Without “protocol,” computers would be unable to communicate with each other over the Internet and web surfing would be hindered by the discontinuity of websites.
That is, “Without a shared protocol, there is no network.” Galloway draws the term “protocol” from computing, where it indicates “standards governing the implementation of specific technologies.” Protocols are “recommendations and rules that outline specific technical standards,” and they function as “a distributed management system that allows control to exist within a heterogeneous material milieu.” He argues that the misguided belief in the freedom of the Internet is due to the contradictory nature of protocol, which both “radically distributes control into autonomous bodies” and “focuses control into rigidly defined hierarchies.” Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) allows computers on a network to communicate in a nonhierarchical manner, whereas the Domain Name System (DNS) that “maps network addresses to network names” creates a strict inverted tree hierarchy. “Ironically . .
. nearly all Web traffic must submit to a hierarchical structure (DNS) to gain access to the anarchic and radically horizontal structure of the Internet.” As is well known, the Internet emerged from efforts to create a network that could survive a nuclear attack. Distributed networks, protocol, and computing technology combined to create the new “apparatus of control” that characterizes our contemporary conjuncture.
Galloway loosely situates and periodizes his theory of protocol using the work of Deleuze on “control societies,” Foucault on “biopolitics and biopower,” Kittler on “discourse networks,” Mandel & Jameson on “late capitalism,” and Hardt & Negri on “Empire.” Discussing different network “diagrams,” Galloway defines centralized, decentralized, and distributed networks. Centralized networks, from the American judicial system to Bentham’s panopticon, are hierarchical and centered by a “single authoritative hub,” to which different, subordinate nodes can be connected. Decentralized networks, such as the system of airports in the United States, have multiple hubs, “each with its own array of dependent nodes.”