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Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization [Paperback]

Alexander R. Galloway
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 17 2006 Leonardo Book Series

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.


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Review

"A very valuable, very original, and very significant contribution to the field of media studies and cultural theory."--Tilman Baumgärtel, media critic, and author of *net.art* and *net.art 2.0 - New Material towards Net Art*



"An engaging methodological hybrid of the Frankfurt School and UNIX for Dummies.... Galloway brings the uncool question of morality back into critical thinking." Ed Halter The Village Voice



"Galloway is one of the very few people who are equally well versed in poststructuralist cultural theory and computer programming." Steven Shaviro The Pinocchio Theory Weblog



"Protocol...is a book on computer science written by someone who's not a computer scientist, and that's a good thing." Gary Singh Metro

About the Author

Alexander R. Galloway is Assistant Professor of Media Ecology at New York University.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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5.0 out of 5 stars Computer Science from a Liberal Arts View. June 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
Some of the most interesting work being done today is a result of the cross fertilization of intellectual fields. While this is somewhat of a computer scienct book about the protocols of the internet, the author is a professor of Media Ecology. When he talks of the Internet and its protocols it's almost as if he is using different words.
It has long been a contention of mine that the Internet, both the world wide web and e-mail needs to be view as a transition in media not unlike that brought about by Gutenberg. Here the Internet and its interactions with both people and machines is analyzed like other media. What is the impact on society of a computer virus? How does this differ from the impact of the AIDS virus? And is the computer virus the problem or the weakness of the underlying programs - after all, most viruses use weaknesses in Microsoft Outlook to spread themselves.
We are at a time when the internet is changing our lives. It's good to see that people other than just technologists are looking at where we are going.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Computer Science from a Liberal Arts view. June 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
Some of the most interesting work being done today is a result of the cross fertilization of intellectual fields. While this is somewhat of a computer scienct book about the protocols of the internet, the author is a professor of Media Ecology. When he talks of the Internet and its protocols it's almost as if he is using different words.
It has long been a contention of mine that the Internet, both the world wide web and e-mail needs to be view as a transition in media not unlike that brought about by Gutenberg. Here the Internet and its interactions with both people and machines is analyzed like other media. What is the impact on society of a computer virus? How does this differ from the impact of the AIDS virus? And is the computer virus the problem or the weakness of the underlying programs - after all, most viruses use weaknesses in Microsoft Outlook to spread themselves.
We are at a time when the internet is changing our lives. It's good to see that people other than just technologists are looking at where we are going.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-have if you're interested in the art, tech, or culture of networks June 28 2005
By Jon Ippolito - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Galloway is a triple threat: he's fluent in the esoteric dialects of poststructuralist theory, Internet geekspeak, and network aesthetics. There are plenty of books that try to tackle the art and politics of the Internet age from one of these angles, and a handful that try two--but if you're looking for a three-dimensional treatment of the subject, this is the book for you.

Protocol's subtitle, How Control Exists after Decentralization, gives away Galloway's intention in writing this book, which is to steer a path between the "media are chains" intonations of broadcast media critics and the "networks make us free" hype of Internet evangelists. The fact that he's trying to erect a new theory in this uncharted territory makes this book a valuable contribution to the field.

Sometimes I think he loses his path along the way, as when he veers afield from his focus on networks to apply his ideas to an abstract "biopolitics" or to propose an aesthetic interpretation of Marx. None of these efforts is misguided or irrelevant, and academics with heads in the clouds will probably love these parts. Personally, however, I find Protocol most useful not when it connects one theory to another, but when it connects a theory to a specific technical specification. When Galloway pulls A Thousand Plateaus of the shelf to reveal the politics underlying the Internet's fundamental TCP/IP protocols, he's not just showing off his booklearning--he's upgrading Deleuze and Guattari's theory for use in the field, so we can apply their radical philosophy to the email and chat applications we design and deploy.

