Felix Stalder on Wed, 25 Aug 1999 01:08:41 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Fragments of Network Criticism


change is overrated. And so is speed. In spite of all hype, nothing
happens over night, and now that commerce has taken over as the main force
of media development, we can expect that not much will change anymore.
There will be new products, lots of new ad campaigns to be sure. It will
all look new.  But, opening the glitzy hood, we will see a rather
uninspired implementation of what has been developed in the last ten
years. True innovation is the anti-thesis of business, which is good in
optimizing but bad in coming up with surprises. No one wants a surprise in
business. The media landscape is more or less developed. All the
start-ups, just hoping to cash in big time at the first opportunity to

This does not mean that everything will remain the same, far from that.
The transformation has just began. What it means is that the change will
follow paradigm which are already laid out. Centralizing of control,
decentralizing of production. Take any example. War: a central commando,
micro managing mobile forces (automated, if you're rich).  Nato did it a
bit more sophisticated, Milosevic a bit cruder.  Financial markets: 
centralized (logically, not so much geographically) control, the rest of
the world as endlessly rearrangeable sites of production, fragmented and

But history never comes to an end.

Where could it go? All over the place! One of the things in the big puzzle
that could introduce another round of true innovation is electronic money,
cheap, private, distributed. When money can flow like any other
information, when it will become fluid for everyone, as it is already for
the rich, then the Internet will take on it final form.  What the
financial markets did to the nation state, electronic money can do to
other gate keepers, distributers, and regulators. Independent,
self-sufficient communities, spiralling from the virtual into the real,
provide themselves with what they need. Independent and interconnected,
all communicating through a common protocol.  Money as a common language,
not very uplifting, indeed, but very powerful for real deep change. In the
long run, only the rich will live comfortably in a gift economy. Or will
it degrade to a self-help network for corporate consultants? 

But it's no surprise, there is no such thing like electronic money.
Despite being hyped as the next big thing, it's not even a failure, no one
has really tried yet. 

Will the user become really powerful, as Genc Greva hopes? Only when there
is a possibility to translate her attention into more than advertisement
dollars. Advertisement still holds all the keys, pressing the network back
into the shape of the mass media. 

The market has taken over the internet and almost all the research (don't
hope for too much coming of computer science departments, all deeply
connected by now with what is called "industry partnerships" which
basically means that industry funds parts of the research while setting
all of the agenda). Can it come up with something like electronic money
that is truly decentralized. From all I can see, I have my doubts, there
is simply not much to win for the gatekeepers by undermining the very
foundation of their gate keeping. Similarly, the market would have never
come up with tcp/ip, its simply no money in it. 

Something that is at the same time intensely technical and intensely
social cannot does not happen over night. We're just at the beginning,
true communities of content, communities that really share things with one
another, that have been built around real needs, rather than just boredom
and novelty, will pave the ways to create the demand for an internal
economy.  Don't worry about the technology, this it can be done, for
engineers, things are easy. Maybe its as easy as remebering and updating
some long forgotten technology, something from those optimistic 90s, thus,
creating autonomous zones, not temporary but self-sustainable. 

  Les faits sont faits.

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