Tony D. Sampson – Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks

Tony D. Sampson

University of Minnesota Press, ISBN: 978-0816670055, 248 pages, 2012, English
The concept of “virality” in networks was initially associated with the infection of computer viruses (and partly still is), before coming to describe the rapid and endemic spreading of content (typically visual), something that has become a holy grail for marketers concerned with commercial reward. The formerassociation was connected with a “language of fear”, something the author calls the “too much connectivity” thesis, whose language he explicitly questions. The strategy here is to get rid of the immunology and disease model, gaining freedom to express what he calls “epidemiological encounters” in the networked age, from a very different perspective. The same can be said for the “memetic” schemes of marketing people (some YouTube videos are living examples). Sampson contrasts different simplistic Darwinian models that are related to buzzwords such as “viral” and “meme” and asks: what actually is it that spreads on a network? The answer is contained in his “Contagion Theory” which is neither positive nor negative, but based extensively on the work of the French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, who formulated a “monadological understanding of social relationality” in the 19th century. The cultures surrounding virality then start to be about social influence, so the “infection” is not merely a contagion event anymore where the fittest survive, but a social event. It can lead to biopolitical redistribution of power generating a virality of love, around which the most powerful relationships can form, and can effectively oppose “corporate hypnosys” and neuromarketing practices (influencing decisions, capturing emotions and affects).