geert on Tue, 9 Apr 2002 02:13:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] solaris: list on IT & development issues

Announcement of the Solaris Electronic Mailinglist
An Initiative for Critical Issues of Internet and Development

Dear All,

We would like to inform you about Solaris, a new electronic mailinglist on
IT and "Development" related issues in the once and future/post "non-Western
world". The list started in early 2002 and now has 150 subscribers.

The discontent amongst many of us with the conventional discourse around "IT
& Development" has gradually grown over the last few years. So far there has
not been an on-line institutionally independent forum to discuss critical
topics concerning the full range and use of new media and their
cultural/creative, political, social and economic contexts in the (for lack
of a better term) "Developing (aka Third, Less Developed, Underdeveloped)
World" and in lagging regions and among digitally excluded populations in
"Developed" Countries.

The existing lists in the "IT & Development" or "Digital Divide" fields are
too closely tied to funding bodies, Not for Profits, international
institutions or governmental agencies with their own world encompassing
assumptions to promote. Despite their efficiency they seem to have too
narrow a policy and theoretical focus. We would like to see more
independence, a neutral forum where critical and lively multi-disciplinary
and intercultural exchanges can take place.

Current mailing list culture seems to have little interest in debating more
fundamental issues of exclusion in a digital context, the new power
relations of digitally enabled economies, digitally enabled security from
below rather than above, community e-commerce development, Napsterism and
other post "E" development strategies, the new terms of trade and
sophisticated accumulation in the Real World of IP, OS (Operating System)
wars and regional insurgencies, and determining if WTO director Mike Powell
was right and the Digital Divide really is about fancy German cars in low
income neighborhoods.

This call for a critical discourse comes from 'within' and is not meant to
spread a new form of techno-cultural pessimism. The last thing we need is a
moralistic analysis of the Internet as a 'US-American imperialist tool'. An
engaged form of research is necessary which overcomes dry economism and its
spiritual counterpart, techno-determinism (the all too often heard notion
that technology will automatically bring salvation and result in prosperity
for all, worldwide).

"Solaris" is born out of a felt need for a lively and diverse independent
ICT and development discourse and particularly one which recognizes and
reinforces the perspectives of those who see ICT as a base for liberation
and creativity--with eyes wide open for the chilly reality. There is a need
to analyze the agendas of all the agents, from globe spanning UN or G8
Task/Dot Forces, US-American foundations (Markle, Soros, Rockefeller, Ford,
etc.), charity/marketing input from IT companies, government ICT/DD
development programs, NGOs and media activists.

nformation technology hasn't solved world poverty. It arguably has
contributed even further to the growing income inequality on both a global
and national scale while the all too easy rhetoric of UN initiatives, and
DotForce and other Digital Divide programs appear to be recycling outdated
neo-liberal dotcom models. The 'organized positivism' around successful
projects is often used against those who rightly ask questions while
mysteriously never seeming to manage the morphing into on-going
 "sustainable" programs. There is an "end of history" culture in the making
driven by the almost religious belief that technology plus business results
in democracy and prosperity.

The bandwidth gap is widening on any level at an accelerating pace. With
Linux stagnating as an alternative to Microsoft, limiting its role as an
operating system and server software, Solaris would like to raise the
question in which areas strategic software could be developed. Information
technology does not come with 'out of the box' solutions. At the time there
is an amazing amount of talent around to prevent and reverse the expensive
import of hardware and software. The overall picture is a complex, often
paradoxical one.

There is no longer a need for 'technology transfer' from North to South.
"Everyone is an expert." IT-specialists are everywhere. However, there are
numerous economic blockages explaining why software production from below
hasn't taken off.  It is now time to stress the structural obstacles-and
NGOism could be one of them (not just the more obvious WTO).

The use of information technology worldwide is causing paradoxical,
sometimes contradictory and confusing effects, with occasional miracles and
widely spread new forms of exclusion. Still, the overall sense is one of
empowerment - and surprise. The primal drive to discover, adapt, mutate and
further develop technologies is a truly global phenomenon, one that cannot
be overrun by a culture of complaint or the desire of corporate interests to
create and capture markets.

These are just some of many topics which could be discussed.

The Solaris initiators would like to emphasize the complexity of the picture
and involve all those who feel attracted to a rich multidisciplinary form of
digital story telling beyond dull politics, sterile academicism, paper tiger
task forces and self-reflexive policy conglomerates. It is time to get rid
of the almost dead phrase "IT is about people, stupid" and move it beyond
the massing ranks of the Digital Divide industry.

Solaris is co-founded by Michael Gurstein (, community
Internet maven based in New York and Geert Lovink (, media
theorist and Internet critic, based in Sydney. The list is hosted by Sarai,
the New Media Initiative in Delhi, India which has been a source of
inspiration while starting up Solaris.

Please forward this invitation to your friends-and enemies-who you think
would/should be interested in joining Solaris.

To start, the Solaris mailinglist will be open and unmoderated. There will
be a (growing and rotating) team of facilitators from different continents
and backgrounds who will initiate debate and bring in material. In order to
prevent spam only members will be able to post and from the e-mail address
where they receive the list. When there are around 50 subscribers the list
will go live. Please be careful not to publicly circulate this announcement,
especially in the beginning.

To (un)subscribe write to with 'help' in the
subjectline for further instructions or go directly to:

Post to: (list members only)

List archive:

solaris--independant forum for IT & development issues
un/sub info: with the word "help" in the
line or in the body of the message.

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