Digital Contagions: Viruses Are No Tribble At All

The tribbles manifest an accident that related to Jussi Parikka's Digital ContagionsIn many ways, viruses bridge many differing types of bodies. Jussi Parikka, author of Digital Contagions, argues that while viruses are not necessarily good, they’re not inherently evil. However, viruses have become the next big bogeyman in lieu of the “Indians” and “Soviet Russians” of past decades. The virus scare is described as if it was the official fear of the 1980s and 90s, and the relation of new found computer viruses and AIDS reflect that.

From Parikka’s perspective, viruses show us “accidents”, or the shortcomings of the body (or network) that the virus is infiltrating. Companies that sell anti-virus software like to harness our fear of those shortcomings (which we manifest as the virus, or “malicious actor”) in order to profit. Anti-virus software must always be updated and repurchased annually, maintaining this cycle. If not, ominous red notifications pop up to warn computer users that “your computer may not be protected!”, or “your computer may be under attack!”. Of course, these warnings make use of very explicit vocabulary to generate immediate action, and to instigate the purchase of another year of protection as quickly as possible. I’m often surprised that my computer doesn’t flash red, clamp shut and start yelling “danger! Will Robinson, danger!” in this situation.

Parikka also speaks of the “body politic” and adds that a body can be comprised of many systems other than human bodies or computers.  This examination in chapter 2 of Digital Contagions reminded me of  the Stark Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles”. While the tribbles acted virally upon the USS Enterprise,  another virus was lurking where the crew could not see. Parikka states that “the media ecology of cities and human bodies is now supplemented with the global city of networks. This is created and conceptualized as a global body of network flows through the veins of the digital version of a circulatory system” (pg 124). This is exactly where the trouble with tribbles begins.

The little fuzzy space creatures start with one virion which replicates wildly to infect different cells of the ship. The tribbles did not have to reproduce with each other as they were “born pregnant” and only needed to feed off of anything present in the cell they infiltrated. Once the tribbles enter the essential systems of theEnterprise, compromising the functionality of the body, many dead tribbles are found in a compartment. At this point, the viral example is turned in a different direction. The tribbles ate all of the ship’s stores of grain that were meant for the crew. Luckily, the tribbles acting as a virus saved everyone from a virus implanted into the food stores by a disguised Klingon, and the perfect example of Parikka’s “accident”. With the tribbles going viral on the ship and creating a gigantic nuisance, a much more serious and innocuous virus was avoided because the tribbles showed the crew a flaw living in the body of the Enterprise.


2 responses

  1. jamalawwad

    I, probably like most others in this class and degree, have become the sort of “go-to” person when it comes to fixing other people’s sick computers. With the ever-growing popularity of social networking coupled with increasing number of users who lack that 100% guaranteed working anti-virus called “common sense”, opening new doors for viruses have never been easier. I love the Star Trek reference, and can think of no other more appropriate example to explain the nature of a virus.

    I also concur about the anti-virus companies adding more to the irrational fear people have about computer safety. Parikka goes so far to even mention how one man, Ross Greenberg, was in Byte magazine in 1989 and mentioned people should be taking every preventative measure possible and emphasized on anti-virus programs being the answer, all the while he was the CEO of a company that was involved in anti-virus programs themselves. Examples like this are constant proof that capitalism will always find a way to take advantage of the current frenzy enveloping the populous.

    September 16, 2011 at 9:53 pm

  2. Kim A. Knight

    As I began reading this, I thought to myself, “is she going to pull this off?” Oh yes you did. Very nicely done, Tabatha.

    September 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

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