geert lovink on Wed, 9 May 2001 13:47:07 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> From the Archives: Introduction to nettime (draft by Pit Schultz for ZKP 3)

[This is a draft for the introduction to the third nettime ZKP reader,
published in Budapest at the occasion of the third Metaforum conference,
October 1996. The second part, explaining basic notions of nettime, one year
after the start of the mailinglist, never made it into a second draft and
were therefor not published. /geert]

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Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 05:59:47 +0100
From: Pit Schultz <>
Subject: Panic Content - On Nettime
Status: RO

Panic Content

The question of content is a question for substance. After a glorious
postwar period where the enlightening concept of information escaped from
the concepts of matter and energy, it is filling today any governing
organizations of power and knowledge. That doesn't mean that information
means anything more then gaining general dominance. Information has become
such a slippery term, that in the center of the 'information-society', in
it's global virtual cathedral also called
'the Net', one is hectically 'cyberizing' everything: 'the body', 'life',
'work', 'sex', 'mind' to adapt to a chaosmos which is not made for humans
but for 'something faster'.

*Panic Content* as the counterpart of information-as-pure-essence is part of
a privatized colonizing project which tries to gain land out of nothing.
After building up boundaries around selections of information and access
restrictions, one hopes that money flows in. Interestingly the success of
the war machine Internet is partly based on pirate utopias of anti-market
models like shareware, public domain, anti-copyright and a ring economy of
knowledge exchange.

The awaited 'War on Content' (whose information is on what server?) is a
conflict which connects this experimental zone to it's real existing
outside. It also sets free a dynamism which is expected to catapult us over
the upcoming time-wall and which, most of all, let us forget. Forget any
information we will never be able to access because it is not public or
digitized. Forget about Grandmother Europe which haunted us with it's
outdated canonical culturism. Forget about 'false' believes and 'wrong'

To execute the grand plan of escape into cyberspace a global city must be
build where the systems of command, control and communication in the
military, cultural and financial sector are modulating the flows of energy
and matter diffundating the finest fabrics of personal and social life. It
is no wonder that being confronted with such paranoid scenarios of a world
panopticum, some people get obsessed with their lost innocence showing
symptoms like child abuse, alien abduction and
an obsession with invisible censorship and secure intimacy. 'Content' may be
a temporary fashion which exemplifies the mass psychology of the net in the
nostalgic desire for something material, it's also a chance for re-building
power-knowledge-structures which do not fit into the norms of the existing
official quality control systems and are therefore defining zones for
serious fun.

ZKP3 is the third of a xeroxed a-periodical we non-professionally published
on cyber-conceptual conferences based on the output of the nettime caravan,
a curly path through the contemporary so called critical so called
international cyber discourse. We hope that out of this temporary publishing
practice ideas will come how to continue the project, do reprints, migrate
into infranets, become content, grow to a newsgroup, make new friends or
intensify old friendships.
Budapest is a city of old hopes and new frustrations, it may be postmodern
for hundreds of years, multicultural by default, most of all it cultivates a
diversity of creative disfunctionalities which sentimentally resist the
principles of effectivity and profit of today. Most of all it's a place to
meet with people from the east on a territory which is part of 'their own'
history. It might be also a city to build up models for east-west content
generators and 'round-robin' city exchange networks, or at least to make
plans for the evening.


On nettime
version 0.1 (not yet edited)

When it comes to the question to describe my own projects i often feel
unable to do so. At the one hand i am too blind to measure the professional
effectivity of a work which is far from being profitable yet, second I can
not tell about something as my own thing which circumscribes the activities
of a long list of other people and which goes back to a genealogy of
predecessors, friends and neighbors you can't listen now. And third it is
hard to catch and freeze a process of net discourse which moves and changes
constantly and form it to something which is as static like a text. Accept
it or not, this description may be fundamentally wrong.

nettime was found in June 1995 in Venice by a group of artists,
theoreticians, media activists and journalists. It was happening in the
context of the Venice Biennale and was connected to a night-event called
Club Berlin which was importing 'Techno' into the art context. While having
good food and bright talks during the day, the 'cooption' of
'techno-underground' during the night became an imprinting birth experience
for this project. Since then nettime remained what one can call independent
and extremely cautious towards processes of converting cultural capital.
This is not happening because of dogmatism but because of the will for
maximum freedom, freedom money cannot buy. In Venice we also described the
main lines of critical complexes on which nettime is still oriented: Urban
metaphor, Infovitalism, and Net-tribalism. Since then every three months
there are happening meetings where a changing nucleus of the list is planing
and discussing new projects, like lately the initiative by Paul
Garrin, the east-west web refresh, or just art practices like a city
exchange network, publishing strategies, or tasks forces against private
German content police officers.

