t byfield on Mon, 10 Aug 1998 22:04:38 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> IEDEREEN: Re: Network Fears and Desires

[What follows is a response by Caroline Nevejan of the Society for Old
 and New Media to Geert Lovink's "Network fears and Desires." It wasn't
 written with a larger audience in mind (which in the context of nettime
 is a good thing: nettime is sinking under the weight of these mailbomb
 essays, it's like getting classical statuary in your mailbox, entire
 Italian baroque fountains in ascii art... Think: smaller, faster, light-
 er). Anyway, Caroline's remarks point up a whole range of issues that
 tend to get lost when "Theory" decks itself out as a Science: the map
 is not the terrain, and the terrain is human relations--as in children,
 friends, allies. A good thing to meditate on in these hot summer days
 (apologies to those down under"), because it isn't going to get any
 colder in the long run. There's too much heat, too little warmth. 

 I've cleaned it up some, so mistakes are my own not Caroline's. -T]

> >Network Fears and Desires
> >Some Strategies to Overcome the Malaise
> >
> >By Geert Lovink
> >
> >"When I hear the word 'interactive', I grab my gun. And shoot." 
> > (Andre Simon)
> >
> >Once a network, with its loose groupings of individuals and groups has
> >gone through the exciting, initial phase of meeting, discovering each
> >other's new ideas and concepts, and staging common events, it seems boring
> >to continue, engage with the same old persona and read the same arguments
> >again and again. Suddenly, we are discovering our own limitations. There
> >were the short, intensive periods, full of ecstatic collective experience
> >and the dull, stretched years of isolated struggle and survival. The dense
> >time of the small, expanding (inter)networks now seems to reach its
> >vanishing point. Work is being continued in smaller groups which might be
> >more sustainable in overcoming the Long Boom of Boredom. The seamless
> >creative potential of the collective body has ended up in repetition and
> >certain patterns begin to reveal themselves. The Euro-summer of '98 smells
> >like the mid seventies, late eighties. Not dark, rather grey. No paradigm
> >shifts ahead, just business as usual. The web is in place, corporate
> >content now finally dominates and the constant technological inventions
> >keep on surprising, creating an addiction for even more promising updates.
> >Ready for the next disappointment.
> I do not agree. This may have been true for the last two or three summers
> but not anymore. It may feel the same, but like in the mid seventies and 
> the late eighties this is a time of storing and shifting, about deciding 
> what is of real value. That is why it looks like silence, but actually big
> decisions for the coming years are now being made in peoples own lives. I
> remember the summer of 1988 or 1989 and then suddenly november 1989 the
> wall falls. Or the summers of the mid seventies where after the huge
> political mass movements happened just after (anti-nuke, squatting,
> environmental etc.)
> These are times of "big hope gathering", of creating new determinations, it
> is the silence again before new dynamics enroll. Even in the Hague's
> politics, silence and not knowing what exactly is going to happen are
> there. People say it is consolidation, but with very outspoken people. I
> find that promising. As well for ourselves, things feel hard and
> complicated, but we are also regrouping. Deciding what value is where and
> what to do with it. The contrast between solo survival and collective
> sharing I find a dubious criterium. I think quite a lot of the collective
> sharing of the last years did not have serious "reach out" ambitions. It
> was present as a commentator, not taking resposibility. One of the things I
> also read in the Soros text of new strategies. It is resposibility time
> again. I am very happy we have had these years of hunter gathering and
> networking for fun. It is a good basis for new steps.
> >Network growth is not a linear process. Once the Net enters the level of
> >the economy-of-scale, it leaves its first inhabitants behind and enters
> >entirely different levels. Even the most ugly, compromised cultural
> >managers, former net pioneers turned exploiters, will, sooner or later, be
> >overruled and puked out by the powers to be. We are now in the latter days
> >of amazon.com, Yahoo!, real.com, Netscape etc. Their success stories will
> >not last forever. Don't believe the market. Widespread neo-liberal market
> >biases makes it hard to make a realistic estimation of their chances - let
> >alone making a critical analysis (or even materialistic theory) of the
> >cyber economy. For the time being we all are still blinded by all the
> >promises, potentials, rumours, hypes. This especially counts for the
> >astronomical, truly virtual stock values.
