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<nettime> Some thoughts on the counter-revolution (input to Transmediale
Rasmus Fleischer on Mon, 3 Feb 2014 02:31:13 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Some thoughts on the counter-revolution (input to Transmediale)

A few days ago at Transmediale in Berlin, I took part in a panel
discussion under the fuzzy title "After the revolution(s): Internet
freedoms and the post-digital twilight".
What follows is an attempt to summarize my input to that panel.

# # #

"The revolution is over", stands as a motto for this year's
Transmediale. I guess that I share the feeling, but I think the
statement is wrong. Instead of talking about some revolution in the
past, I think we should talk about the ongoing counter-revolution and
to situate that in history.

When thinking about the direction in which the internet is developing,
we must go beyond the simplified opposition of "old times" versus "new
times". In order to do that, we must periodize the history of the
When trying to do that, I have come to regard year 2007 as a
turning-point. That was when the counter-revolution took over. And on
its flags, the counter-revolutionary forces had written words like:
social, share, mobile, stream, access, open...

For now, we don't need to name these counter-revolutionary forces.
Although it is obvious that the counter-revolution on the internet is
largely about centralization and monopolization, it would be wrong to
reduce this process with a few giant corporations.
The monopolizing tendency has been a much broader thing and has also
ruined the potential in projects like The Pirate Bay and Wikileaks. If
such projects initially had the ambition to set examples, to be copied
and multiplied, they were caught in a dynamic where they seemed to
have no alternative but to stage a new riot every week, or to fade
away. Or take the Pirate Parties, which have tended to monopolize
internet-related issues which are then re-encoded in the language of
rights, endlessy re-enacting the immanent contradictions of liberal
ideology: copyright vs. privacy, privacy vs. transparency, etc. etc.
Nowadays, I feel that the very concept of "internet freedom" is caught
in the same kind of double-bind, making it increasingly hard to use.
And this feeling of mine is probably just another aspect of the

Hito Steyrl is to the point: "The internet is not dead. It's undead
and it's everywhere." It feels awkward, she writes, "obviously
completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense,
copyright, control and conformism."

But there was never any digital revolution in the past. If we could
ever talk about a digital revolution, it could only mean the third
industrial revolution, which has been going on for decades and which
is definitely not about to end. But as an industrial revolution, that
is simply an acceleration in the continuous process of minimizing the
need for human labour in the production of commodities. That process
is driven by the competition over profits on the market, and the
current crisis is only intensifying that competition, pushing all
kinds of corporations towards Big Data and threatening to eliminate
those who fail to live up to the new standards of data mining.

But during this long process, during the third industrial revolution,
there has been times when the uses of digital technologies has tended
to break away from this industrial logic.
There were a few interesting years in the 1990s, before the dotcom bubble.
And there were a few interesting years after the dotcom crash, in the
beginning of our century.
These two episodes in the history of the internet were indeed no
revolution. But these times saw the multiplication of autonomous
innovation, and of new forms of collective practice which where not
easily integrated in any economy, and not very suited for data mining.

I think it makes more sense to talk about a digital counter-revolution
than to talk about a digital revolution. But the current
counter-revolution did indeed react against something, against a
subversive or revolutionary potential which were building up in the
years following the dotcom crash.

If the internet tended towards a decentralized or even revolutionary
direction between 2001 and 2007, this must somehow be related to the
financial dynamics in global capitalism. The afterglow of the dotcom
bubble began in one crisis, but ended with the onset of the next
crisis. How come?
In the very beginning of this century, capital fled from the dotcom
sector. For capitalism as a system, the dotcom crash revealed a
serious threat of deflation, but central banks injected enormous
amounts of stimulative liquidity, credits which rushed towards other
sectors, most notably housing, building up a new and even larger
bubble. However, on the internet of 2001-2007 there was a relative
lack of venture capital.
The dotcom crash had revealed a surplus of bandwidth, of hardware and
of highly skilled hackers. Many of these hackers which had been
working in the dotcom sector were no longer employed (or working as
consultants effectively on part-time), meaning that they had free time
to experiment with available resources.
Out of the early 00's recession grew a boom for free software and
file-sharing. Innovation tended to be about new protocols (from RSS to
bittorrent) rather than new platforms. The new standards for sociality
on the www - the blog, the wiki, the threaded forum - could all be run
DIY on simple servers with open-source software.

The afterglow of the dotcom bubble, in other words, allowed for a
certain degree of autonomous innovation on the internet. It resulted
in a net characterized with a plurality of interfaces: the older
duality of horizontal hypertext (HTTP) and hierarchical folders (FTP)
was complemented by various kinds of feeds and flows, not to forget
the tag clouds and the virtual realities, as well as the search

This amounted to a plurality of speeds: many degrees of fast and slow
communication could co-exist in the everyday use of the net. We don't
have that plurality anymore. Since 2007, time on the internet is being

The counter-revolution is slowly abolishing hypertext as well as
folder hierarchies, in favour of a new monoculture. Today's undead
internet has a universal interface based on only two functions: the
search and the feed.

The search is there for you when you already know what you're looking
for. When you don't know, you can always get fed by your feed, the
singular and personalized home feed, whose function is to homogenize
time, synchronizing our attention at one singular speed. What could a
concept like "internet freedom" posibly mean in such an environment?

Of course I agree that decentralization is the way to go. But by now
it should be obvious, that they way to go is not to build
decentralized copies of Facebook or Twitter. We need something else,
and we can't say what it is without lots of more experimentation. But
who will do all this experimentation? The hacker surplus do not exist
any more. The skilled hackers are now employd to develop platforms and
apps which conform to the new monoculture and with the new standards
of data mining. Some years ago, young programmers in Sweden where
swarming to promote P2P file-sharing in solidarity with the Pirate Bay
- soon after, they were all employed by Spotify.

I don't know if we are now entering a second dotcom bubble to be
followed by a second dotcom crash. But to me, it's clear that the
counter-revolution began when venture capital once again began to rush
towards the internet.

/ Rasmus

By the way, as we talk about Transmediale and crisis. Isn't the
concept of "Art Hack Day" basically a way of administrating austerity
in art institutions? You can fill an exhibition with artworks without
having to paying the artists, while covering it up with glossy
language about spontaneity. Maybe I'm wrong, but I wrote down some
notes about that as well:

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