It is funny to use a medium without trusting in it. It is even more funny to
use a medium and then criticize it. Some say it is impossible to criticize a
system from within. They say you have to have a distance to it to be able to
interpret it, but then they don't find an end of interpretation. There are
three basic securities a net critique on the net can count on.

a. it refers to itself (the net, critique) in a mode of contradiction.
b. contradiction produces interest and information.
c. interest and information have an end.

Any Marxist reading of such terms is not avoided but especially by
East-European subscribers not really popular. If 'communication creates
conflict' (Bunting) or 'subjectivity must get produced' (Guattari), it was
never a goal of this project to dominate discourse, missionate you, or tell
the pure truth.

Giving Credits:
In 1993 Ctheory, a magazine which turned into a mailinglist, run by the
Krokers in Canada, was for us a new but long awaited experience. Where most
Media Theory suffers from a pathos of distance from it's own object, Ctheory
runs hot in a short circuit of Postmodern Practice. While it's academic
Competitor, PMC, is mostly mirroring the rituals of an institutional
apparatus, it remains a good example for cost effective grey publishing of
younger and older Authors. Ctheory is still the Grandfather of nettime, and
the Book 'Data Trash' of Weinstein and Kroker is still the standard work of
a political economy of cyberspace. The Panic Encyclopaedia another product
out of the discourse factories in Toronto, marks the transition from a bad
Love affair with Baudrillard, to a more performative pastiche project
dealing with the famous German export product into Cyberculture : Angst and
it's cultivation as Mass Phenomena: Panic. While Ctheory still produces on a
unearthly academic height, very postmodern and a bit ornamental, it is
definitely worth to subscribe to if you have a special interest in Net
Critique. The third big Theory data base in the end of 1994 when we started
to think about such a project is the English Server at CMC, a huge
collection of magazines, papers, articles, quotes, around the field of
'cultural theory' run by a collective of students. It must get mentioned
that all these projects are financed by the Education System. Today with a
growing number of projects in the same segment of 'cyber discourse' it is
worth to think again what nettime might be, before finding a new strategy of
publishing which again remains effective for a longer period.

We began to feel the need for a European cyber-discourse with the unbearable
lightness of reading wired magazine. Wired is still the most influential
ideological and irational Organ of the Virtual Class. Everything which Wired
wrote was for us Pure Propaganda and provoked the question for the
unofficial Data. As the Prawda of the net Wired Magazine forces the
emergence of dissident thought. Later it was named by Barbrook 'the
Californian' Ideology, which to contradict to cannot be wrong. This is of
course the simplistic logic of the early colonized, and the situation looks
much different 2 Years later. But it is still clear that the Mass psychology
of cyberspace generates issues and figures like represented by John Perry
Barlow, which had a hard time after his proto-pathological manifesto about
the Independence of Cyberspace. Still there is interestingly no competent
discursive analysis of the influence of this little Magazine on the way the
world is speaking about the net.

While Mondo 2000, as the better part of cyberculture disappeared by burnout
and with it the last Cyberpunk, it was clear that Electronic Resistance had
to get re-defined. The mid of the 90ies where as starting phase of
net-migration. The same wishes and possibilities which led us move to the
east after 1990, squatting city space and realizing something which was
later named TAZ, it was logical for some, to seek for the same thrill in
Cyberland. But after a first euphoria, celebrated for some of us in the
Golden Years of the Thing BBS, learning a lot about collaborative electric
text production, after the first orgasmic contacts with the long awaited
universal Media, skepticism began to grow, even for doing art, one first
needed a concept about the net and its different fields of meaning.

Right now, we are speaking about potentials, about possible decisions, about
vague Ideas which has not yet become concepts. Even if net critique is based
on the Axiom that everyone should have the right to be not Wired, but this
doesn't mean that net critique refuses to affirm the power of a new
technological standards. Of course the former networks of transport and
Transmission, did not function as a historical a priori, but they were often
places where new tactics and strategies took place, if economical, military
or in discourse production. Networks can easily get described as
organizations of power. With a special European social memory of the
possible abuse of Technological Networks of Power one is skeptically
approaching any kind of new media technique.

"Imagine what would have happen if McLuhan had Access to the World Wide
Web." It may be the initial moment of Media Theory that is in fact unable to
leave it's stand in the Gutenberg Galaxy, while it uses the knowledge about
New Electric Media to try to break with its dependencies. We have a
prominent example of such a media generation conflict in Germany, the very
influential work of Professor Kittler, who comes from literary theory and
successfully shows how technical media is determining culture and everything
else. But he insists on the priority of the hardware. His main rhetoric is
based on a contradictions within a culture resisting to conceptualize the
influence of computers. But this is not true.