> One of the things that struck me in confrontation with people who were the
> first inhabitants of the sixties was the fact that after their collective
> sharing and huge input, they felt betrayed by the world. And hardly got
> over it. Some turned cynical, some created private lives, some were to be
> said new exploiters etc. It has surprised me that very few peopole could
> see themselves being present in a historical moment, that was the big
> present for them in their personal lives. But I felt regularly betrayed by
> their disappointments. They were young and promising, had a great time,
> made a difference, so why not go on and be extra open for new developments
> instead of taking the old discourse to judge new possibilities.
> One could argue that the developments in the stockmarket reflect the
> awareness (shared by the first inhabitants, actually formulated first by
> the first inhabitants) that information technologies have the potential to
> change our ways of conviviality. Now that the market as one of the players
> is "in her way" doing this, the least to do is to retreat, or become
> cynical. Money is not good or bad in itself. It is what you do with it. The
> fact that venture capital has moved into the arena of information 
> technologies since a few years, but now even visible on the stockmarket, 
> creates finally lots of content possibilities. The means are there. I do 
> agree that marketplace and conviviality are an interesting couple. Good 
> critical analysis are more needed then ever, formulation of fundamental 
> rights and duties are crucial. Conviviality is the buzzword. A networked 
> society with spiritual expressions part of it. If not fundamentalism, be 
> it capitalistic or islamic or christian or one we do not know yet gets a 
> chance to take over.
> >Growth no longer effects net-related initiatives in the fields of arts,
> >culture and politics, no matter if they are into making money or not.
> >Mega, "the Art of the Big", Wired's 6.07 cover story by Bruce Sterling,
> >about Hong Kong's new airport, Shanghai's sixty-nine skyscrapers under
> >construction, China's large dams and the tunnels of CERN can also be read
> >as an exotic travelogue for those who have stayed behind, not simply as an
> >appeal to the (tired) community to transcend in order to, once again,
> >re-invent itself. The role of the business avant-garde is played out and
> >they can learn some lessons now from their historical art predecessors.
> >There is, for example, a saturation point for bandwidth, beyond which,
> >more simply does not mean faster. Against all expectations, the Internet
> >is creating a new Mass of "users" that just shut up and click/listen.
> >They are "watching Internet", a phrase that would have been impossible to
> >come up with a few years ago. This silent majority in the making, which
> >will only know the red "Buy" button, was not envisioned by the early
> >adapters and the visionaries of the first hour. "It is a Mall World, after
> >all," Wired's Gary Wolf has to admit, not sure whether to be disgusted or
> >to embrace it.
> To realize saturation points is very handy in survival strategies, but does
> not mean at all that previous thinking and doings our outdated in the sense
> that they lost value. Being played out is just a temporary thing. It is the
> silent moment in which you change strategy. It is a fundamental part of
> being flexible and curious to what is going to happen next in this
> interesting world. Only those who fix themselves in one perception will be
> worn out.
> The idea that someone who is silent in the public arena has lost all human
> caracteristics, I find extremely arrogant. Yes we all have to shop every
> day, so it has been a Mall World all along.
> The silent majority in Baudrillard's vision in those days only wanted to be
> connected, that was enough. Now we even shop! Actually this is only the
> beginning.
> >Political economy? Not again! It should have died long ago, stumbling into
> >some non-linear hole of history. There is a return of the suppressed.
> >Economy is not such a favourite topic in the age of pastel-coloured
> >optimism, despite of the rise of popular capitalism with its junk stocks.
> >We'd better ignore it and keep on tinkering. But this form of economic
> >escapism is not an option anymore. We all have to survive. After the long
> >farewell of the Welfare State and its less successful relative, state
> >communism, neo-liberalism is in place now. It has not been imposed on us
> >but has slowly gained importance, as a bottom-up ideology. Alternative,
> >small scale do-it-yourself projects seem to fit well into this. Even the
> >radical autonomous and anarchistic utopias that had their historical
> >objections against the State.
