Tatiana Bazzichelli on Wed, 6 Dec 2006 19:31:30 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Preface by De Kerckhove of the "Networking" book


Hoping to have soon the English version of the "Networking | The Net as 
an Artwork" book, I send already to you the preface written by Derrick 
de Kerckhove. I think it is a very good text to introduce the book's 
topics: it deals with the book's contents (the reconstruction of the 
history of artistic networking in Italy) with an external - not Italian 
- point of view, that makes easier the understanding of the subject for 
the people abroad that are not familiar with the Italian net culture and 
Therefore, I think it could be very usefull also for the Nettime 

All the best [and sorry for the long text],


for "Networking | The Net as an Artwork" (Tatiana Bazzichelli, 2006)
Download the book from: http://www.networkingart.eu

Tatiana Bazzichelli is a rising scholar and critic of digital culture 
and this book is a milestone in the critical theory she began developing 
in the 1990's while studying sociology. Her interest in the connections 
between art and the media matured within academic environments, to 
consider their social and political implications. She went on to 
concentrate more fully on the themes of art in hacker ethics and 
collaborated directly with independent Italian hacker communities and 
networking activists in the art industry.

This book follows the itinerary in the art field and in digital activism 
that she has documented over time. A quest that is not exclusively 
personal, but that also recounts some of the experiences of many other 
people in Italy who began to work experimentally on art and technology 
during the 1980's. This type of writing I call "glocal autobiography", 
meaning that it connects the personal to the larger connected realm of 
global activities. The book takes its place in the evolution of the 
artistic networking project AHA: Activism-Hacking-Artivism 
<www.ecn.org/aha>. An initiative started in 2001 by Bazzichelli as part 
of her plan to promote art on the Internet and to give greater 
visibility to the Italian digital culture, AHA has contributed to the 
creation of a vast network of relations and projects.

Italian hacktivism and net art are little known to the rest of the 
world. That situation ought to be remedied, since Italians, as in so 
many other fields, are just as innovative on line as off, in their own 
inimitable way. Exporting Italian thinking on media and network 
technology is a sort of vocation I am presently following within a few 
institutions in Italy: the Faculty of Sociology in the University 
Federico II in Naples, and the M Node research centre within the Belle 
Arti Academy in Milan (NABA). The McLuhan Program at the University of 
Toronto is a possible platform for the diffusion of Italian hacktivist 
and artistic paths such as are mentioned in this book.

Penetrating at the heart of current networking dynamics, of complex 
processes in the internet, one may notice that instead of the usual 
focus on technology, there is a growing trend towards interest in 
people, in their way of connecting and their social-cultural friendships 
and relations, their direct connection to the reality in which they 
live. Not long ago people talked a lot about the virtual, but today it's 
clear that the people in flesh and blood are the destiny of the network 
and not just machines.

The network of participation and the formation of networks and relations 
through technology is an increasingly pervasive and global phenomenon, 
and the analysis of the methods with which these networks are formed is 
becoming a necessity for those who deal with digital culture. One must 
not limit oneself to solely analyzing singular contents which are 
present on the internet, but instead should try and understand how 
people who create such contents are connected between themselves in a 
present, extended way. One must therefore consider the social dimensions 
of connectivity. This book attempts to do this for the Italian 
communities of networkers.

Quoting the famous phrase by Marshall McLuhan "the medium is the 
message" [1], today one may say that the network is the message of the 
medium Internet. The networking phenomenon was anticipated by the 
practice of mail art long before Internet evolved, just as the 
pointillism of Seurat could be considered prophetic with respect to the 
subsequent development of the television image. Until recently in 
America the term network was used to describe the television medium, but 
today it regards a much larger and vaster connective dimension, which is 
the Internet. Network becomes "the net of social relations", it is the 
message transmitted by the Internet medium, which is in turn the net 
which technically permits transmission.

