Geert Lovink on Sun, 2 Mar 97 21:47 MET

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nettime: push media

A Push Media Critique
On the rebirth strategies of Wired magazine
By Geert Lovink

The March 1997 issue of Wired (5.03) has an unusual cover. No digirati
this time. Just a big blue hand on a red background, designed like a
warning signal, saying 'PUSH!'. It tries to hold us. Or is it pushing
us something into our face? The slogan says: 'We interrupt this
magazine for a special bulletin -' The breaking news is about 'the
radical future of media beyond the Web.' The article is written by 'the
editors of Wired'. Will they declare a state of emergency for

Why should Wired have to interrupt itself? It is not CNN. Just because
of some new audio and video software that is hitting the market? Is the
'shock of the new' indeed so overwhelming that it forced the editors to
write a common statement about the rise of so-called 'push media'?
There must be something else going on. Wired seems to be in crisis and
needs to reinvent itself. Due to the commercialization of the net, big
publishing houses, cable giants, telecoms and software companies have
moved in, and are now pushing the web into the direction of old-style
broadcasting technologies. Wired calls this the 'Revenge of TV' (with a
?). But this is only the logical consequence of its own strategy. For
years, Wired has been reporting euphorically about the coming symbiosis
of TV and the Net as the ultimate killer app. At this moment,
webbrowers are being surrounded by other applications. The WaitWaitWait
is about to lose its hegemonic position. The static, book-based idea of
'web pages' will be taken over by much more dynamic audio and video. If
the net has to become a mass medium, then it has to merge with the
film, tv, cable etc. industry. And if the market says so, it has to
happen. That is what the ideology of the free market says. So sit down
and watch the next paradigm shift going by on your screen.

Still, we can read a certain discontent, even betrayal in this odd
document. We have to wake up from the dream called Web. Suddenly, HTML
is described as the language of an 'archive medium. Archive as in
stacks of old books in a library.' That's different from what we have
heard before. 'The Web is a wonderful library, but a library
nonetheless.' This is a smash in the face of all the followers, net
slaves, usefull web-idiots and other digital fellow travellers that
have spoilt all their energy and devotion into... building a library.
This was not what they promised us.

Wired's own destiny is closely connected to the rise (and fall?) of the
World Wide Web. This magazin (founded in 92) is not about the old
internet, nor does it deal with hackers issues. It eventually became
big because of the commercial interest in the WWW (and multi-media).
'Kiss your browser goodbye' could therefore easily be read as an
indication that Wired itself 'is about to croak', or at least needs to
go through a tough phase of rebirth rituals (downseizing,
restructuring, sell out, take over, etc.). There are several
indications for this, which are all publicly known. The German edition
was cancelled, than it failed (twice) to go to Wall Street. Now, Wired
TV seems to produce programs but is not (yet) able to broadcast them.
The UK-edition seized to exist from March 1st. And for the first time
we heard rumours about an internal fight between the techno-libertarian
manegement and some critical and progressive individuals.

The Wired enterprise must have been in big need for a new ideology (or
'vision') and tries to find it in the catch phrase 'push media'. But
this pushing does not fit exactly within the previous ideology. Just
read what George Gilder is writing about television and why it ought to
decline. Economically, the web is still tiny in comparison to, for
example, advertisement revenues of television. This was one of the
reasons why Wired could not grow any longer. The profit of the magazine
had reached its limit. The company was forced to diversify and became a
small media-conglomerate. Besides the magazine, Hotwired and the book
publishing division Hard Wired, there is now surprisingly also 'Wired
TV'. This may sound like Lenin's dialectics: one step forward, two
steps back. But only with a television division, Wired Inc. might be
able to make the next quantum leap. For this it needed to go to the
stockmarket. Venture capital alone was not enough to ensure the
financing of all these different ventures. At least, that's what I
think, I am not a Wired watcher.

