Eric Kluitenberg on 19 Oct 2000 13:02:13 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Media without an Audience

dear nettimers,

Please note: This text is an expanded version of a talk given at the Banff
Centre for the Arts Interactive Screen 0.0 workshop (August 2000), and the
introduction to the <target.audience=0> panel at net.congestion -
International Festival of Streaming Media, in Amsterdam, October 2000. The
text will appear shortly in the third Acoustic Space issue, published by
the E-lab artist organisation in Riga, Latvia.


Media without an Audience

by Eric Kluitenberg

Presence in the mediated environment of digital networks is probably one of
the most complex phenomena of the new types of social interaction that have
emerged in these environments. In the current phase of radical deployment
(or penetration) of the internet, various attempts are made to come to
terms with the social dynamics of networked communication spaces. It seems
that traditional media theory is not able to contextualise these social
dynamics, as it remains stuck on a meta-level discourse of media and power
structures (Virilio), hyperreality (Baudrillard), or on a retrograde
analysis of media structures deeply rooted in the functionality and
structural characteristics of broadcast media (McLuhan).

Attempts to come to terms with networked communication environments from
the field of social theory, are generally shallow, ill informed about
actual practices, and sometimes to straightforwardly biased. Psychology
does not contribute in any significant way to an understanding of these
social dynamics either. The rather popular idea, for instance, that the
screen is a projection screen for personal pre-occupations, and that social
relations that emerge through the interactions via networked media are
mostly imaginary for lack of negative feedback or corrections, is deeply
contentious. The idea that absence of corrective feedback stimulates the
creation of fictitious relationships is an interesting one, but one that
can apply equally well off-line as it can on-line. It illuminates certain
patterns of human behaviour, but it does not tell us much of what makes
presence in the networks specific.

One of the greatest fallacies of current attempts to understand the social
dynamics of networked media is the tendency to see these media as an
extension of the broadcast media system. This idea has become more popular
as the internet is extended with audio-visual elements. Interactive
audio-visual structures, streaming media, downloadable sound and video, all
contribute to the notion that the internet is the next evolution of
broadcast media. But this vision applies only partially, and is driven
primarily by vested interests of the media industry. It is often not
reflected in how people actually use the net.

The predication of the conception of media on the broadcast model based on
a division of roles of the active sender <> passive receiver / audience
relationship, is the greatest barrier to understanding what goes down in a
networked media environment. The networked environment should primarily be
seen as a social space, in which active relationships are pursued and
deployed. Activities that often seem completely useless, irrational,
erratic, or even autistic. The active sender and the passive audience/
receiver, seems to have been replaced by a multitude of unguided
transmission that seem to lack a designated receiver. Thus the net is seen
as an irrelevant, chaotic, and useless infosphere, a waste of resources, a
transitory phase of development that will soon be replaced by professional
standards of quality, entertainment, information, media-professionalism,
and above all respect for the audience.

Let me be clear, I do not believe in this vision, and I am convinced that
the net will not evolve into the ultimate entertainment and information
medium. Instead it seems more likely that the seemingly unstructured mess
of random transmissions will prevail.

Into the Soup....

The ideal of seeing  the media environment as a social space has a
considerable history. Already in the late twenties Bertold Brecht
formulated his now famous radio theory in which he envisions radio as
medium for direct two-way communication, and the media space as a
connective network of decentralised nodes.
					( use of cyber rhetoric deliberate
here! )

This idea heralds strong resonances of early cyber-utopian discourses such
as "The Virtual Community" of Howard Rheingold. J.P. Barlow, one of the
other great cyber utopians talked extensively about "the great
conversation", emphasising the kinship of network communication to the
traditional meeting places, the street, the square, the agora, the theatre,
the café.. This early utopian phase of the net is over, cyberspace turned
out not to be independent. It's sovereign existence is threatened by mega
fusions of the AOl/TimeWarner type, but there is one aspect where these
early stories are right, and that is in pointing beyond the
sender<>audience dichotomy of broadcasting.

	A progression of media phenomenologies

			beyond the broadcast dichotomy...

Intimate media

The first step towards a micro-politics of resistance against the broadcast
hegemony was introduced with the notion of "intimate media". I was
introduced myself for the first time to this concept at the second Next 5
Minutes conference on tactical media in 1996.

