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<nettime> OMNIZONE

Date: Wed, 04 Mar 1998 17:15:02 -0500
From: Stephen Pusey <>

Mapping Perspectives of Digital Culture
By Stephen Pusey and Yu Yeon Kim

Attempting to chart a course through digital culture is akin to Columbus
setting forth to discover the islands of India beyond the Ganges only on
arrival to apply preconceived notions and mythologies about his intended
destination, to a location that was far from what, and where, he assumed it
to be.   Like him, we inevitably view new and emergent discoveries within
the frame of inherited ideologies and only formulate new strategies of
evaluation when we are forced to recognize that their misalignment prevents
us from understanding what is really before us.  In constructing a map of
the arena of digital culture it may be possible to obtain an idea of the
dynamic forces that are operable in its evolution only if it is viewed from
distinct points within and outside of its circumference, rather than
thinking of it in terms of direct lines of historical ascent. 

To conjure a visual model that might serve to illustrate the layered
complexity of online culture that has developed within just the last few
years - imagine that you are examining, within an advanced VRML space, a
transparent Babel Tower  - its diaphanous walls etched with both genius and
trivia in every language.   Viewed laterally the Tower is an open matrix of
corridors of informational exchange, spiraling inwards and outwards, a
multiplex of data streams in digital space, alive with the light of
electrons dancing in frenzied transmission.   Select "slide" on your
control panel so that you are looking from above and what we you might see
is a glass disk with the inscriptions of each floor visible through the
other; as a palimpsest of the iconography of our cultures melded as an
equivalent array.  Such a configuration would allow us to understand our
histories not so much as a vertical osmosis, through which the ideas of the
past percolate to posterity, but more as a complete saturation of the
present by its own infrastructure - functioning as a delivery-and-exchange
network of cultural packages.

To those familiar with its principle navigation tools (browsers, email
programs etc.), the Internet is not exactly terra ingognita, but certainly
a shifting landscape.  It is being constantly changed by those who engage
it, and by transactions, input, programming languages and devices that
further diversify its modes of communication, its routes, and the means
through which it is seen and navigated.  Its impetus comes from a spectrum
of sources that include both the profit and non-profit sectors of its
"community".  But undoubtedly its extension is fueled most of all by the
corporate sector. Navigation of this terrain requires guidance that not
only supplies directional information, but also encourages a critical
understanding of informational structures and the systems of micro-power
with which they are interwoven. The digital landscape is being shaped not
just by the convergence of various new media and information technologies,
but also, by a convergence of industry interests from all sectors,
especially entertainment and electronics.  The "Information Revolution"
therefore, is a process determined, in part, by the combined forces of
multinational corporations, and though this is not exactly orchestrated, it
is changing the nature of our participation in all spheres of society, and
both the way, and the means, by which we perceive these activities.  The
integration of digital technologies in daily life has especially
reconfigured the relationship between the areas of work and leisure, which
may share the same tools of information access, only adjusted for the
different context.
  	Of course these technologies not only facilitate access to information,
but control, and record, how it is accessed and by whom.  Therefore data
banks for all purposes proliferate and surveillance technology is developed
and employed for both efficient measurement and control. This data flows
constantly through the networked social body, and implicates it at all
levels in the exercising of power and control. The utopian ideal here,
might be the democratization and decentralization of power, but the reality
might well be just a networked market place, where the enfranchised are
those who possess the latest and fastest in computer and video technology.
This informational consumerism acts as the conduit for industry and capital
interests to permeate through education, entertainment, industry, to our
very thinking processes, substituting for our innermost reverie,
consumerist desires.  The ideologues have heralded the Information Age as
virtuously encouraging decentralization and fragmentation of power, and
indeed, this appears to be occurring both nationally and internationally.
But the conclusion of decentralization is not necessarily diminished
control - on the contrary, the pragmatic industrialist or politician is
able to coordinate the decentralized constituency through their
communication networks, with a gain of flexibility, responsiveness, and
control.  The Internet therefore, is a contradictory mechanism that has the
potential for enhanced democracy in the hands of critical users, and yet
simultaneously, may afford the corruption of knowledge by a systematic
manipulation of information to serve political and commercial interests.