> I do not understand why you argue against political economy. I agree that
> as far as I know, the terms and ways to do this in are not clear yet. But
> espacially since you express that the suppressed are back (I did not
> notice they were away...), I would argue it is of vital importance. The
> place where these carrying ideas should come from maybe different then
> before, or the constellation in which they can arise. If you think about
> the inside story of Shell in South Africa, or Soros or the microloans in
> Bangladesh, and also there are De Beers in South Africa or a Chinese
> economy, the drug trade etc. It is not simple at all, but it is definitely
> to me a field for what we should pay attention: there is a whole range
> from slavery to exploitation, to collective work, to free agents. I find
> the notion of sustainable communities still very viable. That is why I
> think new thinking has more chance to arise when economics are not analyzed
> or inspired by just figures, nor can you judge ideas without realization of
> financial sustainability (survival). Political economy and its translations
> are important.
> >Everybody is bearing some guilt, expect perhaps for a handfull of
> >analytical Marxists. They have always been right, being in the luxurious
> >position of not having been involved in any struggle for the last 20, 30
> >years. Their objective Truth is gaining importance as an unbearable wisdom
> >of the fatal destinies ahead of us. With one eye on the screen streaming
> >financial data, FT on the breakfast table, this Friendly Marxism without
> >Subject, has reached its highest stages of scientific alienation. Now it
> >is for a bloody cold dialectical switch, to become what Marxism always
> >was: hardcore economic analysis. This time, made in the United States.
> >No, Monsieur Jospin, the Internet is not one of the Tres Grand Projects,
> >despite the European origin of WWW (Geneva). Your "Market economy, not
> >market society" phrase is a useful (Euro-French) distinction. But let us
> >not fool ourselves. Marx is at Stanford now, back from the new Berkeley
> >library, studying the dynamics of Microsoft, Silicon Valley and Wall
> >Street, writing on his critique of the global managerial class.
> Guilt is a deep thing, not really the matter here. I'd be very happy, if 
> it could happen, people would study for over 30 years. I am looking forward 
> to reading it. Missed Marx for quite a while. Do you think he'll get a
> debate this time around?
> >Time to move on. The permanent digital revolution in danger of becoming a
> >reformist project? The System is effectively taking over, even sucking
> >itself into the intimate spheres of friendships and personal aims. The
> >objective Wheel of Net History is taking subjective tolls. Time slips away
> >and we are caught up in something we never really wanted in the first
> >place. Web design for Dummies. Anxiety over nothing. Debates with nothing
> >at stake. Rivalries when there is plenty of loot. But wait a minute. We
> >know all this. The so-called unavoidable process of decay is not God-given
> >or a Law of Nature. It is about time to introduce intelligent social
> >feed-back systems. Indeed, a Collective Intelligence (thanks, Pierre
> >Levy!)  that can overcome the rather primitive 20th Century model of
> >birth, rise, success and fall that numerous groups and movements have gone
> >through. It should be possible to resist both historical and technological
> >determinism, or at least play a game with these now predictable forces.
> >This is the search for a media theory, or digital studies in which we can
> >finally fit the charming or rather fatal wetware factor within the larger
> >forces of hardware and software development.
> >
> >http://www.cybernetics.su, where are you, now that we need you? Big
> >silence. Perhaps it is up to us, this time. Next player. It is easy to
> >write down the draft of "The Rise and Decline of the Global Empire". See
> >the stock markets fall. But that's too macro. It is good to gather
> >knowledge about economic forces that are behind the Will to Get Wired. But
> >in the end, they will not tell us much about the psychological processes
> >within smaller networks, which the Internet still consists of, despite the
> >current massification. That is what the marketing gold diggers are looking
> >for: the ultimate secret of the Virtual Community, whatever that may be.
> >We need a network psychology, not in the form of some brillant
> >observations by academic outsiders, but fast and pro-active social wisdom
> >which can be implemented in groups, small organizations, lists,
> >techno tribes. Not only to prevent conflicts over nothing, but mainly to
> >stage real fights, if there is something at stake.
> Here I agree very much with you. Network psychology is what I missed in in
> what I read of the works of Castells. But is also what I miss in your text
> here. Psychologically speaking, there are no Dummies, there is no anxiety
> over nothing, decay does not exist, the system is part of you but you are
> not the system, history always demands subjective tolls, collective memory
> is a fundamental root for knowledge, collective intelligence a driving
> force in the development of human kind.
