tb on Thu, 8 May 1997 14:47:54 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> poli/para1

Thomas Bass

The intention of this essay is to adopt the perspective of parasitism
and to consider how this strategy can be utilized to reap a maximum of
autonomy from the media hierarchies and their associated structures.
However, this essay takes primaryissue with the internet and the
infrastructure that allows it to operate as a multimedia entity, for
the parasite views this domain as its habitat as well as its host.
Part 1 discusses political and economic factors important to the
parasite's rationalization of its tactics.  Part 2 considers
technological factors that have contributed to the net's development
as a domain viable enough for the parasite to survive. Part 3 focuses
on the parasite and its infectious qualities.  All of these elements
are vital to the internet's functioning as not only a functional
medium for communication but also as a dysfunctional medium for

1.  Digits,  Demigods and Demographics

As the net has dubiously entered corporate consciousness, its
significance and subsequent adulation has been escalated by the
prophesies of its potential for success as the sublime and
differential arbitrator of transaction. The achievement of success in
monetary terms equals righteousness and subsequent hypocrisy on the
part of financial gurus, enterprise moguls and their respective
institutions who coo over and invest in technological
infrastructure--from dishes to processors to switches to fibers to
codes--that allows the net to operate as both a public and private
good. Schooled in the illusionary mechanisms of supply and demand
thrust onto the by-no-means pure global market, the new corporate
proponents of the net are primarily concerned with retrieving the
maximum financial yield from their endorsement of its labyrinthine yet
so far reliable processes of transmission despite the rudimentary
problem of limited bandwidth as digital transmission escalates in
volume (Delanda, 96). However, telephone companies balk at the costs
of accommodating the unexpected traffic generated by private and
public users, though investments in updating telematic infrastructure
are profitable and transmission speed is a premium revenue. When these
services are to be provided to internal or external third world zones,
their resistance is even more severe (Hegener, 96). 

The transfer of high volume data is not nearly as universal as one
assumes, for, in particular, the bulk of financial transactions are
conducted through strict channels among the financial centers of the
world while inter-regional trade redraws the borders of the
nation-state (Sassen, 96). The debate over the importance of these
centers of organization and the extent of their concentration in the
future in world-wide cityscapes, if not city- states, has signalled to
the nation-state that its lease on power is threatened by the vast
coffers of commerce allied to penetrate the maximum market.
Admittedly, the clan of cities generating such data are expanding to
include markets beyond the configuration of primarily industrialized
and wealthy metropolises (Sassen, 96; Evans, 95).  

The trend to alliances not only between transnational corporations and
financial institutions but also intercorporate alliances among
industries typically not present in media production has dramatically
shifted the scope of mutual self interest (Mytalka, 91). The power of
these alliances to essentially predetermine the results of their
investments of volatile capital has redefined the ability of the state
to fashion national markets for wage earners and subsequent tax
payers. In order to maintain this position of domination of networking
technologies, oligopolies simply dig into their reserves of capital in
order to buy any potential competitive threat to their prices and
products set by internal command structures (Delanda, 96). This
ability to purchase may soon extend to the state, though arguably the
alliance between the state and corporations is one of back scratching
and palm rubbing. 

Through the legend of market dynamics invisibly selecting the right
price, the units of capitalism, increasingly calibrations of
legitimacy, percolate through an already contaminated and lackeyish
connected population furthering their satisfaction with a brew of
tranquilizing potency. But revoking the atrocities of capitalism, as
so publicly done by one of the financial markets' most successful
speculators, protects such perpetrators from charges of monetary
megalomania, especially when coupled with magnificent paternal
philanthropy. Similarly, oligopolies rely on their own media organs to
highlight their minimal largesse while, among other loopholes,
intracorporate trade among subsidiaries dodges the efforts of
nation-states to implement taxation as well as regulatory mechanisms
on transnational corporations. Blind to the nets once blissful and
even nostalgia-tainted chaos--where its very proliferation relied on
the piracy of software--media, finance, and manufacturing
conglomerates are pushing for the re-jurisdiction of product through
extending copyright and trademark agreements while demanding strict
punishments for piracy and infringement. Incessant currying in the
halls of power only exacerbates the favoritism extended to business.
In combination these techniques give a certain invulnerability to such
organizations, protecting them from protracted critique while also
consolidating decrees and guarantees within the market, a market laced
with the glyphology of consumerism whereby all aesthetic is subsumed
to evoking corporate anthems. Indeed, these oligopolies take advantage
of the facelessness of the net, operating in the immaterial and thus
disguising its limited membership. 