The net of relations represents the message of the technical net. If the 
medium conditions the message (though converging on the Internet, TV, 
books, radio, telephones, cell phones do transmit specific messages), on 
the internet (a medium based on the creation of connection nets), the 
message is the social relationships all these media generate.

All this leads to the role of the user. McLuhan often jested that "If 
the medium is the message, then the user is the content". What he 
implied, I think, is that media were not just support or even 
conditioners of messages, they were prime and foremost environments. The 
medium thus could shape both the content and the user. If the medium 
conditions the message, the user becomes the content of this message, 
and this goes for all the forms of networking. With the extension of the 
Internet, one's position within the flow of information changes: today 
the net allows us to diffuse our thoughts in a global manner; whereas 
before these affirmations were merely an utopia, now one may experiment 
with them as a concrete phenomenon. Once on-line we quite literally 
become content for the Internet.

The structure of the medium also conditions one's perception of one's 
own identity: the fact that one becomes an active lever in the 
distribution and creation of digital contents also determines a change 
in the net structures and in our way of communicating and relating with 
the outside world. People carry an aura of communications around them.
In the case of TV, television images speak directly to the body of the 
viewer. Television addresses one's inner state and the electron beam 
paints its sensorial and emotional dimensions directly unto the viewer's 
nervous system; it is a form of physical action which is conveyed 
through sound and moving images. But with the Internet, we share the 
responsibility of making sense with the technology; we are not just 
consumers of information, but also producers, creators, and our 
production becomes an active part of network dynamics. Just check this 
out on Youtube. Internet is a medium which contains in itself all the 
other media, even as the cellular phone recaps the history of all media 
by bringing the convergence of speech, writing and electricity to a 
single portable appliance.

With the internet or mobile phones, intended as network platforms, a 
flow of connective information is generated and extended globally and 
our existence, with its own particular inclinations, preferences and 
connections, becomes a lever in the production and reception of 
relationships as well as information.

How does the user become internet content? First, we need to abandon the 
illusion of being containers of information. The user, instead, becomes 
an active producer of this information in such practices as social 
bookmarking [2] or tagging. Social software either for personalized 
encyclopedias such as Del.icio.us <http://del.icio.us>, or for human and 
professional contacts such as Small World <www.asmallworld.net>, or for 
sharing personal media such as Flickr <www.flickr.com> or Youtube 
<www.youtube.com>, are professional and amateur at the same time.
Each innovation augments the strength and the capabilities of the network.

The creation of expanded communities on the basis of common interests, 
in which it is possible to interact with and involve diverse media, is 
something I explain by examining the concept of "hypertinence". This is 
a neologism which I created to describe the progressive precision of the 
rapport between offer and demand (and vice-versa) within the internet 
contents and within the information contexts which are created on the 
internet. An example of hypertinence is the story of the particular 
refinement of search engines and the access of information on the net: 
thus one passes from Yahoo to Google and from Google to Del.icio.us. 
Through these platforms of social networking as Del.icio.us, one moves 
on from Wikipedia, a more or less anonymous albeit genial form of 
collaboration on the net, to the formation of myriads of 
just-in-time-on-line-on demand connective intelligence networks that 
involve diverse individuals sharing their own specific interests.

Here, one gives free access to a personal homepage from which various 
tags branch off, which allow for the organisation of digital elements 
such as photos, text, and videos, which are all under a specific index, 
a key word which may be shared with other people too. At the same time 
these indexes become accessible to anyone who connects to the platform 
and has the intention of exchanging information with a similar content 
to their own. The evolution of the net demonstrates that progressively 
more and more situations are being created whereby the creation and the 
production of knowledge is evermore pertinent and the access of 
information becomes common ground - a process which involves people 
directly, the individual user who refines him or herself periodically 
with the aim to create more harmony with his or her own personal 

The structural characteristic of the net is packet switching, through 
which all these processes come about on the net. The technical principle 
supporting packet switching is to fragment each message in tiny 
information packets, before sending them on line and give each one both 
a specific address/identity and a code to indicate the order in which 
they are to be recombined on arrival. Thanks to tagging it is possible 
to make one's own contents accessible to a global community of 
individuals without creating a hierarchy between them and between the 
access paths.

