j bosma on Mon, 27 Jan 97 09:17 MET

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nettime: het stuk

stuk [het]= *(aandeel)share, security
*(staaltje)een stout stukje: a bold
feat*(aantrekkelijk persoon) male:
hunk, stud. female: piece*(geschrift)
document, article.

by Paulien van Mourik Broekman and Josephine Bosma

Neither of us were there when Nettime was born, but we 
think we are close enough to the source to know its 
radiation, its personality almost. Nettime can nearly 
be treated as a character. Its loose form and the firm 
but loving embrace of its participants give it a different 
feel then do its descendants or its copycats. However, 
there is still something uncomfortable about it, which we 
will try to get as close as possible to in the following text.

What is most striking about Nettime is its wish for close 
personal contact. Nettime-meetings have been organised under 
the banner of conferences like Next5Minutes or Metaforum, 
and a big one which truly shows Nettime's sweet face is the 
meeting planned for May 97 which will be held in three
different cities in former Yugoslavia: Ljubljana, Zagreb 
and a searesort.
Nettime seems to be an island of humanity in the mediated 
world of the net and its periphery. Anybody can send anything 
at anytime to its open list. Though, for a discussion mailing 
list, this is in itself not unusual, combined with the very 
human and personal treatment of its members, it means that 
Nettime could be a fertile breeding ground for new writing
talents, a free space to experiment with styles and thoughts 
for artists or theorists or what is most interesting: it could 
be a place for non-writers in the extreme sense of the word 
to vent their opinions on highly philosofical matters, a place 
where professional intellectuals and illiterate mediaworkers 
communicate. And this is where something seems to go wrong.

Nettime has a lot of members. The issues that pass the revue 
titillate many minds . Yet only a very small part of its members 
'open fire', even when the battle is practically in their own 
backyard. We have heard someone say he is afraid to write. Why 
is that? Speaking in public is not easy, most of us know that, 
with the exception of the natural performers. But is that the
only problem? From many sides the same remarks about Nettime 
are heard over and over again. The texts, the announcements 
and the world that seems to be hidden behind them are found 
extremely interesting, but there is this enormous treshhold fear 
to react. And it seems to have something to do with these same 
good texts.

At conferences the way an idea is communicated is a mixture 
of that of the objective, learned scholar/professional and 
that of the masterspeaker, the politician, the salesman. 
Theories are presented and discussions are initiated in the 
oldfashioned manner of the college, where knowledge was a
clearly shaped object of power, with a beginning and an end 
and, perhaps, guards flanking its sides. Even the audience 
seems to submit to these rules of polite respect for the erect 
manner of speaking that also dominates the universities and 
political meetings. 
The way texts and knowledge is spread and treated through 
new media might not just offer new possibilities, but it might 
be a revolution which even academies will have to deal with. 
New media are not just effecting old media like books, tv or 
radio. It also effects institutions. Their heritage needs to 
be dealt with and transformed. It is not so that we mean to 
say that what comes out of this heritage, like styles of writing 
and thinking, is wrong or needs to be dumped. It just feels a 
bit uncomfortable.

Fortunately Nettime does not pay its contributors for their 
efforts. This saves us from endless plowing through the long, 
highly abstract theoretical pieces of the professional macho 
theorists who like their masturbative seeds to choke the 
throats of the doubting student, the searching poet or the 
wacko artist. Many writers still have these sharp, fast pens 
though, which they learned to hold so well during their 
professional careers. And only the wackos seem to have
the (unconscious?) guts to reply to them. What happens instead
of the shared tought trains often is the safer but less effective
private mail exchanges, the whispering at the backdoor, which
takes the sting out of the debate. The only way to fight 
this syndrome without losing the credibility or impact of 
net.criticism is probably to work with an awareness of how 
textual critical authority, maybe invisible to its producer,
can simultaneously encourage and suppress the introduction of new voices/communications.