Intimate media have a high degree of audience feedback. Typically the
distance between the sender and its remote audience is enormous in
broadcast media, if only because of the ratio of active senders and the
overload of passive audience. Feedback mechanism are necessarily
complicated and bureaucratic; the letter to the editors, phone-in time
available for only a tiniest fraction of the audience. Intimate media
instead are micro-media, there is a close relationship between sender and
audience. Ideally the sender and the audience all know each other, while
the relationship is still more than a one on one conversation (as in a
telephone call).

Intimate media are  spontaneous media. They emerge at the grass roots
level. They cut across all available media, all available technologies.
Intimate media can be low-tech, they can also be high-tech. What
characterises them is an attitude. Intimate media range from micro-print to
pirate radio, to hacked tv, web casting, satellite amateurs, micro-fm or
high-bandwidth networks. Intimate media can be organised in a professional
way, though usually they are not. Most common is their appearance as
amateur media - their audience reach is generally economically not viable.
Intimate media are generally not a good stock option.

People often do know each other personally in these media networks. A
curious incident at the second Art + Communication festival in Riga
(Latvia) illustrates this beautifully. All the discussion were sent out
live via audio streams over the net, and a few people were even listening
at the other end. During one of the breaks the stream continued and one of
the artists decided to take the mobile microphone used by the presenters
into the coffee room. He placed the microphone silently on a coffee table,
where a lively conversation (gossip) was going on. As it turned out later,
about the only person listening (in London) to this conversation at the
time, was the person the conversation (i.e. the gossip) was about, and she
protested via a chat channel within minutes. This type of media-intimacy is
virtually unthinkable in the broadcast model.

Socialised Media

Media used in the context of a specified social group or in a specific
regional context, are best described as "community media". Common forms of
community media that belong to a geographically situated community are
community-radio and -television. The use of the internet in a
geographically situated community is mostly referred to as community
networking. Community networking has become very popular in the US, but
also has some importance in Europe.

Special interest communities are usually organised around a topic, a theme,
or a shared interest. They are essentially translocal in nature, hooking up
local interest groups or even shattered individuals, who can be dispersed
over different regions and countries.

Networked communications can be highly beneficial for the process of
community building and for strengthening the cohesion of such communities.
It is obvious that translocal (special-interest) communities benefit most
from networked communication, since it offers a low-cost and fairly
effective means to stay in touch and exchange ideas. But the high degree of
audience feedback, and peer to peer interaction also makes networked
communication technology an invaluable tool for social interaction within a
geographically situated community.

Typical forms of networked communication are the newsgroups that emerged
from Usenet, text-based fora  where people exchange ideas and opinions
about the topic of the newsgroup. MUDs & MOOs, or generically on-line
multi-user environments, where people can interact directly on-line in a
communications environment. MUDs and MOOs started out as text-environments
and became popular as role playing environments, but they have become
visual and subsequently also integrated live speech and 3D environments
that can be navigated in a more visceral way than the point and click
navigation of traditional web pages. Multi-user environments enhance the
feeling of sharing a communications space with others. The mode of
interaction has to be active, otherwise it doesn't work.

Another important aspect of socialised media are the collaborative networks
that have emerged as a result of these low-cost translocal communication
tools. Especially e-mail has helped tremendously in this regard. Mailing
lists are easy to set up and can help to distribute information evenly and
effectively to a very large base of subscribers, while offering each
subscriber also the opportunity to react to the sender as well as to the
whole list. "Audience" feedback here is immediate, distributed and
non-hierarchical. It is far removed from the letter to the editor that most
likely never makes it through the editorial filters. The practices of micro
media in the arts and net.casting have benefited enormously from the
availability of mailing lists such as Syndicate, Xchange, nettime, Nice,
and others, and have been tools to establish co-operation, a sense of
community and a discourse that is more open than what any print magazine
would have been able to support.

Create Your Own Solutions!

One of the most notable collaborative networks, still in becoming, has been
the Interfund. The Interfund is  "a co-operative, decentralised,
non-located, virtual but real, self-support structure for small and
independent initiatives in the field of culture and digital media." The
Interfund proposes to become a shared resource pool, a "Bureaucracy
Protection Shield", a forum for the critique of (the inefficiency of) large
institutions, a pool of shared skills.

