The Culture of Protocols

I experienced what could be described as a convergence of terms recently. Reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Anarchist in the Library (2004) he discusses the term ‘Protocols’ in relation to P2P digital technology, comparing it in metaphor to a handshake as an inbuilt control is a “half-nelson”. The same afternoon I read this I received an email from a friend in Australia who is well on his way to becoming a professional artist. He wrote of an exhibition he is putting together at the moment and the need for a “cultural and protocol adviser” as much of his work depicts elements of Wik culture, an Aboriginal nation of Northern Australia. I see this as an example of a network culture meeting a centralized one and their being conflict in the context of a commercial art gallery. This provoked thoughts regarding the nature of protocols themselves, the related idea of dialogue as opposed to monologue and the cultures which instigate such practices. Vaidhyanathan constructs these as a continuum between oligarchy and anarchy, using a classical cynic conception of the term anarchy. Network cultures where protocols operate as the means of exchange are of course hot topics at the moment in the technological nation states. But the example of Aboriginal art shows that they remain also an ancient means of organizing a society and its information. How we judge or compare such systems says much about the nature of the culture we ourselves pursue today.