Pit Schultz on Tue, 7 Apr 1998 21:54:53 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> media, art, economy?

[What follows is a contribution Pit Schultz made to a debate on the 
 Eyebeam list recently. Here it's in context and out of context. It
 has been minimally copy-edited for nettime. Share and enjoy.  --TB]
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

[ <...> so let me start with a long a bit polemic intro. the second
 part will contain more about art, the third will try to find an 
 answer to everything. <...>/pit]

what's nettime again?

Talking about nettime is not just talking about one's own work, what I
thought we wanted to talk about here, is artistic practise on the net.
Besides the suffix *artistic* is more limited than descriptive and
reminds me of a translation error of circus performances (artistisch).
The practise of nettime, in short doesn't need any praise but process,
it already made its own small history and is still doing it, in its
limited way without too much of a fuss and without false modesty. But of
course it has predecessors like the Thing BBS, which hosted Jordan
Crandall's formidable online salons. Responding to Andreas Broeckman in
four steps nettime escaped from its oedipal vectors. 1. The wired
ideology exhausted itself and declined intellectually with the end of
the net.hype, as you can see if you still buy this magazine. 2. A
modest democratization of nettime through a rotating group moderation
(which is still not standard even if others already learned from it) 3.
A certain continuity and 'reliable instability' through a number of long
term planning and resisting ideas which step by step are tested/
implemented (first of all the nettime book). 4. A continuity,
especially regarding the basis as a non-commercial project, which in
many ways gives the project a higher sustainability and working economy
of content.

Good Times

Nothing is spectacular, of course, if you aren't part of it. For some
people it changed their life, the rest use it to expand their textual
horizon whatever that means to them. Besides that, nettime tries to
refresh a certain political agenda which got boringly conservative after
1990, and which some may call 'leftism' though it really doesn't matter.
It is not a silly side effect of those lucky times (95-97 the
net-years?) in which, for a short 'divine' time, the whole universe
seemed to be mirrored in it. What counts for many good times is that it
is important not to get addicted to these experiences of synchronicity
and just work for its next appearance, not get tricked by all the shit
that happens around you. Most of all one has to be careful not to get
bitter or dogmatic, especially like those from scenes one tried to
escape by using computer&net as a vehicle. Instead, it is good to remain
small and mobile enough, to be able to jump off or mutate. Trivial, in
its own way.

Seeking the Kick

Working knowledge: it is always a bad idea just to copy what seems to be
a running system, as it is a bad idea to try to grow too much. We did
not completely leave the illusions of grandeur as a privilege of the
others, but we found a way to convert it into a powerful negativism.
That social networks and the ensuing discourses always have an aspect of
organising or centralising power is nothing new, and as long the
structures are overseeable, informal and personal, one finds good ways to
do small but effective changes to not grow, glow and burn out fast.

On the other hand, a certain underground ethos becomes very questionable
and truly rhetoric, it is an ascetic ideal which says that the most
successful (near to god) are those who resist success in the real world.
The 'anarchic' resistance to all models of funding and financing can
only get named childish as even behind nettime was a complex,
parasitical exchange and surplus economy working to provide more or less
than the social minimum wage. Nothing spectacular either. The zero
money ideology just mirrors the just-money ideology, meanwhile it is no
big fun. But as I said the net is a medium for learning. Not that it is
not allowed to be successful, but the type of success changes, while the
question remains what does give you the real kick and when the risk gets
too high to seriously bore other people with an obsession of efficiency,
and this climate of boredom is almost as unpredictable as the weather.

The Art of Shutting Up

So, there is a time to speak and there is a time to shut up. If one only
would know always! if you urge people to speak when they better shut up,
you get the funniest results. I have the feeling that many mailinglists
are suffering this effect at the moment, especially the ones based on
dialogue more then discourse, especially those balancing around a
certain minimal threshold, and if it is only self-advertisments and
announcements. After a certain collective utopian euphoria has been
over a while now - one that many still cling to - 'real life' starts
to take place with regulations and monopolisations, and the economy
seems to become more important once again, seemingly more powerful than
any single person or piece of work in the world. We may be in a period
of inflation but then nobody tells us. At least we have a status of
propaganda, the 'terror of economy'. Sure, there are still other things,
and we should not totalize all aspects of life especially under such a
spectre like money. But if we face it, that's all about it for the most
people, also artists and philosophers. Especially if you combine it with
how very calmly one is sucked into a system of investment, insurance,
and inequalities. Sure, instead, it seems more intelligent to
decentralise the topic, connect, relate and analyse instead of putting
it into scary terms like 'globalization'.

Internet Good, Internet Bad

The pseudo-democratic mass consume panic of internet-for-all is not at
all over, adding a lot more confusion into all day online discussion as
slowly a new mass medium emerges which was not planned or expected as
such a few years ago. It is the sleeping colossus of the collective
body of the couch potatoes of all lands, the Gammas as Bob Black calls
them, which gives place to various hopes and fears. It is the a
exquisite group of experts climbing around on this colossus making
clever statements about what it could be.

Elitists and global economic strategists like Esther Dyson try to train
the wired middle class to line up along a good old common sense
ideology. It is still not clear to which extreme the average AOL user
will politically tend if the day of decision would come or if he will
just be not able to pay his debts anymore on day x. And it is also not
clear if the net will change anything if it just looks like TV to
grandma. More likely again, it is the the invisible hand of the market,
the big boom or any other quasi religious entity, which lets you know
where your place is.

