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<nettime> Piotr Czerski, We, the Web Kids.
nettime's_generator on Sat, 3 Mar 2012 16:32:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Piotr Czerski, We, the Web Kids.


Piotr Czerski
We, the Web Kids.
(translated by Marta Szreder)

There is probably no other word that would be as overused in the media
discourse as 'generation'. I once tried to count the 'generations' that have
been proclaimed in the past ten years, since the well-known article about the
so-called 'Generation Nothing'; I believe there were as many as twelve. They
all had one thing in common: they only existed on paper. Reality never provided
us with a single tangible, meaningful, unforgettable impulse, the common
experience of which would forever distinguish us from the previous generations.
We had been looking for it, but instead the groundbreaking change came
unnoticed, along with cable TV, mobile phones, and, most of all, Internet
access. It is only today that we can fully comprehend how much has changed
during the past fifteen years.

We, the Web kids; we, who have grown up with the Internet and on the Internet,
are a generation who meet the criteria for the term in a somewhat subversive
way. We did not experience an impulse from reality, but rather a metamorphosis
of the reality itself. What unites us is not a common, limited cultural
context, but the belief that the context is self-defined and an effect of free

Writing this, I am aware that I am abusing the pronoun 'we', as our 'we' is
fluctuating, discontinuous, blurred, according to old categories: temporary.
When I say 'we', it means 'many of us' or 'some of us'. When I say 'we are', it
means 'we often are'. I say 'we' only so as to be able to talk about us at all.

We grew up with the Internet and on the Internet. This is what makes us
different; this is what makes the crucial, although surprising from your point
of view, difference: we do not 'surf' and the internet to us is not a 'place'
or 'virtual space'. The Internet to us is not something external to reality but
a part of it: an invisible yet constantly present layer intertwined with the
physical environment. We do not use the Internet, we live on the Internet and
along it. If we were to tell our bildnungsroman to you, the analog, we could
say there was a natural Internet aspect to every single experience that has
shaped us. We made friends and enemies online, we prepared cribs for tests
online, we planned parties and studying sessions online, we fell in love and
broke up online. The Web to us is not a technology which we had to learn and
which we managed to get a grip of. The Web is a process, happening continuously
and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us.
Technologies appear and then dissolve in the peripheries, websites are built,
they bloom and then pass away, but the Web continues, because we are the Web;
we, communicating with one another in a way that comes naturally to us, more
intense and more efficient than ever before in the history of mankind.

Brought up on the Web we think differently. The ability to find information is
to us something as basic, as the ability to find a railway station or a post
office in an unknown city is to you. When we want to know something - the first
symptoms of chickenpox, the reasons behind the sinking of 'Estonia', or whether
the water bill is not suspiciously high  - we take measures with the certainty
of a driver in a SatNav-equipped car. We know that we are going to find the
information we need in a lot of places, we know how to get to those places, we
know how to assess their credibility. We have learned to accept that instead of
one answer we find many different ones, and out of these we can abstract the
most likely version, disregarding the ones which do not seem credible. We
select, we filter, we remember, and we are ready to swap the learned
information for a new, better one, when it comes along.

To us, the Web is a sort of shared external memory. We do not have to remember
unnecessary details: dates, sums, formulas, clauses, street names, detailed
definitions. It is enough for us to have an abstract, the essence that is
needed to process the information and relate it to others. Should we need the
details, we can look them up within seconds. Similarly, we do not have to be
experts in everything, because we know where to find people who specialise in
what we ourselves do not know, and whom we can trust. People who will share
their expertise with us not for profit, but because of our shared belief that
information exists in motion, that it wants to be free, that we all benefit
from the exchange of information. Every day: studying, working, solving
everyday issues, pursuing interests. We know how to compete and we like to do
it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on
the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it.

Participating in cultural life is not something out of ordinary to us: global
culture is the fundamental building block of our identity, more important for
defining ourselves than traditions, historical narratives, social status,
ancestry, or even the language that we use. From the ocean of cultural events
we pick the ones that suit us the most; we interact with them, we review them,
we save our reviews on websites created for that purpose, which also give us
suggestions of other albums, films or games that we might like. Some films,
series or videos we watch together with colleagues or with friends from around
the world; our appreciation of some is only shared by a small group of people
that perhaps we will never meet face to face. This is why we feel that culture
is becoming simultaneously global and individual. This is why we need free
access to it.