If you're a teacher trying to explain the relevance of dead European philosophers to students who'd rather be learning the latest PhotoShop filter or IM client, Protocol is a great translator between these realms. In my classes, I make them read an excerpt on a specific topic--network diagrams, for instance--but I also ask them to analyze the handy tables and photographs Galloway uses to condense and illustrate his points.

(Disclaimer: I know the author from our mutual work in the field of Internet art. That said, I know a lot of the authors of recent books on new media--it's the nature of the field.)
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DNS Error or Server Not Found April 24 2008
By The Dilettante - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alexander Galloway seems to have something profound to say about networks but not the confidence to say it clearly. Galloway sets out to prove that "protocol" is to distributed postmodern networks (i.e. the Internet) what Foucault's "panopticon" was to modernist social hierarchies. Since Foucault is, for me, the best example of why postmodern 'theory' is still worth taking seriously, I got pretty excited about this book.

Galloway begins ambitiously, clearly stating his thesis (the book's subtitle), identifying his intellectual opponents (naive techno-libertarians), and situating his work within the literature (he invokes figures as diverse as Vannevar Bush and Gilles Deleuze). By page 65, the book seems really to be going somewhere, as Galloway walks us through the history of protocol, using TCP/IP and DNS as exemplars. The writing is technically crisp and hard-headed.

But just as I started to get really interested, Galloway seemed to back off his argument, retreating into vague pronouns and undefined terms. Derrida appeared briefly. There was some general derision of 'late capitalism.' I finally got lost on his discussion of Sergei Eisenstein's attempt to adapt Das Kapital for the movie screen ("What does this have to do with networks?" I thought.)

In the end, I never figured out what Galloway meant by "protocological control." It was not clear which (if any) agent does the controlling, what the limits of protocological control are, or how we could exercise control if we wanted to. I was left with the distinct impression that protocological control amounts to the simple requirement that nodes on a network speak a common language. It's hard to see this as particularly insidious, or even politically relevant. There may be more going on here, but I can't find it.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Computer Science from a Liberal Arts View. June 23 2004
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some of the most interesting work being done today is a result of the cross fertilization of intellectual fields. While this is somewhat of a computer scienct book about the protocols of the internet, the author is a professor of Media Ecology. When he talks of the Internet and its protocols it's almost as if he is using different words.
It has long been a contention of mine that the Internet, both the world wide web and e-mail needs to be view as a transition in media not unlike that brought about by Gutenberg. Here the Internet and its interactions with both people and machines is analyzed like other media. What is the impact on society of a computer virus? How does this differ from the impact of the AIDS virus? And is the computer virus the problem or the weakness of the underlying programs - after all, most viruses use weaknesses in Microsoft Outlook to spread themselves.
We are at a time when the internet is changing our lives. It's good to see that people other than just technologists are looking at where we are going.
3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Computer Science from a Liberal Arts view. June 23 2004
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Some of the most interesting work being done today is a result of the cross fertilization of intellectual fields. While this is somewhat of a computer scienct book about the protocols of the internet, the author is a professor of Media Ecology. When he talks of the Internet and its protocols it's almost as if he is using different words.
It has long been a contention of mine that the Internet, both the world wide web and e-mail needs to be view as a transition in media not unlike that brought about by Gutenberg. Here the Internet and its interactions with both people and machines is analyzed like other media. What is the impact on society of a computer virus? How does this differ from the impact of the AIDS virus? And is the computer virus the problem or the weakness of the underlying programs - after all, most viruses use weaknesses in Microsoft Outlook to spread themselves.
We are at a time when the internet is changing our lives. It's good to see that people other than just technologists are looking at where we are going.
6 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the idea was born... April 27 2005
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A thought occurs to the author, "human beings have a protocol of sorts that allows them to cooperate.. that keeps them under _control_". He sits around, has some coffee. Eats a bagel. And then it hits him, "Oh my God, the Internet is made up of _computer protocols_!!", and a book is born.
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