In regards to the information industry, this power is buttressed by
the likes of the Business Software Alliance that represents very much
the same interests as journalistic advocacy groups ejaculating the
heroism of the cavalcade of news and information services that are
guilty of rolling out the sentimentality machine in order to soak
populations with catharsis. But the behavior of the organizations for
which journalists file reports is far different from the political
idealisms they represent. These objective but disengaged associations
have a double function: protecting media hierarchies from charges of
exploitation and monomania, an embarrassment to their status as the
champions of fact, and sanctifying the at times courageous and
critical endeavor of journalism.

Despite this commodification in order to provide a wide range of
services and media to the public, reluctance--especially acute among
the ventures of  new commercial content carriers who fear that the
precedents set by their allies in television and even the archaic
press in monopolizing the content of information will be usurped by
the millisecond connections of the net--qualifies their recognition of
the net's heterogeneous and non- hierarchical qualities. Copy from
these organizations reaches the net only after the story has broken in
an appropriate hard form, for this immediacy usurps their monopolic
perceptions of the market, the news hour, and the morning edition.
Thus, the net as an accessible, unruled domain and medium becomes
truly a loathsome and unduplicable competitor from the perspective of
attracting and mesmerizing an audience into habitual, narcotic
consumption. The success of forthcoming financial, media, and
technological enterprises in commidifying the net is derived from
these attempts to monopolize all channels of perception. 

Suspiciousness on the part of such transnational organizations,
particularly in regard to the security and anonymity of the net has
resulted in its further expansion as these companies create internal
networks that resemble the bland, mirrored towers of their
headquarters. Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML) scripts this
uniformity, a language that solves problems of compatibility between
operating systems at a low cost (Delanda, 96). Likewise, JAVA is being
adopted for intranet applications, whereby a sanctioned employee can
access all common corporate data while looking out from the tower
through the chrome tint, but for those seeking work the tower's glass
is impenetrable. The tower supports a perfectly controlled environment
while the intranet linking its multiple users stimulates to a lesser
degree the emotional activity of the "public" net between allotted and
monitored breaks in data manipulation. The corporation, specifically
in the case of information that of Route 128 and the Silicon Valley
firms (Delanda, 96), is joined in this enforced myopia by the state,
treacherous NGOs, and half-forged international governing regimes. But
the most striking mediator of this relationship, and perhaps even
manipulator, is broadcast and print media, an omniscient, omnipotent
regulator that seems intent on extending its threshold onto the net.
Fortunately, point and click presentation is a monotonous paradise,
but with mastery, spinning ambient text and image rhythms resembles
that of well spun vinyl, an unduplicable and autonomous mode of
communication mediated by text and image, themselves.  

The potential for and forecast of profits for a given hypothetical
business on the medium still faces severe limits even as electronic
cash becomes a practicable strategy for conducting transactions for
individuals rather than institutions. Indeed, it is monetary
operations that have been primarily responsible for the investment in
private nets and their infrastructure while also commodifying the
public domain. But the speculation in currency markets through
financial instruments of diverse invention and investments in
technology oligopolies who manufacture the digital infrastructure has
propelled a paradoxical but real threat to the digits that signal
wealth. Though a financial fission reaction, resembling the library
fires of past civilizations, has yet to escalate into truly
catastrophic proportions, the probability of its occurrence factors
into automatic regulating parameters that close markets in the event
of a rampant international plunge in prices. The financial system and
its managers fear the freezing of the rapid and immeasurable
compression of time and space, as if even the threat of a freeze
suggests the apocalypse of finance and an exponential loss of
purchasing confidence.  

For the future data venture capitalists relying on the computer,
essentially a transmission device, for revenues, the atmosphere on the
net is disconcertingly yet paradoxically feverish. Embraced with the
same enthusiasm as radio in its popular infancy and coupled with the
frenzied excitement of the oil boom at Spindletop, the supposed
revolution in industrial practice on the net has yet to offer what it
promises in terms of a completely digitalized life. The profits are as
evasive as the code, requiring less a formula for success than the
same degree of luck that left a few rich and most poor in the legacies
of early radio and oil. Nonetheless, the accoutrements of radio and
oil's success in infiltrating culture were evident by the time the
first lines of streamlined motor culture appeared in the 1950s, the
radio humming feel good, no worry ballads and fluorescent beacons
signalling the availability of celebrity-endorsed fuel in order to
continue on the sunny cruise. Before that sequence of commodification,
fuel was maybe not fuel at all and radio was a receiver or transmitter
kit to be fiddled with in the parlor. In the present, data may not be
data, and processor kits (or equally scavenged parts) suffice for the
most enthusiastic of hobbyists. Moreover, in summoning the comparison
to radio and oil, a nugatory image results: a thick black crude of
data bulges under a salty cap, sequestered in reservoirs among the
strata, while on the surface prospectors drill and test, bringing out
cores indicating the potential for extraction. If you are in
possession of one of these reservoirs and are able to locate more,
then, indeed, your chances for financial reward are substantial.
Hyper- rationalized speculation regarding the potential of silicon
machines and their content generation is mutually supported by the
very silicon that processes it all, every last digit. Luckily these
data reservoirs are elusive, rare, spontaneous, perhaps seeping to the
surface as nodes of interface for those knowing what to do with the
viscous and diverse crude. 