The shared information, the exchanged messages, the personal preferences 
indexed on the net through associated tag systems, give way to a more 
profound development of the social networking dimension and allow the 
addition of a level of great maturity on the net. In Del.icio.us, anyone 
may participate freely and gratuitously without restrictions. One may 
insert one's own material, be that photographic or text, and associate 
particular tags to it, key words which are interpreted as connections. 
These key words circulate within the community and on the vaster net and 
may attract other people with similar interests, who access the 
networking platform and exchange information and documents. Thus 
thematic interest groups are generated which are the connective 
evolution of blogs, which were the first form of personalization of the 
net and a concrete example of the network of participation, if 
associated with other friends' or acquaintances' blogs with through 
related topics.

A simple example to explain how social software works on the net is 
Flickr. Suppose you have been invited to a wedding and have taken some 
photographs. The website allows you to publish them online and describe 
them by typing in the names of the people who appear on them. Chances 
are you may not know or recall the name of everybody who appears. You 
may leave those in blank, hoping that someone else who was at that 
wedding, and has connected to Flickr either to post pictures or to see 
those already posted, might know the missing names. Flickr allows 
surfers to add the forgotten names. This is just to say that through 
these networking platforms one may give life to an intricate web of 
connections, as if one had many personalized Wikipedia regarding one's 
own activities.

Platforms such as Wikipedia, with strategic interconnections, use a 
similar mechanism, which is coherent with the idea of partaking, but 
opposite through the modalities of its practice. Wikipedia is an 
anonymous and free internet encyclopaedia and produced by anonymous 
people. The tagging of platforms such as Del.icio.us or Flickr, on the 
other hand, allow for the emphasizing of the presence of the user on the 
net and gives the public a configuration of indexed information based on 
one's own interests. In this sense, there is room on line both for 
useful but anonymous contributions as well as personalized information. 
Both projects are examples of technological systemization of connective 
thought which arise from the intelligence of the few who create 
something useful and accessible for a vaster community.

Throughout inter-connective strategies which give people the possibility 
to share their own information through evermore sophisticated methods, 
we are presented with what I recently described as "connective 
intelligence", which makes auto-organisational strategies a central part 
of the net. In these platforms there is no limit to the contents which 
may be published and one may share them with the entire planet, 
attracting more specifically those who have similar interests to our 
own. Tagging is a form of social networking refinement, and gives the 
possibility to create a plural and extended conscience. In these forms 
of connectivity I see a resurrection of the aura, intended as that 
tactile but unperceivable halo, created by the informational connections 
of each and every one of us, such as our sentimental and personal bonds 
and our friendships, which are all organised in a whole and extended 
fashion - a web of relations which represents how we relate to the world 
and what we have shared so far.

The artist becomes a networker and creates possibilities for exchange 
between people who become a part of the conceived network, which means 
to open up the idea of aura to all possible connections which may come 
about in that network. The aura of a person connected in a professional 
and friendly information net system represents the communicability of 
that person and the interconnection of all his or her bonds. For 
example, our computer, our mobile phone, also contain the aura of our 
cohabitation in this world, consisting of the messages we send and 
receive, the list of friends or acquaintances in our address book, files 
we have saved and archived, the configuration of the system we have 
created, etc. This web belongs to us personally, and makes us a part of 
a community which reunites in hyper-cognitive systems in the 
information-sphere. It is part of our digital persona, although much of 
that escapes our control entirely.

In Tatiana Bazzichelli's book, connection is seen as an artistic 
practice. Interaction platforms, free operative systems such as 
GNU/Linux, independent experimental or community projects and hacktivist 
movements are presented as works of art. The network in itself becomes a 
work of art. When I was member of jury at the Ars Electronic Festival in 
Linz in 1994, myself and the other four members, Joi Ichi Ito, Franz 
Manola, Morgan Russell and Mitsuhiro Takemura, we were confronted with 
the need to formalize criteria to judge the works submitted in the newly 
created category of art developed on the net. We asked ourselves how we 
could judge these forms of art, if the www was the medium that supported 
them, and so we decided that the connectivity was the message [3].

