geert lovink on Thu, 12 Sep 2002 18:00:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] Zojuist verschenen: Dark Fiber

(helaas niet in het nederlands)

Dark Fiber
Tracking Critical Internet Culture
Geert Lovink
The MIT Press
September 2002
ISBN 0-262-12249-9
7 x 9, 394 pp.
$29.95/19.95 (CLOTH)

>From The MIT Press announcement:

According to Sydney-based media critic Geert Lovink, the Internet is being
closed off by corporations and governments intent on creating a business and
information environment free of dissent. Calling himself a radical media
pragmatist, Lovink envisions an Internet culture that goes beyond the
engineering culture that spawned it to bring humanities, user groups, social
movements, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), artists, and cultural
critics into the core of Internet development.

In Dark Fiber, Lovink combines aesthetic and ethical concerns and issues of
navigation and usability without ever losing sight of the cultural and
economic agendas of those who control hardware, software, content, design,
and delivery. He examines the unwarranted faith of the cyber-libertarians in
the ability of market forces to create a decentralized, accessible
communication system. He studies the inner dynamics of hackers' groups,
Internet activists, and artists, seeking to understand the social laws of
online life. Finally, he calls for the injection of political and economic
competence into the community of freedom-loving cyber-citizens, to wrest the
Internet from corporate and state control.

The topics of Dark Fiber include the erosion of email, bandwidth for all,
the rise and fall of dotcom mania, the fight for a public Internet time
standard, the strategies of Internet activists, the ups and down of
community networks, mailing list culture, and collaborative text filtering.
Stressing the importance of intercultural collaboration, Lovink includes
reports from Albania, where NGOs and artists use new media to combat the
country's poverty and isolation; from Taiwan, where the September 1999
earthquake highlighted the cultural politics of the Internet; and from
Delhi, where the Sarai new media center explores free software and the
digital commons.


Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture

Geert Lovink, The MIT Press, September 2002

(Arranged translations so far in Italian, Spanish, German and Japanese)

Table of Contents:



Twilight of the Digirati


On Speculative Media Theory

Portrait of the Virtual Intellectual

Case Studies:

The Digital City - Metaphor and Reality

The Nettime Mailinglist, the Early Years

Crystals of Net Criticism:

Language? No Problem

A Push Media Critique

Mass Psychology of the Net: A Proposal

Nettimes, not Swatch Time

Fragments of Net Criticism

Sweet Erosions of E-mail


Tirana, Culture after the Final Breakdown

Taiwan, 921 Aftershocks

Delhi, New Media Center Sarai

Dynamics of Net Culture:

Radical Media Pragmatism

Network Fears and Desires

Short History of 90s Cyberculture

The Importance of Meetspace

Tactical Media - an Insider's Guide

Reality Check:

Media in the New Europe

Soros and the NGO-question

Information Warfare

Kosov@: War in the Age of Internet

Towards a Political Economy:

Cyberculture in the Dotcom Age

The Rise and Fall of Dotcommania

Hi-Low: The Bandwidth Dilemma



Dark Fiber starts when the party is over, in the post-dotcom recession era.
Ignoring the libertarian culture of blame, which accuses both the government
and 'the market' for the tech wreck, it sets out on a critical examination
of actual Internet culture. After a good laugh about the absurd dotgone
business plans it is better to prepare for tough battles to come. There is
little time for post-bubble cynicism. Internet wars are on the rise. Fights
over intellectual property, domain names, repressive legislation, corporate
monopolies and censorship are just about to begin. The future will not
merely be technological. This study argues that in order to understand and
participate in the fight over the Internet a form of 'cultural competence'
is required.

The proposed 'net criticism' is not so much targeted against the values of
Internet pioneers from the pre-dotcom age--those with a belief in
decentrality, the right to own your own words, the idea of sharing
resources, code and content, and anonymity remain essential and worth
defending. Rather, it expresses the growing disbelief that 'the market' is
the appropriate partner in defending and defining, Internet freedom. The
libertarian hackers' version of a do-it-yourself capitalism, with worthy,
anti-monopolistic intentions and the promotion of 'true' market forces, has
proven unable to beat big software, telecom and media players who all have
their vested interests in dismantling these core Internet values.

