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<nettime> The Ideology of Immateriality
Felix Stalder on Mon, 12 Jun 2000 03:54:36 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The Ideology of Immateriality



The Ideology of Immateriality

More than 10 years ago, George Gilder forged the basic credo of what we now
call the new economy when he wrote: "The central event of the twentieth
century is the overthrow of matter...Today, wealth comes not to the rulers
of slave labor but to the liberators of human creativity, not to the
conquerors of land but to the emancipators of mind."

At the time, such an statement sounded quite outrageous, but in the last 10
years this simple idea has been repeated so many times and in so many
variations that it not only can pass as profound insight but also common
sense. Gilder, that influential champion of the new economy, fused together
two ideas that are now almost universally accepted. The first one lies in
what he says, the second in how he puts it.

Gilder and all his followers claim that the physical is no longer valuable,
that what really matters lies in the immaterial realm of ideas, of
information and knowledge. And that with this shift we find ourselves in an
information age where our economy is suddenly supposed to be
knowledge-based. This epochal shift is supposed to bring about a liberation
of the mind from the deadweight of the body, with all the religious
undertones that such a promise entails. We will, so we are told, enter even
an era of creativity that will free humanity from the drudgery of manual
labour. Machines will do for us everything that is repetitive and
straining, so that we can fully concentrate on cultivating knowledge and
hatching out new ideas. Also this promise of an imminent man-made golden
age of abundance and freedom of has a long history.

The second idea is hidden in the matter-of-fact way of stating the central
event of the century. The way Gilder describes it , this is a development
without actors and therefore inevitable. It unfolds itself due to its
necessary inner logic. Confronted with such a tidal wave of change true
wisdom can only seek understanding and seizing opportunities by quickly
abandoning what would be rendered obsolete sooner or later anyway. The
sooner we adapt to this single necessary future, the less pain we will
suffer. All we can do it help history shed its skin without damaging its
still fragile new body. This message of inevitability has deeply affected
politics to a point where now the unimaginative administration of the
down-sizing of the public sector passes as an alternative third way, as it
is being celebrated this weekend in Berlin.

Underpinning the new economy, then, is what one could call an "ideology of
immateriality". It says that the privileging of the immaterial over the
material is a necessary, actorless or technology-driven process that will
reconstitute society to fulfill our true human potential. Its greatest
danger comes from unduly interference of  those not willing to adapt fast
enough.

I use the word ideology on purpose because what masquerades as common
sense, is indeed a deliberate distortion of of reality to protect the
interests of a minority.

The privileging of the immaterial over the material is far from liberating
humanity rather it serves to add to the material wealth of an emerging
global elite at the expense of the majority which is either simply left
out, relegated to what Manuel Castells calls "the black holes of
informational capitalism" or reduced to minimum wage existence in
production, service and maintenance of the material underpinning of the new
economy. It creates, sharper than ever before, a distinction between those
how operate computers and those who assemble them.

I use the term ideology on purpose because it is not an actorless
unfolding, but the result of intense pressure and lobbying on all levels
with the explicit goals to remove barrier for the flows of immaterial goods
and services and to hollow out democratic institutions that might slow down
these flows. There are actors, they have addresses and headquarters, they
meet in conference centers and its possible to go and visit them. Seattle
and Washington has demonstrated that on a global scale. Most of all, I use
the term ideology because there is more than one future and nothing is
inevitable.

[This text was prepared for the Tulipomania DotCom Conference, Amsterdam,
Frankfurt June 2-4, 2000]








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