The Protocols Of Protocols

The other reading for this week is the Introduction from ‘Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization’ but Alexander Galloway.

To be honest, after reading this sizable chapter, I was left feeling a little like this:

The reading is very, very heavy on technical terms and internet coding and the likes, things that I really don’t have my head around. I thought it was a pretty damn dry reading, especially when we’re studying a topic that could have very interesting and interactive readings, ones that actually employ the hypertext that we are focusing on so much.

The reading focuses on the idea of the protocols that control the way in which networks on the internet function, and the importance of digital computers.

Galloway describes the internet as a “global distributed computer network”, and also covers how it was never originally intended to become anything like what it is today. The internet was originally developed by the US to be a “computer network that was independent of centralised command and control” so it could “withstand a nuclear attack that targets such centralised hubs”.

It was deliberately created as a decentralised network, but it was never meant to become the near-omniscient force in our lives that it is today; now it is “a global distributed network connecting billions of people around the world”.

According to Galloway, the concept of protocol is at the core of networked computing, and defines this as a “set of recommendations and rules that outlines specific technical standards”.

Protocols are apparently the standards that govern the implementation of specific technologies, the ‘rules’ of sorts of the internet. I found the analogy of the highway system somewhat helpful to help comprehend this concept: there are many different routes to get from one place to another, but there are uniform rules that apply to these ways, such as stopping at red lights, going the speed limit, staying on the actual roads etc. As Galloway says, “these conventional rules that govern the set of possible behaviour patterns within a heterogenous system are what computer scientists call protocol”. While the internet is so expansive and apparently ‘free’, there are still these rules and guidelines governing how it is used.

I think this is the key point that I took out of this reading (most of it I didn’t fully understand), the idea that although the internet is commonly viewed as this chaotic, ruleless utopia/dystopia, there are still a very stringent set of protocols governing how we act on the internet and contribute to the network that it creates.


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  1. Pingback: Galloway, Protocol | Networked Media

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