- The Zapatistas Floodnet:From Automation to Autonomy and Back
Electronic Disturbance Theater 1.0 established the first "automated" Virtual Sit-In software in 1998, the Zapatista FloodNet, which was designed to disturb a targeted website based on the number of individuals joining the e-action who then selected the quality of their automated agency. It was manifested by the numbers of individual IPs (or Internet addresses) that joined the e-action; the program then amplified these numbers by allowing the network actants to set the speed of the sit-in. EDT also shifted these virtual sit-ins from a centralized network model of servers to a distributed model to create a form of electronic civil disobedience. The gesture synthesized the Zapatistas' call for the self-defense of indigenous social autonomy and agency in the face of its constant negation by the Mexican state, together with the pre-programmed automation of affordances found in web browsers at the time. [End Page 292]
EDT 1.0 cofounder Brett Stalbaum described the automation function of the Zapatista Flood-Net like this:
As FloodNet performs automatic reloads of the site in the background, slowing or halting access to the targeted server, FloodNet also encourages interaction on the part of individual protesters. Netsurfers may voice their political concerns on a targeted server via the "personal message" form which sends the surfer's own statement to the server error log. Additionally, a mouse click on the applet image (containing a representation of the targeted site), sends a predefined message to the server error log. In the current version of Flood-Net, this process is automated as well.1
The "error log" functioned as part of the reload process that would also call on the "Error 404 files/Files Not Found" function (a basic digital public request call and response). This reloading would introduce specific questions into the system, such as "Is Democracy found on this .gov site?," which yields the .gov site response, "Error 404_Democracy not found," and Error 404_Justice not found," and so on. These questions could be uploaded by the e-protesters manually, and they were also set to be asked automatically with every reload.
This action created an electronic disturbance between machines, users, and social networks that codeswitched between autonomous communities seeking freedom, such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico or those manifesting TAZ (temporary autonomous zone) occurrences via the protocols of "unfree" automatic reloading of code as a pre-programmed condition. Such automation yielded a process that reproduced, as Roland Meyer puts it, "the quasi-mechanical simulation of an impoverished thinking that no longer knows any outside. In blind, dumb inertia, they race on and on and in doing so produce (obdurately, unintentionally, automatically) ever-new coincidences, with perhaps catastrophic consequences."2 The Zapatista Flood Net navigated the shoals between utopian autonomy and an automatic apocalypse.
This gesture crisscrossed multiple types of beings and becomings that allowed for the amplification of a new condition that might be defined as an artificial social intelligence that erased the dubious techno-solution of the singularity. This type of digital-rapture embedded in the Californian Ideology, a driving vision of a world of total automation and total autonomy that would bring forth a new posthuman condition. First mentioned by von Neuman in 1958, the singularity refers to the "ever accelerating progress of technology … [that] gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue."3 The singularity is considered the final outcome of "automation" and dispells the presumption that only the human can be autonomous. The performative matrix of autonomy and automation is not a simple either/or condition but a transversal process: it moves across a spectrum of possible formations that are both free [End Page 293] and unfree. The Zapatista FloodNet hinted at the possibility of creating a gesture that layered different automated (unfree) systems and human (autonomous) actants to coproduce a virtual sit-in. Vilém Flusser might have considered FloodNet to be an important trajectory that traced out the "possibility of human beings … sav[ing] themselves from having to be obdurate, automatic receivers of...