> I agree we need fast and pro-active wisdom, but wisdom is not something one
> can implement. And even more so I would never talk about implementing
> wisdom to prevent conflicts (even over nothing, because that is only
> perception) or stage fights. Wisdom has to do with sensitivity and
> endurance in "let it be", without loosing your energy or connections. "An
> implementing wisdom" machine sounds like a contradiction in terms, but
> maybe an interesting sort of wishful thinking that may generate useful
> insights for designing networks in a different way.
> Cybernetics as far as I know, has always been inspired by the knowledge
> (or and wisdom) embedded in nature or indigenous societies. The notion of
> not copying the brain, but seducing or triggering the brain to work
> differently by using its own powers. I know of some brain and entropy
> stories, but how does wisdom fit in? Many of the cybernetics people of
> those days ended up in Physics and Bhuddism, or artificial intelligence, 
> or net design. It would be interesting to look into this again.
> >First of all, there is the Media Question. The Spectacle has entered every
> >possible domain, and its widespread power has made it virtually impossible
> >to imagine a gesture, form of communication or action which is not
> >mediated, digitised, archived. All forms of protests and politics are
> >under its spell. But this tragic reality should not limit ourselves if we
> >are looking for ways out of broadcast misery. Fine, there is still the
> >TAZ, the hacker ethic, models for Electronic Civil Disobedience, tactical
> >media, concepts that might be flexible enough to resist the pressures from
> >the Forces of Simulation. But like all ideas, these Memes have a limited
> >lifespan. They must be updated constantly and renamed in order not to lose
> >their magical attraction. We should not be sad, or even conservative about
> >this. If the Bolo Bolo, TAZ, squat, rave, virtual community is turning up
> >in a new configuration, we should be able to recognize and welcome it. And
> >to witness the birth of such a new entity is certainly a privilege.
> The forces of simulation and the collective amnesia that goes with it are a
> serious problem of our time. In the sixties there was a connection between
> thinking and doing--one of the crucial elements, inspired by the good and
> wrong of the second world war. In our days now this ethic of a person's word
> is a person's deed, is sort of drifting in the air. In the juridical systems
> this confusion is very present (international tribunal in the Hague on
> Yugoslavia, Rodney King, OJ Simpson and Clinton, the Truth commision in
> South Africa, Singapore's hard-line). What surprises me is that so many
> people take it serious. Actually in the field of juridical philosophy
> something is happening in this regard--between states and also in the 
> public arena.
> The rewriting of history all the time is fundamental to human history. The
> strange thing is that now we have all these data stored. Will they make a
> difference? To keep history alive it has to be rewritten all the time. The
> change is that we have this huge outside data storage, fact-filing system.
> How can they inspire the stories we tell children?
> >After the gold-rush, the We is being questioned, in danger of
> >disintegrating into a thousand lonely hearts, potentially becoming victims
> >of the commodification strategies of the Big players. We are not one, and
> >there has never been unity, specially not these days. The We form in the
> >age of the Net is one of the few possibilities left to address groups,
> >sub-networks and formulate common strategies, (if indeed people are
> >interested in collaboration and exchange...). Heterogeneous policies are
> >always in danger of falling apart, much more than parties, trade-unions
> >and other institutions. One of the tricks to avoid people organising
> >themselves is to reduce their argument to their Private Opinion which is
> >seen as a contribution to the general (democratic?) discourse. In times of
> >consolidation, dispersion and decay, the We is under debate, whilst at the
> >same time more used than ever. It is the time of strategies. At the moment
> >of the short highs there is only the unspoken, ecstatic We feeling. Later
> >on, we do not want others to speak for others. This is anyway a
> >more general tension, a feeling of discontent, between explicit ways of
> >hyper individuality and loneliness on the one side, and the closed,
> >sometimes claustrophic atmosphere inside groups, collectives, companies
> >and movements on the other side. This should be the starting point for
> >every contemporary debate on new ways of organizing.