I guess one of the most important Books written in the last few years on the
contradictions of a Electric Media Culture is 1000 Plateaux of
Deleuze/Guattari. Here the book itself becomes already something described
as a machine. Net theoreticians like Manuel Delanda, Critical Art Ensemble
or Peter Lamborn Wilson are making heavily use of concepts of this book. It
was mentioned lately by Sherry Turkle that French Abstract Postmodernism has
partly come to the ground through the rise of the Internet. What I want to
say with all this is that it seems that the net forms a 'plane of
consistency' which is hardware-independent and where concepts and action,
sociality and technique, theory and practice, work and money merge together
to form new aggregates of power-knowledge. The wish economies of the nets
are different from the old democratic-despotic Broadcast media, always in
danger to collapse into a terminal state of capitalism or the black wholes
of fascism.

The time of nettime is a social time, it is subjective and intensive, with
condensation and extractions, segmented by social events like conferences
and little meetings, and text gatherings for export into the paper world.
Most people still like to read a text printed on wooden paper, more then
transmitted via waves of light. nettime is not the same time like geotime,
or the time clocks go. Everyone who programs or even sits often on a screen
knows about the phenomena of being out of time, time on the net consists of
different speeds, computers, humans, software, bandwidth, the only way to
see a continuity of time on the net is to see it as a asynchronous network
of synchronized time zones.

The psychological side effect of the single user on her screen is often a
'time-bubble', if not a transcendental at least a physiological state of
mind, where absolute time of the idea, the association, a network of thought
creates a time zone which notoriously desynchronizes with the one of normal
life. A mailinglist might be a possibility to share such a time bubble and
create a collective asynchronous time zone relatively independent from
space. The Different tactics of acceleration and slowing down, are always
defining the boundaries of such a social time continuum. With the hidden
layer of private e-mail it is always possible for mutual dialogues and
personal reflections to detect a critical state of the list, problematic
issues, common disinterest, 'general overload' - or even a person which
falls into a role-game which turn out to be destructive for the whole list.

Some already called such info-environmental group therapy. This is not right
in general. It is all in all a grouping of interests, of texts, of time as a
process of condensation, without having a clear center. Of course there are
certain hierarchies in the nettime-network. But there are several
opportunities to 'route around' it. The main principle of nettime might be a
productive vagueness. A flexibility of never reaching an absolute minimum or
maximum, a certain production of a social scope, which often turns out to
represent the interest of the main group of active contributors. But any new
document functions as a vector which re-contextualizes what was already
posted. One knows that somewhere an archive stores the stream of documents,
documenting the path the discourse went through different time zones, and
net phases.

As a collaborative project the principle of selection is as easy as unclear,
what comes in, is part of the flow, and anyone has the risk to send
something 'useless' or 'noisy'. Public Dialogue is more or less the first
step to an entropic decline of a mailinglist. Therefore nettime is aiming on
a big threshold to reply to texts in the public, while it often happens that
private mail contextualizes where someone else might have no further
interests to discuss. Between Dialogue and a One-To-Many list there are
different ways of Moderating a list. The goal still is the collaborative
construction of a body of knowledge which is free from the interests of a
company, an institution, or even a certain editorial team. Of course nettime
has certain centers, but before you might say that only two people are
selecting the texts, you should look on the senders/authors address, it
becomes obvious that behind the flow of nettime stands not one editorial
team but a complex network of academic, subcultural, private and
professional relations which select texts in a way which makes the
traditional editing team obsolete. of course it still needs persons which
make selections, which even moderate or organizing publishing activities in
paper-space. The text types, which we prefer to name genres are mainly
articles, essays, reports, threads (discussions), reviews, poems, quotes and

The relation of Quality and Quantity in nettime follows fuzzy rules. It is
more the knowledge to create content and cultural capital avoiding a direct
commercial use. This creates a certain dynamic which forces professional and
commercial 'followers' to maybe loose their conservative and reglementory
course, and gain effectivity in the discourse, which is the aim of critique.
It is not any more the case that the academy, or a publishing house can
determine which texts are wanted or even distributed. But only a few of them
see the chances of the net for micropublishing. Nettime is in this way more
similar to the xerox networks in the former eastern blocks, especially
interesting for people which can't afford to buy imported books. A certain
barrier of virtual dirtiness, like typos and formatting errors, but mainly
an unedited use of net-English, helps to hide the project in the technical
sublime of the ascii-world. Only those who has a certain knowledge or
interest will remain or hear about the group. It is not as all the logic of
mass media.

