Virulence and Digital Culture


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Virginia Tech


This dissertation is a theoretical study of the role of virality/virulence as a predominant technological term in the reproduction of social and cultural information in the digital age. I argue that viral media are not new phenomena, only the name is new. Media have always behaved as viruses; it is only when they become hyper-intensified in digital technology that their virulent function surfaces in language and culture. The project examines processes of self-replication and evolution undergone by various new media phenomena as they relate back to the global profusion of social networks, data centers, and cybernetic practices. Drawing from several contributions in media theory, political and social theory, and critical media studies, I argue that digital media have a hyper-intensifying effect on whatever objects, subjects, or realities they mediate or represent; thus networked societies are virulently swarmed by their own signs and images in information. Through an examination of three primary categories of digital proliferation—language, visuality, and sexuality—I situate digital culture in a framework of virulence, arguing that the digital may be best understood as an effect of cultural hyper-saturation and implosion. I argue that virulent media networking processes come to constitute a powerful cybernetic system, which renders the human subject a mere function in its global operations. Lastly, I begin to develop a political critique of cybernetics, claiming that the proliferation of information, digital media, and communicative/representational technologies in the contemporary world emerges through an intensified ideological, economic, social, cultural, and metaphysical framework of productivism. This intensification engenders a system, or series of communicational circuits, whereby all techno-subjective activities are strategically stimulated, networked, recorded, and algorithmically appropriated to strengthen and reproduce 1) a global productivist system of cybernetics; 2) The material and ideological conditions for such a system to exist and thrive; 3) limitless virtual and digital production.



Digitality, Digital Culture, Production, Information, Representation, Virtuality, Viral Media, Virulence, Linguistic Theory, Baudrillard, Hyperreality, Virtual Reality, Implosion, Critical Theory, Political Theory, Media, Epistemology, Metaphysics