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More than what you bargained for

Technology is constantly changing around us. With the advent of the telegraph, to the telephone and even the first camera, there has always been, and will continue to be, a constant progression in technological developments. A specific example is the way art is captured. Man’s depiction of creativity and/or the creative process has, over time, been captured on the interior of caves, natural layers of papyrus, to canvases and now to digital frames. The digital photo frame sparked frenzy during the holiday season, with major companies forecasting the sale of 3 million units for 2008. Sam’s Club and Best Buy shoppers, looking to score deep savings on this hot trendy item, received a special bonus feature with their purchase: Mocmex.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this “insidious computer virus [was] discovered on digital photo frames” sold at Sam’s Club facilities. The goal of this virus was to “recognize and block antivirus protection from more than 100 security vendors, as well as the security and firewall built into Microsoft Windows.”

This is a testament to the rapid growth and ill intent of hackers as detailed by Jussi Parikka in Digital Contagions. Within chapter 1, Parikka discusses the fear and security associated with viruses as well as the origins of computer viruses and accompanied risks. Jussi hints towards the idea that the post-industrial society is a risk society, primarily due to its dependence on massive computer networks that “opened information channels between various parts of the world” and “enabled the flow of contagious information and malicious software” (68-69).

Within the chapter, Parikka cites Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist who currently works as a professor at the University of Munich. He wrote Risikogesellschaft (Risk Society), a work that confirmed society’s evolution from “industrial production to risk production”(70). Within Beck’s dissection of risk societies in relation to cultural perception, Parikka references an interesting concept noted by Joost Van Loon:
“…risks are always constructed via visualization, signification, and valorization, all of which refer to processes of assigning risks a certain cultural place and meaning.”

Ironically, the digital frame itself embodies “visualization, signification (in relation to the evolution of photo capture) as well as valorization in the form of commerce. Even more interesting is the parallelism found within viral media.
In today’s society, viral media is synonymous with visualization, specifically in relation to memes, whether it be a video, image, website or even a word. The message behind the viral media can have significance, whether or not it is the creator’s intent; its ability to resonate with the audience is a key factor. Lastly, is the valorization of the meme; the value add varies by genre. For example, the Obama campaign slogan, “Yes We Can” not only had a strong political impact for the Democratic Party, but it also had a social impact with regard to gender and race.

Whether or not it was his intent, Parikka has provided us with yet another way of analyzing viral media, allowing for the detection of resemblances within the realm of malware.


About everchangingL

Currently a graduate student at The University of Texas at Dallas


4 thoughts on “More than what you bargained for

  1. Lauren, what a devious way to distribute a virus! I had not heard of this virus until your blog entry. As we briefly touched upon in class, Parikka frames the concept of capitalism in terms of the virus (viral capitalism) as it constant morphs, evolves, and adapts in order to penetrate new markets and nab that almighty dollar (or insert denomination here). Capitalism is highly adept at coopting (claiming as its own) and commodifying all that it touches, whether that object be a social movement, viral video, or what have you. The virus characterization/conceptualization (metaphorization?) is very apt on Parikka’s part. Thus, how ironic that an actual digital virus is enabled and spread, the epidemic exacerbated, by unwitting participants of capitalism, i.e., all the people, fueled by the trend of “the next big thing,” who swarmed to those stores in the hopes of purchasing what I’m sure they expected to be an innocuous high-tech gift. I suppose that this was an instance of the transitivity of the virus (pp. 65-66), or transitivity in action (A to B; B to C; C to D; etc.) across various planes/systems/dimensions: the commercial environment with its consumers, commodities, and stores; capitalism as it operates in the source country, China, where the virus is planted into the product, which then treks all over the globe, as advertisers valorize it in all media outlets to build demand; the digital realm of the virus itself, all the infected computers, the industry’s response to the virus and countermeasures taken; and the list can go on and on. The point is that we can build a vast and mighty assemblage (to use one of Parikka’s favorite concepts) – of the economic factors, political factors, technological factors, and so on – in tracing the story of just one virus that wreaked havoc during the holiday season of 2008.

    And I will have to carry on with this line of thinking. It’s late and my cat is bugging me (!). Grr. Wait a minute.

    In any event, like any consumer electronics trend “gone viral,” doesn’t this example demonstrate the lengths to which people will go (the risks they are willing to hazard or tolerate) in the name of fulfilling desire (a theme touched upon in another book edited by Parikka, but we simply don’t have time to fit it into this class)? Visualization, signification, and valorization no doubt render most digital viruses larger than life in many cases by playing on that basest of human instincts, fear (I point to the Sept. 26, 1988 Time magazine cover reproduced on p. 77), just as they are employed to appeal to that other influential instinct of desire, albeit in a less (overtly) sinister light.

    Posted by mattutd | February 8, 2012, 11:06 pm
  2. The Introduction of Art into the digital space once again challenges us to re-examine what we consider to be art. Code has to be regarded without labels like “good” or “evil” that tends to be imposed on it due to the media’s desire to visualize anomalies. Art – the reproduction of it – inversely challenges us to take a second look at anomalies – what makes them anomalies? On what scale are they suddenly susceptible to such a label? If code is not yet sentient, can code at its basest level have a nature that it occasionally negates? Can it have “intention”?

    Any work of art is created and wrapped inside the “intention” of it’s creator but it’s been our experience many times that art – the interpretation of its intention – is ultimately at the mercy of its audience. Also, with the medium playing a huge role in how it is received, I think of art in terms of code. Visualization, signification and valorization lend it the intention that we so often attribute to the art itself. Perhaps the intention of photos in the photo frames was to convey a gesture of appreciation to whoever received it as a gift, perhaps to jumpstart malicious operations into someone’s computer, perhaps to keep up appearance of being on the (at the time) cutting edge of technology. Whatever the intention, it cannot be attributed to the art itself, just as labels like good, bad, malicious cannot be attributed to code.

    Posted by wordtoyourmedia | February 11, 2012, 1:39 pm
  3. Interesting analysis, Lauren. You do an excellent job of selecting appropriate images and links that give your reader more information, but also tie into your post. I think the section on viral media could have been a touch longer. I think the reader would benefit from you teasing out the meaning there a bit more. For instance, what do you mean that the genre adds value? The Obama slogan is a good concrete example. I think it just needed to be expanded a bit. Just something to keep in mind for future posts…

    Posted by Kim A. Knight | February 13, 2012, 6:46 pm


  1. Pingback: Transmission « Emerging Media and Communications 6372 - February 28, 2012

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