"Virtual existence", stretching the span of inter-network space is the mind
disassociated from the body, the "World Brain" that H.G. Wells hoped would
be the "creation of an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and
achievements . . . the creation, that is, of a complete planetary memory
for all mankind".  The contemporary "World Brain" is the mind become
digital encryption dispersed across interconnected zones, where it births
the changeling hologram of a "virtual body", a transparent entity permeated
with pre-planted consumerist wants, myriad and contradictory concepts, an
evolving, dissolving, and shared "alt." authorship.   Within this milieu
capitalism transcends to the realm of avatars and decoy identities, and the
intellect is taxed to discern the fake from the real.  Yet it is also a
laboratory of artists and other intellectuals who engage its form
profoundly and philosophically, and who are positioned to change the nature
of critical communication in ways, which we may only imagine.  Indeed, much
of online "art" and "theory" has evolved partly from a frustration with the
traditional exhibition and symposium circuits, and from a desire to build a
broad spectrum of informational exchange and creative initiatives capable
of having a direct political and cultural impact on society.   Within these
networked "culture" spaces are evolving new articulations of visual and
theoretical language around the connection of diverse modalities, and the
discovery of new forms of spatial representation.   

OMNIZONE is a continuous mapping of digital space that will present no
conclusive statement, structure, or design.  Rather it comprises visual and
written works by artists and cultural practitioners that may provide a
unique perspective from their points of access.  Many of these digital
"maps" (and the term is used loosely), have an inherent structure that
facilitates a view of digital culture as being composed of overlaid,
relational and transmissive entities that exist in an entanglement that
intersects at multifarious levels - rather than in simple linear or
vertical trajectories. These "entities" may be regarded not merely as nodes
or sites, but as relational systems that may merge into larger ones or
fragment by accident or by design into smaller subsystems.  

It is our ambition that OMNIZONE will become a portrait of an era that is
characterized most of all by a sense of transparency and of production and
existence at the interstices of informational systems.  An era in which
information is robotically assimilated, our hyperlinked cultures are
reconstructed, and brought into a zone where they become chronologically
equivalent.  These processes have forever altered the manner, in which we
perceive distance and spatial hierarchies.  Our locations and cultures are
now telematically connected and our imagination and global culture is
embodied and formed in the plexus of this network, not merely in local
'centers'. This digital globalization has produced an intercultural
interweave in which the lines between insider and outsider are not so
clearly drawn and in which traditional hierarchies of spatial articulation
may no longer be relevant.

We consider the scope and evolution of digital culture as a problematical
area that requires developing an access model of investigation, a
conceptual device that is both ontological and structural, for
understanding its causal connections and their multi-level interaction in a
way that existing deterministic methodologies cannot.  It is our ambition
that OMNIZONE will have the potential to trigger new ways of thinking about
relational evolution, and that in diverting from redundant codification, we
will transit to another level of thinking - one that may serve to
illuminate an evolving culture. 

Through "OMNIZONE" we may present an understanding of human development,
not as a direct linear advancement, but as a sporadic, tangential growth
and retraction.  In this perspective the organism is seen as attempting to
find new forms through a combination of accident and experimentation, in
which the Darwinian best is not guaranteed survival, but where regression
may be considered as important as progression, or eventually amount to the
same thing.  Indeed, the Internet may be the ultimate mechanism that
humankind has invented to ensure the maximum combination and mutual
infection of all its cultures.  This is not really a mix of cultural
dilution, but of diversification, repossession and change - as ideas are
exchanged, assimilated, re-exported and re-imported.  Each location
redefines the package according to its own uses and imperatives, and in
turn - the package redefines its host.  There is an interlocking of values
and practices in which the co-present cultures are incidentally maneuvered
to examining the articulations of power that are contained in their
cultural exchanges, and how these dramatically alter their "world view".
The Internet is optimizing our societies as both transactional and
transnational networks in which it may no longer be possible, or important,
to distinguish the "center" from the "periphery".

To navigate this phenomenon with mapping tools that employed the
conventional nomenclature of the non-virtual world would not provide any
indication of the substance of the labyrinthine digital terrain.  OMNIZONE
has the potential to provide illumination in this respect as an evolving
guide, which has the inbuilt facility to reveal new perspectives through
the combination of intellectual discourse, and new technologies.   It may
even provide new cognitive models that will contribute to a transformation
of our mental culture and our concept of a "World View".

The above text was published in this month's issue of Intelligent Agent
(Vol. 2 No. 2 - to order an issue e-mail <> )

OMNIZONE will be launched on PLEXUS at in May,
1998.  It will also manifest as an exhibition at EXIT Art, The First World,
New York City, for eight weeks from September 19th, 1998.
Proposals, papers, and entries may be submitted to

OMNIZONE is organized by Stephen Pusey and Yu Yeon Kim, co-founders of

Stephen Pusey is an artist.
Yu Yeon Kim is an independent curator.

PLEXUS Art and Communication
"only connect ..."

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