> Most organization happens (if not all) because people feel a necessity to
> do so. Most organization happens without the organization itself as a
> notion, but because people want to get something done (households, streets,
> villages). In the Big Society--with so many people here--schools, parties
> and movements require people to be able to transcend their issues of
> survival and believe systems to the notion of being part of an
> organization. Compromise (or entropy) and strategy (insight in dynamics) is
> part of any system. In the Big Society strategy and organization has become
> a goal in itself; so the radicals have made a goal in itself of not being 
> part of that. I would argue that we should leave these notions behind and 
> become Dummies who organize a household. Perception, compromise, mildness, 
> realization where your love is, is crucial. Espacially now in the Big 
> Society since many people are open to creating "sense". Courage is needed 
> for "coming out".
> In other words get out of this THEM versus WE feeling, we are them and they
> are us--and no guilt.
> >Commodify your dissent. Certainly. And you will be commodified too. This
> >fear is even more prominent and destructive these days compared to the
> >unavoidable mediation we have to deal with, (and practice). For some,
> >there is the pleasure of getting to know the rules of the game,
> >understanding the tricks of Doing Business, studying the metaphysics of
> >making money and its ritual, sacral aspects, fooling around with The
> >Suits. But for most, the workers and not executives, commodification means
> >regulation of work, creativity and (soft) subversions. At the first
> >glance, commodification feels like justice, a liberation, a chance to
> >finally get back some of the money for all the efforts that have been
> >invested in the video, music, text or software one has been working on for
> >such a long time. But in most cases this only remains a promise. The
> >famous Sell-Outs seldom pay off, compared to the real money others are
> >making with ordinary jobs. This cheapness, combined with strong, personal
> >feelings of discontent, even guilt is the main reason behind the current
> >wave of paranoia about commodification. It is the fear of betrayal for no
> >reason, being left alone with empty hands, having to work with strangers
> >that have no clue at all. Yes, one can become infected by corporate germs,
> >but this is easy to cure. One good book, documentary or travel will do. We
> >all have to be aware of neo-liberal rhetoric, but ideology is not the
> >issue here. From the political, strategic perspective, the fear we are
> >speaking of here is one of the main obstacles for people to organise
> >themselves and engage with each other in serious way beyond occasional
> >collaborations. Commitment and dedication these days intertwine with
> >business, and this is deadly.
> When I know a song and I teach it to you, do I have half a song after that?
> Or does my song sound less beautiful? Commodification can also mean that more
> people, or other people, have access. The fear of betrayal, of empty hands
> is true, but t always has been. I think you confuse general behavior
> with the need to be alert. I agree that sharing knowledge and means is 
> harder at the moment, in this particular period when we live, but the
> conclusion I would draw is that we need to formulate better the reasons why 
> we want to share, what is at stake. And even demand business models in which
> the sharing is reflected. Commodification is not the problem, blind money
> drive is. Exploitation is. But money as an exchange medium in itself is not.
> Doing good business generates possibilities, and to do good business does
> not always have to mean one gets into exploitation. Most people actually
> did not. The intertwining of business and dedication and commitment
> acquires our attention but is not deadly by nature, it is as much a force
> for conviviality.
> >Conciousness Regained.  Radical media pragmatism demands that the actors
> >remain Cool. Who can still proclaim to be Multi-media after the monstrous
> >misuse of this term? Yes. It should still be possible to ignore all market
> >forces, cheap trends and keep on playing. There is a state of
> >hyper-awareness, to transform, disappear, give up terrains that have been
> >occupied, and continue at the same time. What now counts is integrity. It
> >is getting easy these days to become resigned. There are a thousand
> >reasons to quit, or to continue on the same grocery level. The world,
> >structured by pre-cooked events, ready to be microwaved and consumed, can
> >be rejected.  Downright reality is unbearable these days. "No spiritual
> >surrender", an Amsterdam graffiti says. Colourless digital existence can
> >be softened by self-made utopias, hallucinatory experiences, with or
> >without recreational drugs and technologies. Regular switching to other
> >channels which are outside the cyber realm is an option. There are
> >countless universes.  Negroponte's existential reductionism ("In being
> >digital I am me.") is just one of them. "You are only real with your
> >make-up on." (Neil Young)
> >
> >Here Comes the New Desire. Unknown, forgotten forms of negation, refusal,
> >anger and pleasure are there and will be open (even towards E.T's), whilst
> >still encrypted against the (mentality) police forces and fashion hunters.