Nettime is trying to avoid its own promotion and advertisement, a too fast
growth and too much references, in this way it builds up a relatively
continuos but semi-private flow in the exhaustive content-economy of the
nets where effectiveness and presence are measured in number of users, or
clicks. This is the logic of Television and Magazines. Small Media like
nettime has other tasks to do then defining and controlling a public-sphere.
The diversity of the flow of texts represents a diversity experienced on the
street, in a bar or a club. There is a certain social selection, but it
never reaches the censorship which is done under the principles of creating
scarcity and excluding ideas and intensity through 'professional quality
control'. Nettime is existing and used because there is no other media for
the same purposes available on the net Nettime brings in a simple way
specialists, authors, editors, artists of a special interest group together.

One of the main Principles of nettime is to forget about the metaphor of the
magazine. The texts in nettime might be the same which appear in Magazines,
but it is much more a distribution channel which may lead into magazines or
out of them. What one is basically missing in a time-based discontinuous
flow of documents is the grouping into table of contents. The flow itself
with certain repetitions of names and themes documents an inner social logic
of selection and interest, of distraction of boredom. Not one of the
subscribers of nettime will ever have read all texts, but the format is
already much more condensed and discursive then the average
talk-and-reply-list which forms completely different social dynamics and
suffers often the effects of amplified emotions through minimal channels.
Pre-publishing means a policy which gives publishers the chance to get in
contact with an author and buy a text. Re-publishing gives nettime the
chance to ask often the same Publishers to get back a text.

This is an economy of agreement which is aware of a dialectic of
exploitation and exploration. Because an environment like nettime is based
on no budget and hi credibility, it is always possible to try to speed up
production or activities, change fields or distract with noise so that
exploitation becomes more different. The extreme form of fighting against
the abuse of the good will of authors and member of nettime could be the
collaboration with projects in the model of pirate utopias which are
situated in territories or under protocols which are hard to reach for
publishers even if copyright rights might get violated. Inversive Publishing
means Project like ZKP. The re-transferring into the Paperworld. Only here
one may make money in the near future to pay Authors, which do not loose
their credibility and chance to modulate a vivid process. A world edition of
ZKP may get published

The copyright liberation front or the Free Content Coalition are fighting
for the accessibility of basic common content like Encyclopaedias, Comics,
Technotracks, Cyberculture. They might cooperate with the Polish, Chinese or
Russian Mafia, but the goal is the availability of certain Information for
free. Anyone who can afford it should by content or software in a official
shop. In the traditional production of content not the author but the
advertiser gets paid first. The inner interdependencies of advertisement and
content are often neglected in the discussions around censorship. Privacy
may be at first of an interest of companies which try to hide their
financial data before taxes. The issue of Free Content has interestingly no
Lobby group yet, even if Public Online Libraries where the most common
promises of the early Superhighway Propaganda. It is clear that social
conflicts and poverty will determine who needs free content online. As long
as teh Archives on the net are open, it is not a false idea to build up
private backups before the content castles close their doors.

some short notes to the city-metaphor. while there are already several books
which theorize the model of the city in relation to the net, it is obvious
that the discourse of architecture is still centered around the goal of
building houses or doing art, while in between one is developing
representative monuments. One of the most urgent developments in the
academic field should be a trans-disciplinary research group which combines
the experiences of architecture in conceptualizing and designing social
space with the need to build new interfaces which leave the Desktop Metaphor
of the 'private Computer'. Software standards like VRML are maybe leading in
the wrong direction as it is also important to rethink how space is
conceptualized psychologically and physiologically, or encoded through
cultural products like music, language, gestures, fashion. Everything which
i read until now about the net and the city is much to descriptive to show
the need and potential for architects of the International Cities. The real
existing metaphors are too depressive to talk about, GroupWare like the one
of IBM/Lotus is only automating certain distributed processed of document
editing, it is interestingly extremely cautious with every use of metaphors,
enforcing the abstractions of an office machine. New social interfaces will
include the Theories of Social Systems, Discourse Analysis, Transaction etc.

It is certain that projects like Digitale Stad Amsterdam or Internationale
Stadt Berlin will soon become prototypes of trans-disciplinary Research
Groups which are developing a process design and the transactional
Interfaces for Social Computing. The possible errors of such utopias might
be overwhelming the chances for a new rise of the public sphere. It is
obvious that one will need 'narratives' similar to theme parks, where such
experiments do interfere with daily life in a controlled way. Another fast
expanding Market are Multi-user Games like Quake. A collaborative working
environment will still be the main goal of projects like nettime. The more
subscribers it gets the more possible a split of into subgroups and filter
projects gets possible.

Berlin 9.10.96

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