Protocol Politics

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* Book: Protocol Politics, The Globalisation of Internet Governance. By Laura DeNardis. MIT, 2009


Nicolas Mendoza:

"In her book Protocol Politics, The Globalisation of Internet Governance Laura DeNardis shows how the notion of protocols (Wiener's 'means') cross from physics, biology, or technology to culture and politics:

- Technical protocols are functionally similar to real-world protocols. Cultural protocols are not necessarily enshrined in law, but they nevertheless regulate human behaviour. In various cultures, protocols dictate how humans greet each other, whether shaking hands, bowing, or kissing. ... There is nothing preordained about these communications norms. They are socially constructed protocols that vary from culture to culture.

Conflicts arise as forms of machinic life emerge and gain complexity, culture and idiosyncrasy of its own. It is still relatively uncontroversial to attack network protocol because everything about it seems morally trivial: isn't it all artificial in the end? A result of human cultural, economic and political forces, machinic life seems enslavable. But the Net as a life form that assembles machines, information and humans alike, strives for freedom for itself. This realisation leads to a profound reconsideration of our relationship with the machine layers of the network:

- We should embrace the deeper uncertainty arising from freeing technology from subservience to the merely instrumental goals of human profit. ...We may then begin to make out a politics beyond the network where human and non-human, living and non-living are connected to mutual benefit.

It is rarely that ethical consideration regarding machinic life takes place. Ethics in this realm, must be stressed, are not about what good can the machine do for us, and not even about how we can use the machine to do good, but about how can we make machinic life healthier. It means making the whole assemblage healthier by fostering what Wiener's calls “the means for the acquisition, use, retention, and transmission of information.” It is in our benefit, and the only reasonable approach, for the network is a heterogeneous assemblage of which we are part. Still, claiming ownership of the other, sweet exploitation temptation knows no frontiers, less when colonisation and exploitation within the electronic frontier is where it's at. A perfect storm of counterintuitive grey ethical areas, the Net is metal, electron and flesh. Hardware, software and wetware looking for harmony in the storm. This harmony will only come as the full potential of the assemblage is realised, as (and if) it overcomes the enclosures that contain it: the mandate of profit and accumulation, modern human fear and pettiness, and the territorial boundaries of the nation-state. Will the Western inventions of materialism (i.e. communism and capitalism alike) and westphalianism, modernity itself, finally decline under the relentless swarms of the global machinic life-form? Such, I think, is the political challenge the early days of the decade arise." (February 2012)