Monday, September 24, 2007

"Democratic" Protocol?

One aspect of Galloway’s introduction that I found particularly interesting (and a bit confusing), was the emphasis on protocol as “democratic” (13, 25). I think this term is crucial since it is such a central theme to the way people often speak about the internet, suggesting that it is a more ‘democratic’ medium than previous media forms (such as book publishing). Internet technologies are cited as unique and important precisely because of their potential as ‘democratic’ tools. Yet Galloway argues, “While protocol may be more democratic than the panopticon in that it strives to eliminate hierarchy, it is still very much structured around command and control and has therefore spawned counter-protocological forces” (13). What impact, then, does this democratization of control have on our societies? Galloway goes on to say that “protological control is still an improvement over other modes of social control…it is through protocol that one must guide one’s efforts, not against it” (17). While I certainly could benefit from further clarification about the idea of “protocol” itself, my curiosity is why Galloway seems to suggest that just because control is more “democratic”, it is better than other forms? And what does that democratization entail? It seems that in Galloway’s formation, “democratic” is substituted for “distributed”, but I think this may elide some important differences.

Is protocol truly “democratic”? To me, this brings up issues of participation and agency – in a democracy, at least in theory, people participate in the creation of their government and in so doing affect its form. Is this the case with protocol? I may simply be misunderstanding the use of the term in this context, but Galloway clearly wishes to link the technological form with the governmental or societal one. So one open question for me is whether this is a fair comparison, but I would also very much welcome anyone who would like to argue with my interpretation here or elucidate the meanings of these terms further.

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