Signalarity: Abstraction and power in layered models of network protocol architecture
McFillin, Adam James
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...protocols are not just a set of technical specifications...they are an entire formal apparatus; the totality of techniques and conventions that affect protocol at a social level, not simply a technical one. (Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization. ) This thesis will compile a history of the layered model of network protocol architecture, including the prevailing OSI and TCP/IP models. It will examine how the structure of the layered model allows for abstraction by way of information hiding between layers, creating a hierarchy through which ideological influence can be expressed. A history of the layered model (also known as the "protocol stack" when implemented in software), which is the dominant paradigm of network design, will be traced from its origins in systems theory and Operating System development, to its adoption by industry in the form of the OSI and DOD models. Lesser utilized and alternative models will be illustrated and contrast against the modern status quo. The thesis will provide examples of the extent to which power is expressed in layered model-based networks, such as the Internet, and will focus on which groups of people such a hierarchy serves. To achieve this, the work will refer to notable critiques of abstraction in software studies (via Kittler, Chun), and relate the relevant aspects of these critiques to the layered model of protocol architecture. The examination will demonstrate by example the ways in which power is expressed in a top-down manner through a protocol stack, with the help of Alexander Galloway's work in the areas of protocol and interface. As a practice-based body of research, the character of influences and power structures identified in this work will be identified in their connection to my artistic practice and related works of other artists. The thesis will examine the work of Golan Levin and Jonah Brucker-Cohen as practitioners of network-focused art, and Christina Kubisch and Joyce Hinterding as expositors of function through form in the realm of sound art. The works of these artists will be contrasted with the thesis project Music for AT Musicians , both in its aims and execution.