This does not mean that we demand that all products of culture be available to
us without charge, although when we create something, we usually just give it
back for circulation. We understand that, despite the increasing accessibility
of technologies which make the quality of movie or sound files so far reserved
for professionals available to everyone, creativity requires effort and
investment. We are prepared to pay, but the giant commission that distributors
ask for seems to us to be obviously overestimated. Why should we pay for the
distribution of information that can be easily and perfectly copied without any
loss of the original quality? If we are only getting the information alone, we
want the price to be proportional to it. We are willing to pay more, but then
we expect to receive some added value: an interesting packaging, a gadget, a
higher quality, the option of watching here and now, without waiting for the
file to download. We are capable of showing appreciation and we do want to
reward the artist (since money stopped being paper notes and became a string of
numbers on the screen, paying has become a somewhat symbolic act of exchange
that is supposed to benefit both parties), but the sales goals of corporations
are of no interest to us whatsoever. It is not our fault that their business
has ceased to make sense in its traditional form, and that instead of accepting
the challenge and trying to reach us with something more than we can get for
free they have decided to defend their obsolete ways.

One more thing: we do not want to pay for our memories. The films that remind
us of our childhood, the music that accompanied us ten years ago: in the
external memory network these are simply memories. Remembering them, exchanging
them, and developing them is to us something as natural as the memory of
'Casablanca' is to you. We find online the films that we watched as children
and we show them to our children, just as you told us the story about the
Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks. Can you imagine that someone could accuse
you of breaking the law in this way? We cannot, either.

We are used to our bills being paid automatically, as long as our account
balance allows for it; we know that starting a bank account or changing the
mobile network is just the question of filling in a single form online and
signing an agreement delivered by a courier; that even a trip to the other side
of Europe with a short sightseeing of another city on the way can be organised
in two hours. Consequently, being the users of the state, we are increasingly
annoyed by its archaic interface. We do not understand why tax act takes
several forms to complete, the main of which has more than a hundred questions.
We do not understand why we are required to formally confirm moving out of one
permanent address to move in to another, as if councils could not communicate
with each other without our intervention (not to mention that the necessity to
have a permanent address is itself absurd enough.)

There is not a trace in us of that humble acceptance displayed by our parents,
who were convinced that administrative issues were of utmost importance and who
considered interaction with the state as something to be celebrated. We do not
feel that respect, rooted in the distance between the lonely citizen and the
majestic heights where the ruling class reside, barely visible through the
clouds. Our view of the social structure is different from yours: society is a
network, not a hierarchy. We are used to being able to start a dialogue with
anyone, be it a professor or a pop star, and we do not need any special
qualifications related to social status. The success of the interaction depends
solely on whether the content of our message will be regarded as important and
worthy of reply. And if, thanks to cooperation, continuous dispute, defending
our arguments against critique, we have a feeling that our opinions on many
matters are simply better, why would we not expect a serious dialogue with the

We do not feel a religious respect for 'institutions of democracy' in their
current form, we do not believe in their axiomatic role, as do those who see
'institutions of democracy' as a monument for and by themselves. We do not need
monuments. We need a system that will live up to our expectations, a system
that is transparent and proficient. And we have learned that change is
possible: that every uncomfortable system can be replaced and is replaced by a
new one, one that is more efficient, better suited to our needs, giving more

What we value the most is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of access to
information and to culture. We feel that it is thanks to freedom that the Web
is what it is, and that it is our duty to protect that freedom. We owe that to
next generations, just as much as we owe to protect the environment.

Perhaps we have not yet given it a name, perhaps we are not yet fully aware of
it, but I guess what we want is real, genuine democracy. Democracy that,
perhaps, is more than is dreamt of in your journalism.

"My, dzieci sieci" by Piotr Czerski is licensed under a Creative Commons
Uznanie autorstwa-Na tych samych warunkach 3.0 Unported License:

Contact the author: piotr[at]czerski.art.pl

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