“Media culture enthusiasts like “Bill Me Tuesday,” a hacker from Santa Cruz, want computer users to think of viruses more positively. Using a healing medical model, Tuesday explains: “Viruses can act like a logic analyzer. As the virus goes through the operating system, it stops at certain checkpoints, doing its rounds in a given amount of time. This checkpoint will report back what the condition is.… Essentially the virus will serve as a means of creating a self-repairing system.… The goal is a self-repairing, crash resistant system, similar to the way our bodies repair themselves. Biologically we are the product of thousands of microorganisms cooperating together. We can apply that kind of thinking in the computer world. We are modifying the concept of a virus to serve us.”
These are the same goals and methods the media viralists have. Presenting culture as a giant, interconnected organism, they hope to foster a spirit of cooperation. Using viruses to seek out the cracks or inconsistencies in existing systems, they develop a culture that repairs itself much in the way a colony of bacteria mutate to avoid extinction or an ecosystem adjusts itself to achieve homeostasis. This concept has gone far beyond the metaphorical level.
A new kind of computer virus has been appearing on the networks that does not have anything to do with programming language or crashing systems. These viruses are meant to serve as memetic devices or meme-carriers, which express themselves in the way they mutate passing from system to system, node to node. They work like the kids’ game “telephone,” where a message is passed around and the joy is in discovering how the message changed from person to person. When the message is a virus, though, its contents are hoped to evoke a response.
A college student on the Internet, Andy Hawks, created a meme collection he called “Futureculture.” In its first incarnation, Futureculture was a large list of books, tapes, programs, Internet sites, magazines, and other media references that Hawks felt would be useful to people who were interested in developing a new viral culture based on some of the principles of cyberspace. He posted it as a file in several Internet locations so that others could reference it, make additions, and pass it further. So much interest developed in Futureculture that it grew into an open E-mail forum. Hundreds of Internet users sent mail to one another through an automatic mailing system at Hawks’s Internet site. Each user received a daily compilation of all the Futureculture list additions and periodic updates of the whole, mutated file, which had expanded to several hundred pages of text. Eventually Futureculture, which began as a virus, released viruses of its own.
(…) The virus served as publicity for a new meme-zine, Virus 23, which features interviews with and articles by science fiction, psychedelic, physics, GenX, mathematics, and computer experts. The zine is designed to promote viral initiatives. Following the philosophies of William Burroughs and cult hero Genesis P-Orridge, the editors see language and culture as a series of competing viruses and believe that an uncensored forum for sometimes shocking countercultural ideas will strengthen the ability of new memes to evolve humanity. They use the number 23, made famous by occultist Aleister Crowley in the early 1900s and, more currently, P-Orridge because ancient pagan faiths associate it with change and the Apocalypse. Self-conscious and overtly viral manifestos take us into an altogether new cultural territory, where the memes of ancient shamanism are spliced together with those of futuristic cyber-technologies. This is the frontier of virus construction, and though it occurs on a highly conceptual plane it often has very palpable results.”
Virus 23 Index
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