Internet Daemons

A complete history and theory of internet daemons brings these little-known—but very consequential—programs into the spotlight.

About Internet Daemons

We’re used to talking about how tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon rule the internet, but what about daemons? Ubiquitous programs that have colonized the Net’s infrastructure—as well as the devices we use to access it—daemons are little known. Fenwick McKelvey weaves together history, theory, and policy to give a full account of where daemons come from and how they influence our lives—including their role in hot-button issues like network neutrality.

Going back to Victorian times and the popular thought experiment Maxwell’s Demon, McKelvey charts how daemons evolved from concept to reality, eventually blossoming into the pandaemonium of code-based creatures that today orchestrates our internet. Digging into real-life examples like sluggish connection speeds, Comcast’s efforts to control peer-to-peer networking, and Pirate Bay’s attempts to elude daemonic control (and skirt copyright), McKelvey shows how daemons have been central to the internet, greatly influencing everyday users.

Internet Daemons asks important questions about how much control is being handed over to these automated, autonomous programs, and the consequences for transparency and oversight.

Chapter Overview


Oliver Selfridge, a seminal thinker in machine intelligence, imagined computer programs as a world of demons. The introduction extends this metaphor to elaborate a daemonic media studies.

Chapter 1 - The Devil We Know: Maxwell's Demon, Cyborg Sciences, and Transmissive Control

From heat engines to the military-academic-industrial complex, this chapter follows the legacy of Maxwell’s Demon to origins of digital communication and control.

Chapter 2 - Possessing Infrastructure: Non-synchronous Communication, IMPs and Optimization

Researchers at the Advanced Projects Research Agency drew together cutting-edge research in digital communication to build a new kind of network and in the process conjured daemons into the core of its infrastructure.

Chapter 3 - IMPs, OLIVERs, and Gateways: Internet-networking before the Internet

As the ARPANET reconfigured to become the backbone of today’s Internet, this chapter follows its changing diagrams that pre-figured the global communication system home to many new daemons and networks.

Chapter 4 - Pandaemonium, Or A Volatile Mixture of Daemons in Two Parts

The Internet is a vast pandaemonium filled with daemons cooperating to optimize the network of networks as seen in Comcast’s attempt to manage peer-to-peer networking over its cables.

Chapter 5 - Suffering from Buffering? Affects of Transmissive Control

This chapter connects daemons to the affective experiences of being delayed online and the cultural stigmas that code these feelings of waiting and slowness.

Chapter 6 - The Dis-optimized: The Ambiguous Tactics of the Pirate Bay

The infamous Pirate Bay has antagonized daemons as well as copyright holders. This chapter discusses the tactics it has used to attempt to elude daemonic control.

Chapter 7 - A Crescendo of On-Line Interactive Debugging? Gamers, Publics and Daemons

This chapters chronicles the two-year policy intervention of Canadian gamers that is a critical case both to understand post-Network Neutrality enforcement and the public accountability of daemons.


The conclusion imagines daemons as one part of the global operating systems that coordinate connection, standards, platforms, security and the conditions of communication for millions of people globally.

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You can buy Internet Daemons this Fall from the University of Minnesota Press or Amazon.

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About Fenwick McKelvey

Dr. McKelvey is an Associate Professor in Information and Communication Technology Policy in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University. He studies the digital politics and policy, appearing frequently as an expert commentator in the media and intervening in media regulatory hearings. He is co-author of The Permanent Campaign: New Media, New Politics (Peter Lang, 2012) with Greg Elmer and Ganaele Langlois. His research has been published in journals including New Media and Society, the International Journal of Communication, public outlets such as The Conversation and Policy Options, and been reported by The Globe and Mail, CBC The Weekly and CBC The National. He is also a member of the Educational Review Committee of the Walrus Magazine.