Centralizing Control of a Distributed System?

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by kylebickoff

As I have been working through Alexander Galloway’s Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, I cannot help but continue to think through the implications of the control society upon which he explicates in his work. To contextualize this briefly: the binary of the metaphorical network and the non-metaphorical (infrastructure) forces us to consider which mode of thinking is more accurate? Answer: both (Galloway 15). Moreover, when we think through networks, we need to employ tools (media archaeological tools of investigation) in order to begin to understand these networks. The bi-level logic that underlies the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) enables a horizontally distributed mode of communication, while the DNS (Domain Name System) vertically stratifies the horizontal logic through these regulatory bodies that manage internet addresses and names (Galloway 16).

I cannot help but attempt to consider how we can think through the implications of this theoretical construct—we might consider that even though data nodes are distributed worldwide, data is so widely disseminated a moved such long distances that institutional control can exert influence more easily in a control society. Consider how the EU is considering legislation to force domestic EU data to remain in the EU—specifically avoiding transference through the US (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26210053). Merkel, who advocates this move, hopes to specifically avoid the prying eyes of American mass surveillance institutions—specifically the US National Security Agency. A certain German tendency in the present to minimize government surveillance manifests itself in this practice; such legislation indicates how vertical institutions of power in a control society still exert influence on horizontal networks more than Galloway represents. Such a move lessens the horizontal distribution of data worldwide and centralizes it, to an extent, retaining it within the EU. Conversely, by retaining greater control over domestic EU data, the EU might be seen as reducing overall institutional control over data, and thus biopolitical control. This would create a greater good for a greater amount of individuals.

Such legislation forces any media theorist to consider how exactly control is exerted over data, and how data might exert biopolitical control more/less as a result of such legal agreements. Do the benefits of reducing some horizontal control protocols overall increase the security and sanctity of the internet’s infrastructure? Or does such control indicate the closing of the web, and a tendency back towards a more centralized web? If the EU creates its own network, still interconnected with the global network, will other regional powers follow? How might such an ‘internet,’ if that term is still accurate, appear?

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One comment on “Centralizing Control of a Distributed System?

  1. dparker90 says:

    Hi Kyle, I’m very unfamiliar with the organization of networks and how information is communicated across them, so could you tell me how a network could exist across national and geographic boundaries? In the BBC article you linked, Merkel explains that she wants to offer network security for her citizens “so that one shouldn’t have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic.” I’m confused here – does a communications network have literal geographic boundaries? Or are there national territories within cyberspace?

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