> >There are plenty of sadistic traps for the trend researchers and their
> >clientele: Alternative radio, Independent labels, French theory (from
> >twenty years ago), interactive games, on-line events, techno.net This is
> >so cruel: see them buying, the poor bastards, desperate to get an
> >identity, any, which makes them feel alive, for a moment or two.
> >Cybercynical Knowledge 98. So their search engines have to be distrusted,
> >ignored, misled. The people-to-people networks will lead one to the right
> >source, not the databases of the corporations/states. Computers generate
> >useless data, not contexualized information. This should be knowledge4all.
> >
> >The postmodern late-leftist discourse of the '68 generation has now closed
> >all its possible options. There is no way out for them, locked up, as they
> >are, in their down-sized, optimised, professional institutions. So let it
> >be. The same can be said of the more recent 'new social movements', with
> >exception of sudden outbursts of un-controlled (and therefore not
> >organized) social-ethnic unrest. Let us not get distracted by ideological
> >pseudo-events such as the Culture Wars or paranoid waves of xenophobia.
> >Some fights are shadow boxing. Others are real. Now it is time for other
> >options, in search for the genuine New that does not fit into known
> >patterns of eternal return, being taken back into the System. Virtual
> >Volutarism means being able to overcome moods of melancholy, perfectly
> >aware of all possible limits and opportunities, looking for the
> >impossible, on the side, out of reach of both futurists and nostalgics.
> >Being able to present alternative realities, chocking the Johnsons, way
> >out of reach of the Appropriation Machines. The market authorities will
> >arrive too late. Yes, this is a dream, but we do cannot survive in a
> >(digital) environment without options. In order to get at the point, we
> >should reach a level of collective 'self conciousness' to overcome the
> >system of fear and distrust which is now spreading. No attempt to
> >reconstruct what worked once. No glorification of the inevitable. In order
> >not to throw away everything which has been built up we should invent
> >concepts on top of it and not narrow all our options into making the world
> >institutionally legible. The "Next Age", the name of a department store in
> >Pudong/Shanghai, is hybrid: half-clean, somehow dirty, never entirely
> >digitised, stuck between real growth and an even more real crisis.
> >Obsessed with progress, in full despair. But there are other options, and
> >we can realise them. "Get Organised" (n5m3)
> I like the sound of the last three lines, it sounds like eighties
> rhethoric, a rhetoric I liked very well too at the time. It is not a text I
> can live out with old people and children around me, it sounds very
> self-indulgent or it sounds like a SF text in the fifties.
> I hear no curiosity, no perception, no inner cues for integrity, or
> inspiration to be flexible, no openness to unexpected allies or ideas.
> It speaks of reaction, not innovation (though these can be switched...).
> It expresses the pain of a changing world, back to the future.
> I know the pain, and pain is an important signal but not always a good 
> advisor.
> In times like this where values are reformulated, reconfirmed or formulated
> for the first time I find it very important to be curious to other
> realities, to take a lot of effort to understand languages that at first
> seem very different or even unattractive.
> The world is changing; and like the religious states, sometimes there are 
> periods that were open and periods that were closed. Deviant opinions are 
> important in all times, a great lesson from the Jewish tradition. Living in 
> subcultures means to open up more then often.
> Original moments, or the creation of new sounds and ideas, always involves
> more then one cultural inspiration. Monocultures generate dogmas.
> For Public Netbase in Vienna, we are very important as a far friend; they
> need to know their nextdoor neighboor as well. Far friends can have great
> input and be of inspiration (solidarity), and even apply pressure when 
> needed (B92); but change happens with the people present there and then 
> (South Africa). Netculture can facilitate all these lines locally and
> internationally.
> That is why openness to cultures and discourses that are not immediately
> familiar is crucial.
> Especially in this time, with the millennium coming up, and tramblings 
> starting like the San Francisco Bridge (be it because of a bug, a euro, a
> money crises, a believe clash, global culture and cultural diversity beyond
> imagination or just the number itself), to be aware of what is of value is
> crucial to me. Value in a broad sense, a world for the future children to
> come.
> In the Waag we are very blessed with all the fun we have in living our
> daily lives, the power and the force that comes from that we should use to
> dare formulate and create other and new realities. To do that in a
> sustainable way, and in such a way that people we do not know yet will be
> able to participate.
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