Since its methodological infancy straddling the middle of the century,
public opinion research matched the proliferation of public media that
broadcast the blissful honeymoon of the post-war while the " warrior
would tell the research technician the elements of content, audience,
medium, and effect desired" (Simpson, 94). The French scholar Paul
Virilo more tersely points to the cohesion of power in _The Art of the
Motor_ presenting his argument that... The intensity and history of
the public opinion research industry, dressed up in a number of shady
guises as marketing, polling, and public relations, suggests the
organs of an international economic ideology subservient to the
mausoleum of Adam Smith and his cohorts modelled on similar adoration
for Lenin's corpse. The success of public opinion research and media
technologies--coupled with and funded by military budgets much like
the net in its archaic form as the Arpanet--remains their ability to
manufacture as well as identify markets of dissatisfaction, malaise,
and discontent and remedy them with the necessary corrective good,
modulating and dispersing discontent with gimmickry. This military
tool has been expanded into popular jingoism. In order to monitor the
penetration of the shift of the political economy, the individual has
been bound into a collective audience and rendered in terms of public
opinion preferences according to race, gender, age, income, and a
plethora of other criteria. As a refined sampling technique that has
subsumed the desires of the individual with the provision of the
perfectly tailored demographic good, public opinion research has
significantly shifted from its definitive roots as the sublime
strategic device embodied at one time in Leo Lowenthal's conceptual
"push-button millennium" (Simpson, 94). Seamlessly embedded in the
routines, norms, and habits of daily life, a life that no matter how
alternative or equally conventional in vision is satiated with the
rights of purchase from illicit drugs to designer labels to organic
commestibles, consumerism provides every imaginable product,
discretely and painstakingly crafted for your personal comfort be it
by post-Taylorist or sweat shop labor.   

In a market climate that assumes the demands of the consumer through
the diagnostics of the convenience and instaneity of luxury, content
providers offer the same perfectly packaged, scrumptious delights,
though their desirability relies on the whimsical discriminating taste
of the media-drained senses. However, when receipts total in the
billions, then the conceptualization of normal desire becomes tainted
by the eccentricities of billionaire-hood, a capacity only available
to an exclusive club of individuals--Murdoch, Burlesconi, Gates,
Turner--lionized in the popular press as examples of genius. Thus, the
need for diagnostics to gauge the desires of capricious clients.
Ensconced in this nirvana of capital, it is vital that the riff raff
owe you for their access to your provision of censored services.
Ideally according to the formulations of corporate proponents, one
survives on debt-ridden luxury in the competition to maintain the
illusion of the perfect consumer. Invariably the formulations are
answered by the credit records of consumer purchase or by the
despicable and unauthorized sale of personal data by private firms,
despite the blatant necessity to implement a permanent public opinion
data strike in both senses of the word, e.g., divorcing oneself from
the data collector or by retrieving it from behind the firewalls of
private intranets.  

The repercussions of this on the net has been a constriction of the
channels of once multilateral, pluralistic communication with an
adipose corporate slough of diversion and entertainment. The
manipulation of stimulus and response to compliment the agenda of
consumerism is poised to devour the few remaining neutral,
undoctrinated domains of the net much as it has engulfed the physical
world and its long asphyxiated channels of communication. Despite the
efforts of such institutions to launch into the virtual domain with a
provision of tailored, recreational content, the voices, or more
primarily, texts of the net, independent of media hierarchies, face
succumbing to the commodification of the net's conception and
distribution, effectively absorbing of the net's pre- and
post-euphoria advocates located in the ripples, eddies, and whirlpools
of the net's backwaters. Strikingly, these pools of uncensored
activity display endurance, simply relocating among the panjandrum of
TCP/IP numbers. Their reappearance is unpredictable, unregulated,
undetermined, and made of the chaos that does not appear in the newly
hatched corporate net initiative that endangers particularly provoking
data sources with the application of capital in order to gain
ownership. These furtive reservoirs are scanned, identified,
purchased, tested, logged, and exploited though examples, such as the
digital city in Amsterdam, continue to function unconstrained from
corporate hierarchy. The application to action--the legacy of the good
old piracy of the past, fondly remembered in the nostalgia for
importance in the present, occasionally resunders its bugles of
resistance to transmit a voice free from constraint attempting to
amend the hierarchy of recognition. But no matter how succinct the
gesture or expression, the victory is dissolved by the media's
embalming fluid as memory slips away under the public electro-shock
treatment to a new politic. Instead, perspective vaporizes into the
future and its promises of ambrosia and utopia  

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