Beyond that the Interfund stimulates individuals to "create your own
solutions". One of the more ingenious of these self-help solutions was the
self-funding scheme! This scheme addresses the nasty fact that cultural
funding agencies generally want to support projects only if they are
already supported by other funding bodies. The Interfund therefore came up
with the idea of a micro-funding scheme where projects from within the
Interfund community (which itself is an open structure) would be
immediately eligible for official support by the Interfund - in an amount
of either 1 or 10 US$ per project.

With the official letter of acknowledgement new funding applications to
local agencies could be given extra credibility. "Look, our project is
already supported by the Interfund!" - "what, really?? Well in that case..."
If by any chance the Interfund office is far away, or there is no time for
a surface mail exchange, the entire Interfund would be down-loadable in the
form of PDF files and other downloadable design-elements. Thus allowing
each individual member to establish their own Interfund.

All of these types of media practices still have an attachment to the
functional. There is an idea that something has to be communicated - a
fallacy of course. What mostly distinguishes intimate and socialised media
from the broadcast model, is that the media-infrastructures here primarily
act as support structures for certain intricate social figurations to
emerge. There is  a highly specific sub-set of these media phenomenologies,
however, that seems to have emancipated itself from even those basic
functional demands of use and has entered into a kind of 'phatic' state;
the sovereign media.

Sovereign Media or 'The Joy of Emptiness'

Sovereign media are first of all media that simply exist for the sake of
nothing else. Sovereign media produce signals *with* an origin / sender /
author, but *without* a designated receiver. The term 'Sovereign Media'
alludes to the notion of the sovereign as developed by Georges Bataille in
The Accursed Share.

As a media phenomenology it has first been identified by BILWET (a.k.a.
ADILKNO - Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge). For Bilwet
the sovereign media are a bewildering new UTO - Unidentified Theoretical
Object, which they studied with great curiosity and leisurely pleasure. Let
me first share some of the early Bilwet/Adilkno observations about this UTO
with you:

"The sovereign media are the cream of the missionary work performed in the
media galaxy. They have cut all surviving imaginary ties with truth,
reality and representation. They no longer concentrate on the wishes of a
specific target group, as the 'inside' media still do. They have
emancipated themselves from any potential audience, and thus they do not
approach their audience as a mouldable market segment, but offer it the
'sovereign space' it deserves. Their goal and legitimacy lie not outside
the media, but in practising (practicable) 'total decontrol'. Their
apparently narcissistic behaviour bears witness to their self-confidence,
which is not broadcast. The signal is there; you only have to pick it up.
Sovereign media invite us to hop right onto the media bus.

Sovereign media insulate themselves against the hyperculture. They seek no
connection; they disconnect. This is their point of departure. They leave
the media surface and orbit the multimedia network as satellites. These
do-it-yourselfers shut themselves up inside a self-built monad, and
"invisible unit" of introverted technologies, which, like a room without
doors or windows, wishes to deny the existence of the world. This act is a
denial of the maxim "I am connected therefore I am." It conceals no longing
for a return to nature. They do not criticise baroque data environments, or
experience them as threats, but consider them material, to use as they
please. They operate beyond clean and dirty, in the garbage system ruled by
chaos pur sang.

Their carefree rummaging in the universal media archive is not a management
strategy for jogging jammed creativity. These negative media refuse to be
positively defined and are good for  nothing. They demand no attention and
constitute no enrichment for the existing media landscape. Once detached
from every meaningful context, they switch over in fits and starts from one
audio-video collection to the next. The autonomously multiplying
connections generate a sensory space which is relaxing as well as

( from the Bilwet Media Archive )

Presence Beyond Utility

In "The Accursed Share", Bataille defines the sovereign in opposition to
the servile, in opposition to all activities subordinate to the demands of
usefulness. The demands of usefulness, the basis of any kind of economic or
productive activity, rule out the experience of sovereignty. By deriving
its meaning and purpose from what it is useful for , the activity itself
becomes intrinsically meaningless. The sovereign experience on the contrary
is meaningful independent of its consequence. It always refers to the
moment of its consumption, never beyond.

"Life beyond utility is the domain of sovereignty", Bataille writes. Only
when experience is no longer subordinate to the demands of use is it
possible to connect to what is 'supremely' ("souverainement") important to
us. Sovereign media then should be understood as media beyond use. They
should not be understood as 'useless' but rather as 'without use'. The
sovereign media are media that have emancipated themselves from the demands
of functionality or usefulness to exist in their own right.

