Geert Lovink on Sun, 2 Jun 96 14:56 MDT

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nettime: The Importance of Being Media

A Small Net in a Big World
Or: The Importance of Being Media
By Geert Lovink

Do you think of the Internet as a gnostic conspiracy against the
rotting, material world, we all would like to leave behind? Well, to be
honest, I don't. Seen from an anti-capitalist, activist and
autonomous/anarcho point of view, media are first of all pragmatic
tools, not metaphysical entities. The 'Ideology of New Media' comes
second and should not uphold any of our activities. Media Theory, Net
Criticism, Computer Archeology, Cultural Studies, Digital Art Critique
etc. give us an understanding of the 'Laws of Media', but they should
not become a goal in itself, despite of all our (my) passions for these
heroic-marginal, supra-intellectual enterprises.
For me, it is too easy to make the fancy and at the same time fairly
realistic statement, that we should desappear from the realm of the
Virtual and return to 'social action'. This legitimate call, to leave
the hifhly overestimated 'Inforsphere' for what it is (namely overhyped
empty 'fashion') and appear again on the level of 'the street', is
making a false distinction between real and virtual politicies. Social
movements have allways had a wide variety of media-related activities.
Each 'action' (even the most 'direct') has a high level of
'information', addressing different groups and targets. Media, in this
respect, express social relations in a very strong way. But what media
can't is to regroup and organize social movements. If isolation and
despair are widespread, and desorganisation rules, this is not because
of the computer, nor can digital equipment help us out of the daily
misery. It is too easy to blame the machines as the cause of the
current 'real existing vagueness'. It's up to us to bring people
together and start some new initiative, the machine won't do that for
So, should we just go back to a seventies-like, instrumental use of
media (as megaphons for the true counter-propaganda)? No way. It is not
any longer our first task to 'have the people's voices heard', the so-
called 'voices of the oppressed'. This model still leaves the old top-
down media-hierarchy in tact. We should try to stop speaking for other
people. Nowadays, we can make a step further. With the spread of
camcorders, tape recorders, photo cameras, xerox copy machines and...
computers, ordinary people now have the possiblity to produce 'content'
themself. It is no longer our duty, in the West, to produce their
media-items in a pseudo-journalistic manner, but to spread the
knowledge how to use and maintain the hard- and software and build up a
common (global?) distribution system.
In order to do this we have to get a grip on these powerfull tools,
understand their inner logic, their seductive side and destructive side
effects, in order to use them in an effective way. And we should not
keep this knowledge for ourselves. In Amsterdam, in the early eighties,
there was the slogan: "Let a thousand antennas blossom," which meant,
at the time, that we should have as many pirate radio transmitters on
the roofs of the squattered buildings as possible. Do not share your
broadcasting time with other personalities and groups... but empower
groups with their own equipment, thereby destroying, step by step, the
'myth of media' alltogether. Finally, after some wild years of radio
piracy we ended up with three independant ("consiously illegal")
stations and some individuals in the legal, official radio. Having so
many different frequences and voices, has been securing our existence
over the last ten years. The same counts for local cablecasting groups
and lately, also for the Internet, having a big variety of our own
access and content facilities (like xs4all, digital city, and
actions (hacking the Van Traa report, the Scientology-case, etc, see:
Eveline's story in nettime).
It seems important not to fight over an articifially created scarcity.
The freedom of expression and media will only be fullfilled once the
capability to broadcast has been fully incorporated in the daily life
'of the billions'. In my view, each fight for liberation can easily
contribute to the destruction of the media monopolies by putting out
some messages themself (graffiti, pamphlets, zines, paintings, songs,
imagery). Complaining about the multinational media giants is not
enough (a critique of 'Wired' can only be a start...).
The final goal could be the 'democratization of the media' and
eventually the 'abolition of media'. This goes further than to merely
participate in other people's forums or plain 'public access'. It means
an overall dispersion of equipment and knowledge into society. A funny
side-effect of this is that media will become less and less important.
At this moment, we have the tendency to project a lot of the actual
power into this rising 'symbolic realm'. True marxists, of course, will
point us at the much more powerfull realm of the virtual capital. Or at
the real, hard work that is being done, producing material goods, that
is becoming more and more invisible for us, Westerns, because it is
done somewhere, in Asia, Eastern Europe or Latin-America. Or even at
the dominance of the tourism industry over the relatively small media
business. This is all true. But our 'false consiousness' is as true as
the other people personal realities. The 'hegemony of the media realm',
I would say, seems to be our reality. And we, a relatively small group
of media activists, have the (limited) possibility, in this historical
configuration, to fight 'media power' as such.
At the moment, the Internet is not going into this direction. Funny
enough, the 'user friendly interfaces' are keeping people away from
using the Net in an effective way. Networks turned into 'services'  and
users became consumers. Subsequently, we have seen no substantial rise
in 'viritual communities' or independant servers. We therefor have to
fight from now on all neo-liberal ideologies and supposively 'anarcho'
slogans about individuals and their so-called power on the Net. This
might be true for a few youngsters, making their way into the ruling
'virtual class'. But this is not how computer network come into being,
start to get growing and, perhaps, one day, become a threat to the
We do not have to fear in the first place state intervention or even
censorship. Compuserve has the right to filter out any kind of message
they do not like, that's not censorship but a corporate policy of a
large content provider. For me, the danger comes from within, from the
inner logic of the Internet and how it is being perceived. Way too many
cleaver individuals are just subscribing to commercial services like
CompuServe or aol, instead of looking for independant, less/non-
commercial providers or starting their own server. They are thereby
failing to set up their own, autonomous communication structure (and
not to forget: money-economy!).
Most of the political activists are still isolated and lack an
offensive policy in crucial ereas like access and content. For example,
both APC ('Third World') and Soros (Eastern Europe) are mainly
concentrating on connecting the slow and official NGO-bureaucracies,
leaving the rest of the population to 'the market' and its high prices.
Of course, this is their own business. What we should do, is to show
that it possible to establish a BBS, e-mail server, webserver, real
audio, pirate radio, whatever. In order to achive this we have to share
experiences and technical knowledge (unix/linux, routers, even html),
collect and redistribute old computers and software, share knowledge
about sponsers, funds and ways to set up our own economy. Only later,
we can speak about content-related matters, like cultural biases and
'European Ideologies', the dangers of neo-Darwinist concepts, the
growing necessity to set up 'translation offices' in the Net, in order
to overcome the monopoly of the English language and other Subcult
issues like the 'abolition of the Net'.

Budapest, sunday morning (!), june 2nd (!), 1996.
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