copyright 2006 Nicholas Gall.