Among the criteria for evaluating the artistic validity of a web site, I 
proposed webness. With webness I mean the quality of connectivity of 
projects. This criteria led us the following year to attribute the 
Golden Nica award to no less then Linus Thorwald, for having invented 
and spread the use of Linux.

In 1979, at the first ever edition of the Ars Electronic Festival in 
Linz, digital culture was an avant-garde theme. Today we are no longer 
relating to Utopias, but rather dealing with tentatively interpreting an 
economic and social phase in which technological progress has become the 
grammar of the present. On the one hand we live in a progressive 
segmentation and specialization, as demonstrated by the technique of 
tagging, and on the other hand we are experimenting an extended 
inclusion which involves common people who have access to technology 
which 20 years ago was unimaginable (like video conferencing or the 
multi-medial or multi-sensorial use of mobile phones). People become the 
active content and the producers of connected information.

The Italian thoughts and activities relating to the net become central 
in the explanation of this mechanism of media evolution, which sees the 
presence of the user as being evermore active and pertinent. The 
experiences told in this book show a network of individuals who act as 
an alternative to the standardised production of culture, information 
and art. These are people who pour their own political, social, artistic 
relations and friendships directly into a creative use of the media; a 
net which exists before the evolution of the Internet, through the 
alternative use of BBS and even before that through mail art.

Through the projects and activities contained in this book, it is 
possible to understand how the central component of networking in Italy 
is the web of relations: going to a conference, participating in a 
festival, talking and sharing projects with others, organising a 
thematic meeting and at the same time, meeting in a bar or a restaurant 
with people who share our interests, become creative occasions to 
produce new activities and projects.

Tatiana Bazzichelli's work proposes to us to understand our cultural 
present through art itself. Art can be used to explain current cultural 
processes, and this kind of study, which is still in progress even now - 
like this book - is a precious instrument whereby to understand who we 
are and where we are going. It is a cut on Italian culture inside the 
network, an important lesson for young people and for many students, 
academics, critics and artists who may gather their inspiration from 
this text and who don't really know the origins of internet art and of 
Italian digital culture.

Italy is a country which is controlled by one-way communication media 
and particularly by television: it is quite apposite that to resist a 
collective medium, one must use a connective one, and, at the same time, 
give life to an artistic tradition of networking which involves the 
entire country, and which is still in evolution. In the creation of such 
an extended connectivity, the free access to the net creates an occasion 
to develop one's own communication from the bottom, moulding it to one's 
own needs - needs which become subversive artistic practice in order to 
create new stages for free participation and to give visibility to all.
I support Tatiana Bazzichelli's effort in that direction. And so does 
this book.

Derrick De Kerckhove, 2006.

[1] Even if he never spoke of anything close to the Internet, in a 
certain way Marshall McLuhan had anticipated it in the 5th chapter of 
Understanding Media predicting the development of electronic 
technologies as vehicles through which to expand not only our senses, 
but our consciousness itself (the book was written in 1962 and published 
in 1964).

[2] For a deeper knowledge of concepts such as tagging and social 
bookmarking, look at the description on the respective Wikipedia at: 
<en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tags> and <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_bookmarking>.

[3] The statement of the judge panel for the www category in online at 
the site of the Ars Electronic Festival, 1995 edition: 


[CC] This text is licensed under the Creative Commons 
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this 
license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ or send 
a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, 
California 94305, USA.


           8/|\   ---------------------------------------------
          /c_"/   Tatiana Bazzichelli
         //_/\__  web site: http://www.ecn.org/aha
           /  \             http://www.strano.net/bazzichelli
          /____\  e-mail: t.bazzichelli@mclink.it
            /|    ---------------------------------------------

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