Framed within the broader concept of 'post-1989' cultural policies, Dark
Fiber proposes that the theory of new media needs to be extended beyond the
realm of digital aesthetics and the still dominant body-machine paradigm
within cyberculture. The Internet is no longer sold as a disembodied
spiritual realm. With business tightening its grip, the role of the
metaphysical imagination is quickly fading away and is being replaced by a
reduced version of the Internet as a reliable work, shopping and education
environment. The Internet is not a parallel universe but a deeply political,
legal and economic infrastructure, in a permanent flux. Caught between
national and corporate interests, partly privatized, while simultaneously in
search of 'global governance,' Internet standards are constantly being

Instead of calling for restrictive regulations there is an urge felt to
design and practice a 'digital public domain' developed by a wide range of
social and cultural partners. These multi-disciplinary efforts result in a
demand for a public infrastructure which will utilize the often unused
Internet capacity (called 'dark fiber') for multiple educational and
creative purposes. In the conceptual vacuum which the dotcom era has left
behind, a rich and critical Internet culture has hit the surface, offering
sustainable and imaginative alternatives to both corporate and government
attempts to contain the Internet.

In order to frame an agenda for a creative and radical pragmatism which
leaves behind the cultural pessimism of post-modernity, leftist technophobia
and dotcom delusions, Dark Fiber investigates and formulates a political
economy of the Internet. Besides debunking the ideological parameters of
utopian promises embodied in magazines such as Wired, Dark Fiber examines
the inner workings of social networks beyond intention and rhetoric. It
studies the materiality of online communities by looking into the economics
of Internet culture and its group dynamics.

There is still enough room to explore the undiscovered potentials of, for
example, peer to peer networks, free software, alternative browsers and user
interfaces. However, if these concepts and prototypes want to be successful
it is necessary for the 'geek' engineer culture to make a 'cultural leap.'
Art and design in the new media context are not merely decoration created in
order to compensate the boredom of the everyday. What is needed in today's
technological culture is an open and equal dialogue between citizens,
designers, programmers, business and governments to overcome the 'cultural
divide' and shape the network society in a new way. The information
infrastructure is too important to be left to technologists or e-commerce

Dark Fiber looks into the ambivalent role cyberculture is playing in the
mobilization of creative potentials on the side of both producers (artists,
designers, programmers, hackers and activists) and users, tamed into the
role of consumers. Crucial here are the different stages of new media
culture, from its mythical, speculative stage, complete with its New Age
visionaries, leading to a period of hype dominated by the neo-Darwinist
business New Economy agenda, culminating into a stage of numbed
'massification,' a climate dominated by online surveillance, zero privacy,
viruses and filters, information overload and a diffuse paranoia about the
online Other.

The essays in this book investigate the analytical concept of net criticism
and its strategic implementation called 'tactical media.' The concept of
tactical media has been developed to describe the new circumstances of
alternative or independent initiatives which have grown away from previous
oppositional or subcultural contexts into a vibrant, global new media
culture, intervening with the technology itself. Internet is not just a
tool. Tactical media, such as community networks, mailinglists, independent
media centers, art servers, temporary media labs are not to be marginalized
to the fringes of a business-dominated Internet. These cultural membranes
have both initiated and responded to new hard-and software applications,
have developed collaborative artistic interfaces, and have thoughtfully
assessed the social consequences of globalization.

Both net criticism and tactical media are analyzed as precise sensors of
cultural conditions in the digital age. Net criticism should not so much be
defined as yet another emerging discipline with literary criticism and
cultural studies as its predecessors, but rather it is described as a
collaborative form to create networked discourses in which theory and
practice, code and content, reflection and production, interface design and
network architecture are closely intertwined.

Written in reflexive relationships with the development of these fields, the
 essays here were developed within a worldwide diversity of social and
artistic networks. To stress the importance of intercultural collaboration
in the field of techno-culture three travelogues were included, describing
the global impact and diversity of the emerging Internet culture. In
Albania, Europe's poorest and most isolated country, new media are used by
NGOs and artists. In Taiwan, with the September 1999 earthquake as a
pretext, cultural politics of the Internet were being discovered, while in
Delhi (India) a new media center explores free software, public access and
Hindi interfaces, mapping the social and cultural use of technology beyond
the official rhetoric of 'digital divide.'

The concepts do not merely reflect on new media from an outsider's
perspective, nor do they intend to represent a particular (alternative)
lifestyle. They are written with a passionate commitment to media theory,
building on more than a decade of new media experience, with the certainty
that "ideas do matter" (Joseph Weizenbaum).

Some of the topics and issues raised in Dark Fiber: the erosion of e-mail,
meet the virtual intellectual, the rise of NGOs and the Soros networks,
bandwidth for all, the rise and fall of dotcommania, the dawn of techno
mysticism, the search for sustainable social networks, the fight for a
public Internet time standard, net activist strategies from
counter-information to electronic civic disobedience, testing the boundaries
of mailinglist culture and the art of collaborative text filtering.

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