Quality is irrelevant!

Freed from the demands of usefulness, quality becomes an irrelevant
criterion for these media signals. The signals exist, how they are
interpreted, what the framework and the demands are that are projected upon
them, is not a consideration in the process of their production. The
signals can be beautiful and brilliantly clear, or amateurish and oblique.
The traditional criteria of media professionalism have long been left
behind in the universe of the sovereign media.

One of the most beautiful examples of a supremely  sovereign media practice
is the, a global micro jam in, regularly hosted
by the xchange network. Typically for a a call is put out
on the mailing list, inviting net.casters to join on irc and listen to a
live stream originating from location one. Other locations listen and pick
up the stream till someone announces on the irc channel that the live
stream will move from its original location to theirs. The next stream is a
remix of the original, some things added, others taken away. The process
starts anew and the stream moves to the next location and the next re-mix.
This process can go on for hours, and very soon the origin of any specific
sound is lost. What the imprints on the participants is a
strong feeling of being in the network, where the relationship between
origin and destination has been dissolved. Also the traditional audience
can tune in and listen, but is no consideration in the structure of the

A distinctive characteristic of sovereign media is their hybridity. Any
medium can be combined with any medium. Sovereign media have a
cross-media-platform-strategy, but this time not to reach a new audience,
but simply to extend the media space. Examples are the Virtual Media Lab,
an intersection of all available media [at:] in
Amsterdam, combining cable television with web casting, with radio, and
even at times with satellite transmissions.

Another interesting cross breed are automated media such as the Frequency
Clock of  r a d I o q u a l i a, or  Remote TV of TwenFM, allowing
automatic scheduling of live streams from the internet on local radio and
cable tv infrastructures. Or the project Agent Radio of the Institute of
Artificial Art in Amsterdam that automatically and randomly selects sounds
sources from the Internet and schedules them in the ether.

All these media operate beyond the body count of viewer statistics.

Private Media

In the Digital City Amsterdam the personal home pages of its 'citizens' are
called 'Houses'. For some years already the personal home pages on the
world-wide web in general, and the success of initiatives such as
GeoCities, prevail in the face of adversity, while big-budget entertainment
networks such as DEN (Digital Entertainment Network), collapse even before
anyone really got to know about them. The deeply respectable weekly economy
magazine The Economist recently put a sad smiley on its cover, testifying
to "what the Internet cannot do". Inside the issue a careful analysis is
made why the Internet has such a hard time taking of as an entertainment
medium, and is not living up to its promises at all.

The kind of private media formations such as GeoCities, the Digital City in
Amsterdam, and others, mostly do not deal with the communication of a
specific message at all. They have no target-audience, and are not part of
the attention economy, but still they are highly successful as private
media. More than the failed attempts to establish the ultimate
entertainment medium, the net has flourished as the ultimate
personalisation of the media space. The endless stacks of private home
pages are the icons of these truly privatised media. Their private
messages, beyond anything else, simply state "I am here", but this simple
message should not be discarded as a banal statement.

Phatic Media

In their final phase of evolution media become phatic. The term derives
from linguistics. In linguistics phatic language relates to "speech used
for social or emotive purposes rather than for communicating information".
The typical, though admittedly somewhat stereotypical example, is the daily
speech of house wives meeting every single day in the garden while hanging
wash or taking care of domestic tasks. The exchanges of apparently
meaningless phrases such as "how are you?", "How are your children doing in
school?", etc.. communicate something beyond the semantics of the
individual words.

An amazing image: A test channel of a satellite tv transmitter, operated by
satellite tv amateurs - an international network. One central image
surrounded by smaller screens. They show what looks to most of us
"nothing". A small room, an attic, a technical workshop, equipment,
somebody sitting around, no apparent communication. The image is, it does
not speak. One of our civilisation's most highly developed high-tech
infrastructures, utilised to celebrate the joy of emptiness...

This type of media appears to be completely useless within the traditional
(broadcast) media scheme. It is a mistake to take this view for granted,
however. There is indeed nothing banal about this media behaviour. The
media sphere is treated here as a new type of environment, 'in' which
people create presences, but without a desire or aim to communicate a
specific message.

In fact I understand this as a fundamental anthropological principle - a
way of inhabiting a new environment, and one that is, after all, primarily
a hostile environment for most of us.

Eric Kluitenberg
Amsterdam, October 2000

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