At this point, the Wired Story stumbles, hesitates and comes up with a
curious manifesto that above all reflects the uncertainty about the
future of the magazine. For net critics, it might be amusing to see how
Wired is being overruled by true media capitalism. But we have to
honost: these are all questions that we will all have to face, sooner
of later. For example: can we preserve some of the old net values and
standards, encourage technical and social innovation and public access,
without falling back into the patterns of mass media and the existing
culture industry? It can be ironical, to see Wired struggling. But
'Wired bashing' can only have positive results, if we use it as a
mirror, not just see it as an imaginairy enemy. Even in time of trouble
there is the real existing 'Desire to be Wired'.

Wired wants to 'move seamlessly between media you steer (interactive)
and media that steer you (passive)'. These push media 'work with
existing media' and create an 'emerging universe of networked media'.
We have to read between the lines here. It simply means that the Web
will have to give up its ideological hegemony it had in the last three
years as the 'medium to end all media.' Web is just one channel,
amongst many others. 'The Web is one', as Wired puts it now. A fairly
realistic point of view, but not fitting into the original net
religion, the Wired visionaries has been preaching. The Web had to
replace all other media, intergrate them, that was the idea, or as the
'special bulletin' still states: 'As everything get wired, media of all
kinds are moving to the decentralized matrix known as the Net.' In
reality, it is going the other way around. The net is moving to the
centralized business known as the Broadcasting Media. 'What is about to
disappear is the defining role of the old Web.' Irritated and somehow
disappointed, the editors have to admit that 'the traditional forms -
broadcast, print' - show few signs of vanishing.' How unfair, they
should have disappeared by now. What went wrong?

The fault also lies in the netizens themselves. 'The subterranean
instincts of couch potatoes rise again!' In secret, many continued
watching tv. The editors thought it was time to face this bitter
reality. 'True, there's a little couch potatoe in all of us. The human
desire to sit back and be told a completely ridiculous story is as
dependable as the plot of a soap.' Unfortunately, only a few of us have
been able to get away from the '45 years of addiction to passive
media. Only a handful of us turn out to be up for the vigorous activity
of reaching out to engage the world. Bummer.'

In order not to lose its role as the Prawda of Silicon Valley, Wired
must take the lead and incorporate the latest developments. But this
time, their enthousiasm does not sound very exciting. 'The new
networked media borrow ideas from television, but the new media
landscape will look nothing like TV as we know it. And indeed, it will
transform TV in the process.' What it is failing here is a clear
economic analysis. Television is not just a screen or an interface. The
introduction of (some sort of) interactivity is most of all a
money/profit question, decided by a few companies, in an ungoing war on

Cybernauts, netheads, websurfers, wake up. The boredom will be over
soon. 'Push media are always on, mobile, customizable'. These total
media arrive automatically and 'always assume you are available.' It is
begging for your attention. It will therefor be important, to know how
to switch them off. The Push Manifesto is indeed warning us for
possible misuse, like government regulation of networked push media and
privacy violations ('it finds you rather than you finding it'). Neither
old, nor new (in the sense of utopian), push media are rapidly 'closing
the gaps between existing media, towards one seamless media continuum.'
The totality of the 'unification' seems worry the editors. 'All we can
say is, Let a thousand media types bloom. Soon.' But this presumes a
deeper knowledge of both new and old realities, for example television.

'Each cycle of extend/unify notches up the ratchet of media complexity.
Ontogeny recaptulates phylogeny, in interactive media as in biological
media.' This must be Kevin Kelly speaking. We are getting to a
conclusion. He has seen it all and stays calm, like all techno-
darwinists. For Kelly it is just a stage, Wired and all of us have to
go through: 'All media recapitulate the evolution of former media. So
online media have evolved from smoke signals (email) to books and
magazines (the Web). We are now about to arrive at television (push
media).' It is touching to read how carefull and naive the Special
Bulletin is trying to describe the zapping behaviour of the viewer. It
is obviously a topic Wired did not write about so far. Perhaps it is
time for them (and us) to get to know the 45 years old theories of mass
communication, the (cultural) studies on the behaviour of the viewer,
the specific history of this technology and the economic (monopolistic)
forces that are dominating this branch. So, stop speculating about
'push media' and visit your library first.

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