Public Content

Clear is that without electronic networks we would not have the social
changes of today, extreme richness contra a growth of poverty and
social tensions. Sooner or later it will be a fundamental question how
to legitimize accumulated capital due to monopolies based on
information property. The merging telco and content industry,
totalizing operating systems, patents for life allow disproportional
revenues, while the public sector is haunted by mismanagement, tax
migration, a growing unemployment and lots of social work which has
been left to be done - and gets less and less payable. Technology did
not higher intelligence, while it makes organisation more efficient,
it cannot replace policy making. The distribution of knowledge as a
economic and political basis to allow democracy is not warranted
anymore. Public education is one of the areas where the internet could
play an new and not yet widely expected role, not by selling/giving
away wintel machines to 'wire' the schools of america and then the
planet, but to give world wide access to information, access to first
class educational resources. Thousands of books, encyclopedias, and
academic knowledge has to go to the public domain within a fair use
policy if lifelong education should mean ever anything else then a new
class war. Countless new NGOs and political campaigns, information
guerilla warfare and geopolitical conflicts may arise around the
question of intellectual property, which is in fact in the most cases
corporate property. Public content could redefine and refresh the
crisis to find an alternative to an sclerotic institutional system
towards an headless corporate world pushed around by out-of-control

The third sector of the information economy could be the public domain,
free software, and governments taking licenses and patents away from

Freelancer's Irresponsibility

The scandal is that especially people who should know better, so
called cyber-theoreticians and net-experts, widely fall into the arms of
cheap cyber-priests, cults of temporary hipnesses, and a dollar-per-
word horizon. The organic intellectuals of the internet, are the first
ones feeling the urge to define better what they are and what they
want to do, the kind of work, and the kind of world they are trying to
describe in their textual efforts. Many of these virtual intellectuals
are putting too much effort in getting their books about the net onto
a market, partly a tribute to culture of code which

One cannot get rid of in a few years. By spreading mediocre insights and
half-thought assumptions to people who are daring to get taught what they
should think about new cultural technologies these lonely cyberthinkers
miss the chance to group together and get some consensus about other
goals then getting better contracts with their publishers. OK, if you
call it journalism, who is writing about the facts then?

Workers of the Third Sector

What about grouping the freelancers to get better contracts for more
then a hidden agenda? and if there is not enough money for content on
the net, then find ways how to lobby for it and legitimize a need for
media culture within a working social contract. After a phase of too
much demand, and too much productivity, exhaustion takes place anyway,
ready to get the batteries of desire reloaded by the next hype. Why not
a social movement this time? your work sucks anyway, if you look at it
by light, this is due to the slippery context of a new technology.
Within a year a highly accepted cybermanifesto becomes an obsolete pack
of paper and could, like all the computer handbooks go better onto
cdroms or sold as an additional OEM service with a new computer or
account to your local ISP. On the other hand there are not enough
online forums which are giving hints on the basis of word-of-mouth or
criticising what is obviously weak, highlighting what is really worth it
to read. The social quality of information is completely 'under-
represented' in cyber-theory not to talk about interface-theory.

Multimedia Journalism

The concentration within the content markets doesn't give hope that
critical investigative journalism has a big future to reach a big
audience on the net. Unfortunately we speak about a truly global market
where american, german, british, and australian mega-corporations
centralise or at least control the framework of a global market of
opinions. Would have Tony Blair got elected without his friendship with
Rupert Murdoch and his Sun boulevard paper? Instead of using the net as
a cheap source for better information, we continuously have to read
about 'success stories' read about must-buy gadgets, and have an
easy-to-read-overview about this or that possible opinion or factoid. Of
course there are exceptions but there is not enough metalog about the
structure of those exclusions. Due to a desperate need for identity the
fresh netizen is falling into the trap of narcissistic loops of
auto-reference, accumulating knowledge 'about' the net instead of
connecting it to the outside. There is no job less secure then the one
of cyber-expert. Too often one hears in a restaurant or from friends
they want to start a cyberbusiness if they only could get the venture
capital together. Hope for them that they will fail. Many did it
already, but too many just lost. The paradigm of becoming your own
little entrepreneur and organising your little life like a business got
already a dimension which can be called totalitarian, in the same
irrational sense one had to become a good communist in socialist areas
and times.

Learning to Be Media

If you want to do understand a media in its introductory phase, maybe
because you want to work with it, make art with it it is a question of
how much false commands and wrong advisories one is able to accept
before running away and doing it for ones own. Seemingly with the net,
there is no school or university able to tell me more then I could learn
by myself or by some fellows who train me 'learning by doing'. It
happens that some nerds may provide more actual knowledge then a
professor of computer science and the context in which this knowledge is
transfered and accumulated is often highly informal, and mostly
non-commercial. On the other hand the special knowledge of a nerd
doesn't include other areas like social engendering, ethics, philosophy,
marketing, aesthetics. Therefore one can see a growing need of
transdisciplinary teamwork, a holism implied by the complexity of
society in which a software, website etc. should work in the end. The
alternative is often a specialisation into a niche-market, but it is
very unlikely that there can come any innovation out of a bunch of
specialists thinking and researching along the same linear way, extremely
sensitive towards any changes of environment. One can see that with
highly specialized 'hip' ezines born out of a direct marketing paradigm
which do not reach the target groups which changed already towards
another fan-dom. On the other hand, areas which do not have an imminent
structure of knowledge are not at all immune against ideologic and
visionary overdetermination. This is what the wired ideology is about,
it is techno-religion more then anything else done for a type of
stressed personalities extremely insecure and disturbed without a real
social context and within a highly dynamic new technology to produce a
lot of demand, and make a lot of old work and products obsolete.

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