The metaphor of the academy can also be used in a more 
positive way though, as - though invisible due to the same 
characteristics that make the net such fertile ground for 
gender switching etc. - the range of ages, professional and 
personal experiences of those who subscribe to Nettime is 
no doubt vast. The email communicated thinking, feeling and 
being that make up Nettime's shared persona touches on the 
very slippery areas where practice, personal experience and 
theory (for want of a better word) intersect. In fact, don't 
they in most social interactions?
Distinctions made here between these categories are, 
by necessity, crude. Given that this is what we have to play 
with, the fact remains that some postings will seem more 
relevant to some than others, for reasons that go beyond simple 
qualitative criteria.

Some postings that may seem like so much "noise" to 'seniors' 
concerned with their own particular patch of high-theoretical 
discussion, may link in more directly with the lives and 
lifestyles of other subscribers. Yet conversely, those 
self-same subscribers (and we say this from experience) 
learn much from even the shortest exchange on topics they may
not be intimately familiar with. A more personal inflection 
on otherwise theoretical postings manages to communicate the 
really valuable experience gleaned from working in an area 
over a long period of time.

The issue of noise does clearly connect with Alexei Shulgin's 
plea for avoiding professionalism in favor of freedom for 
development and experimentation, which he seems to have meant 
for the art-side of Nettime mostly. This is applicable to the 
whole of Nettime's working field though.
The tempting and sometimes threatening idea of separating the
art-hemisphere from supposedly more practical workingfields seems
completely out of place in the context of the experimentation 
workers in new media are inevitably obliged to engage in.

Of course this broadening of discussion can also slide into a 
situation where... 'plus ca change': the 'lurkers' feel 
privileged to listen to the masterspeakers, not just in the 
lecture hall as before, but in the newly-opened private spaces 
of the gents' loo and the corner of the professors' refectory.

It is a pity that some interesting professional writers whom we
know must have eye and heart for helping to find a solution to 
this problem are too busy being professional elsewhere. Of course, 
not everyone has the tireless energy of the few one-man 
broadcasting houses that push Nettime forward (thanks) so perhaps 
it wouldn't be a bad thing if some others circulating in the 
technoculture circuit  would every now and then step down from 
their pedestal and be among the crowds again, not just at 
conferences, that seem to be like holiday camps to them and where 
of course personal exchanges of ideas and inspiration are limited 
to small groups of people only.

We have to say that eventhough these mechanisms that we have 
described above are in our opinion the major reason why the 
Nettime platform does not work to its fullest possibilities, 
there have also been a few little incidents on Nettime that 
have created the impression that one has to be careful with
postings. A few times people have been thrown of the list 
for reasons that were not always clear to everybody, but 
seemed to have to do with certain not clearly visible *rules*.
Not everybody has the chance to ask the moderators face to face 
what is going on and to discuss it. For this reason it seems 
necessary that after such an incident, and hopefully we will 
not have too many, a warm and inspiring invitation to doubters 
and searchers is spread, which could maybe also function as a 
kind of basic, userfriendly Nettime manifesto.

Nettime is a social entity; above all else its energy comes 
from its community-oriented nature. The above is not meant as 
a dead-end complaint.
It is more a response to a slightly troubling and seemingly 
contradictory tendency within the discussions of nettime that 
have discouraged certain interesting subscribers to participate. 
In the long run this may create problems, nobody likes being 
an unintentional lurker. The network of subscribers is a valuable 
one for all of us, and loosing good but in the world of 
theorywriting inexperienced people due to inaccessability would 
be a damn shame. If we are to avoid building with institutionalised 
male dominated structures of theoretical discourse that existed 
within the academy of old, which profitted from specialisms, 
narrowing the gaze and heading for one clear goal, and we reflect 
now, in practice, the diversity of this list, the threads of this 
tendency might need to be unpicked and rewoven.

Paulien= editor of Mute mute@easynet.co.uk/ W: www.metamute.co.uk  London

Josephine = radio-maker Radio Patapoe 97.2FM  ptp@desk.nl  Amsterdam             


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