ed phillips on Sat, 7 Jun 1997 04:20:55 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> print, skim, devour?

This is too long for prime time but not long enough to get into the
complexities and specifics that tbyfield so wisely reccomends. Friday 
End of week June  but gift economies don't sleep--Published this week on
Rewired. anti-copyright 1997 all rights freely granted x-post.

save your eyes and print it, just scan or devour it all.

It's free, it's out here, but you're going to have to dig for it. You
are going to have to give something away in order to receive something
back. You have to participate for it to be real. A gift economy.

The internet is still a "gift economy," where the philanthropic gestures
of large institutions compete for attention with a blizzard of more
idiosyncratic, and independent movements.  Those more idiosyncratic and
independent movements, fueled by obsession, frustration, or love, are
where life on the nets resides.

You wouldn't know anything was happening unless you were hooked in,
unless you were participating, offering something yourself.  It would be
overwhelming or meaningless if you weren't oriented by informal
networks, links, and emails. As far as most are concerned, there is a
blizzard, a white-out, of information on the nets. All but the most
intrepid are numbed by this blizzard of information. You won't go out
into the blizzard unless you fancy yourself some kind of Admiral Perry
or unless you have cohorts or maps, unless you are a native.

Professionalism hasn't come to the nets just yet, much to the chagrin of
the institutions and the entrepreneurs.  The New Philanthropists, the
would-be commercial presences, are the missionaries of the nets.  The
incorrigible natives are now accepting well-crafted hand-outs from the
missionaries. The missionaries are hoping that the natives will learn
the value of their brands and they are hoping that the natives will
begin to participate in a money economy of sorts.  Professionalism will
follow charity.

The natives of the nets are particularly incorrigible because they
"tribalized" the nets as a way to escape the emptiness of their own
advanced money economies.  We know the story only too well, never mind
the catchwords we use to describe "the context of no context." Instead
of replaying the over familiar story of plebeianized, rationalized, and
now completely tautologous, advanced money economies and their media, I
just want to touch on the possibility that thoughtful writing on the
nets is a gift economy. A difference.

Tracing out that difference requires a reversal of all the instincts of
market conscious critics, artists, and readers.  "What do you mean?
Where is the Business Model? How could you write for free?  What have
you invested in the writing or the reading of free words?"  It's not
real if it doesn't have a price tag or a price of entry. The price
validates the material. Unless you are one of the incorrigible.

Anatomy of the incorrigible net native: You scan the first few lines or
just the header, or like some data monster, take big gulps of almost all
the messages or posts on a board or newsgroup or your email. You are
willing to scan or surf through a lot noise to get some music. You might
keep some quotes from or check the references of mentioned in an
interesting piece of writing. You might be active in a number of places
on the nets in conversation or trade.  You might x-post an interesting
piece of writing or art. All of it a gift economy.

There are loosely connected networks of people out here, "communities"
on the nets. "Communities" on the nets seem more particular instances of
dialogue or at least dialogical thinking than communities. I would not
even use the word, but it often comes up when the gift economies of the
nets are mentioned.  I want to register that I'm aware of the use of the
word but skeptical of it's application to describe information trading
on the nets.  Community is one of the words that we use to describe a
state that we are no longer in, one we'd like to return to, like the
phrase "gift economy," a way of describing social interaction before the
profit motive ruled.  A look in the rear view mirror. 

The very term "gift economy" was a self-conscious look in the rear view
mirror, created by anthropologists who wanted to critique the calculated
efficiency and accumulations of Industrial era society.  Marcel Mauss
coined the term in 1923 to describe the Potlatch ceremonies of the
Northwest Coast tribes. One tribe called their ceremonies "killing
wealth."  A wholly alien logic suffused these ceremonies. There was no
"innate" need to acquire but a need to lose, to give away.  The ruinous
outlays and exhuberant giving of these ceremonies baffled and
embarrassed thrifty European settlers and traders.  Canada imposed laws
on the natives, in an attempt to get them to adapt to industry and
profit, to civilization and christianity. The incorrigible natives
resisted. Until they were "assimilated" in the 30's. Some pockets of
resistance survived until revivals emerged in the 70's.  They now have
their own websites.

Why does the proliferation of free content on the nets baffle so many of
us so much? For me, its worth repeating Theodor Adorno's remark about
the incomprehensibility if not the impossibility of giving, or a gift
economy, in our prevailing cultural climate.  

Adorno: "Violation of the exchange principle has something nonsensical
and implausible about it; here and there even children eye the giver
suspiciously, as if the gift were merely a trick to sell them brushes or
soap." He goes on:" Instead we have charity, administered beneficence."  

The fragility and vulnerability of these new information economies seems
part of the price of giving.  Writing in this way becomes very
personal.  Adorno again: "Real giving has its joy in imagining the joy
of the receiver. It means choosing, expending time, going out of one's
way, thinking of the other as a subject: the opposite of distraction."

Where this gift economy resides, in the torn edges where we negotiate
our own personal economies, we get an inflow of vitality, a chance for
dialogue and the dialogical. An ethics of citation keeps these
epiphenomenal economies up and circulating.  Citation is a currency that
allows free, x-posted messages to keep a value and find readers.  

If the surfeit of information on the nets is deterring you from giving
your storehouse away, here's more of Adorno: "Even if amidst
superfluity,  the gift were superfluous--and this is a lie, privately as
much as socially, for there is no one for whom imagination could not
discover what would delight him utterly--people who no longer gave would
be in need of giving."

Towards further conversation and dialogue, freely given.

--ed phillips

The real meat. for you true potlatchers. take a bite out a this:
freely given scholarship on Adorno.
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