Transmission, one of the best reads I’ve encountered this semester, intertwines the divergent paths of several characters, however, two men stood out the most. Arjun Mehta is a programmer from India eager to leave behind his average home life to live out the American dream of success and wealth.Guy Swift is a marketing visionary from London, struggling to sustain his affluent lifestyle and startup company.Aside from the obvious international birthright, they had one major connection: Leela01, a cleverly conjured viral computer structure created by a disparaged Arjun:
“All I wanted was my job back. All I wanted was to work and be happy and live a life in magic America.” (p.414)
Arjun’s simple plan to prove his credibility as a qualified computer programmer by crafting an “innocent” computer virus turned him into a terrorist! Arjun had coded a monster that the world was not ready for. It terrorized all sectors, destroying water purification systems, government files, financial institutions as well as virtual realities, Bollywood and a startup company.The book exposed the after-effects of a digital pandemic that overpowered grandiose microscopic bacteria and virulence of days passed.
Guy’s struggle with winning client accounts, largely due to his inability to connect his corporate vision with older, established companies as well as his substance abuse problem and poor management skills, was only amplified by the Leela01 virus, courtesy of Arjun! At the peak of the storyline, when things looked like they were going in a positive direction for Guy, it all comes crashing down when his computer’s hard drive starts to give way to Leela’s devious eradication in the middle of a client presentation!
Arjun merely wanted to bring honor to his family by attaining a high salaried position and an attractive mate in the United States. Conversely, his anger and desperation only brought shame and humiliation, as well as worldwide panic.
Towards the end of the book, Kunzru reiterated the effects of the dreaded virus:
“Leela’s noise passed effortlessly out of the networks into the world of things. Objects got lost: a van carrying armaments from a depot in Belgrade; a newly authenticated Rembrandt. Money in all sorts of physical forms dropped out of sight, but also money in its essence, which is to say that on Greyday a certain amount of money simply ceased to exist. This is a complicated claim. Money tends to virtuality”.
Leela, like any virus, created great panic and fear, linking strangers in a web that can be visualized as “six degrees of separation” via viral terrorism. Leela’s intangible existence created tangible turmoil effecting flights, package deliveries and the disappearance of large sums of money. Every business, person, being, agency had some form of connection surrounding this viral structure.
It’s interesting to see how this fictional work provides such an interesting framework with which to analyze viral media. It makes you realize the effects a YouTube video or even a .gif in an email can potentially have on the world. Granted, it cannot create as much havoc as Leela01 or her variants, but it can definitely have a far reaching impact, as we have seen in a lot of the class case studies. The digital photo frame epidemic of 2008 brings this scenario closer to home for most.
Articles online today are raising the question if social media is in fact “helping or hurting terrorism” as terrorist groups are utilizing YouTube and Facebook as a recruiting mechanism.
I just hope that we (we meaning the world) will be better prepared for the next viral mutation.