Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Thu, 6 Mar 97 20:24 MET

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nettime: What is New Media?


Let's put this "push" thing in a little perspective.  There have been a
number of ideas tried out to over the past few ideas as people attempt to
figure out what is usually called the "business model" for New Media --
i.e. how to make money other then by selling routers/modems or holding

Originally, coming on the heels of CD-ROMs, the Net, and particularly the
Web, was seen as a publishing medium.  Some tended to emphasise a book-like
model but more drew analogies to magazines.  Since the Web *was* invented
at CERN to accelerate scientific publishing, there is good reason to
explore this route.

However, unlike scientific publishing (which is supported by library
subscriptions), consumer publishing is advertising based.  So, along came
the banner ad as an effort to build a commercial WEB consumer publishing
model that works.  

Along with a few others, I was very publically vocal that this would not
work -- professionally I'm a pundit/analyst on these matters.  My objection
was largely based on the observation that the impact of Web ads would not
have the desired manipulative psychological effect.  In addition, the
inertia of advertisers and the poor quality of Net measurement techniques,
would tend to keep most advertisers away.  I publically predicted the
"death of the WEB" -- actually the death of the consumer ad-based magazine
model -- AND that people would next try a TV model.

The parody article in WIRED last year about the death of the WEB
joke-quoted me after I was real-quoted in TIME magazine to that effect. 
And, then I did the WIRED BrainTennis "debate" on the same topic.  BTW, I
think that I was basically right.  The magazine model *has* been largely
abandoned and banner ads are clearly not working.  80% of *all* WEB
advertising is by companies who's future depends on the WEB -- pump-priming
or self-promotional -- like the search folks and various equipment
providers.  The great mass of consumer advertisers have *not* jumped onto
the WEB.

I think the follow-on prediction that after magazines a TV-model (which we
are now calling "push") would arise was also right (and also not too hard
to figure out.)  The dominant media in our society is TV.  It "works." 
Everyone from Sun (Java was earlier a set-top cable-TV converter
programming language) to Microsoft (who's "media" thrust is dominated by
the MS-NBC cable channel) to AOL (which is now run by the creator of MTV,
Bob Pittman) to Kleiner Perkins (the top tech venture fund and lead
investor in @Home) have major investments in TV.  TV is supposed to
converge with computers, as the old story goes, and the computer types want
to be on top when the dust settles.  So, therefore the WIRED "PUSH"
cover-story is really a TV-model story.

The problem is that online "TV" will also fail and convergence will not
occur.  Despite all the work-arounds devised to overcome the obvious
bandwidth problems of the Net (which is why we call this stuff "push" and
not TV), the quality of the experience is still and will probably always be
so different and, well, inferior to TV-for-TV's-purpose, that my original
objections still apply.  In fact, it may turn out that there is *no* viable
large-scale profit-making business model based on this networking
technology.  But, given the $10-20+ Billion in R&D and public/private
"venture" money out there chasing the next-big-thing, don't expect a
surrender of the commericial onslaught anytime soon.

The Net, it seems to me, will fill two competing roles -- propaganda and
anti-propaganda -- neither of which may turn out to be big commercial hits.
 This is what I call the battle for cyberspace.  On behalf of
social-engineering, the NET is already being used for all the various forms
of hyper-democracy or "friendly Fascism."  Some of this will be thinnly
disquised psychotherapy (online "communities") and some will be to mount
public policy campaigns.  The pro-pornography campaign -- disquised as
"free speech" -- around the U.S. CDA is just one example of this.

The Social Engineers (or what C.S. Lewis called the "Conditioners") have
long favored replacing representative democracy with mob-rule managed by
themselves -- the technocrats.  Efforts to make access to the Net universal
tend towards mechanisms that would turn the Net into a giant opinion
polling system designed to subvert constitutional republics.  There is
already much underway on the propaganda side of this battle.  It is the
object of WIRED's "English Ideology" cyber-libertarianism.  (BTW, there was
also some interesting discussion of this essay -- originally published on
nettime and ReWired -- recently on the WELL.)

On the anti-propaganda side, not so much is evident.  Clearly, *some* of
the list activity (like nettime) tends in that direction but much does not,
as well.  The NET offers opportunities for serious education --
particularly about the much older debates which got us into this mess --
but so far that has not been the focus of any large-scale commercial
efforts.  Since propaganda is supportive of the main-stream culture of
atomization and meaninglessness, then anti-propaganda could possibly begin
to use the Net to constitute a new and meaningful counter-culture.  That's
ultimately the most interesting question.

Since I adopted and publicized the term "new media" in reference to
computer networks back in 1989 (yes, I know that "new media" means teletext
in much of Europe), my interest has been in whether there was a new culture
which would grow to infuse these new media.  I'm still wondering.

I recently got up at a New Media "Summit Conference" in NYC (yes, I also
coined the term "Silicon Alley" and helped to start a local
chamber-of-commerce for New Media) to ask the following question of an
audience of 300+ mostly young entreprenuers, "Who in this room is
fundamentally dissatisfied with all existing media?"  Only three people
raised their hands but it became clear at the reception that followed that
people aren't even aware that it is permitted to be angry with the lies of
television.  They, therefore, have a very hard time figuring out any

Perhaps, they will have to fail in their attempts to make online TV (i.e.
"push") work first.  Perhaps, they will have to figure out that the
dominant culture doesn't "work", first.  Perhaps, we will have to tell them
something about all this.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City
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