People, 1. -  3. October 1998
Geert Lovink
Statement: Sustainable Autonomous Cyberspaces?
Towards New Net Utopias

The simultaneous condemnation and embrace of the pragmaitc approach has resulted in a state of confusion within our brand of cyberculture. There is a new belief system on the rise, sandwiched between cold cynicism and overheated optimistic theodicies. Here comes the blurry logic of communicative capitalism. What are "new media"? Especially what is there beyond the hype inherent to their embryonic state? Where stands media theory now that the the age of speculation is behind us? What is interaction beyond the fascination of demo design? Game over, next player? Will the developers of the early media architectures slip back into mainstream-as-usual? Or will they display a modicum of 'civil courage' and reinvent the notion of underground once again?

Well, it is neither/nor, in fact. This is the age of cybernetic promiscuity of concepts after all, exploring the deep, gray spaces of the new economy is its motto. Innovative media cultures are connecting many to many, business models that is, and as long as it works. We are witnessing a magic blend of art, design, music and radio, content merging with software, or with TV, or with the internet. Even dramatic failures get praised as instructive endeavours. What is important now is quick and dirty production, and not the unique 'concept' as such but rather 'serial' manifacture fueled by the hope that one of the mixes will turn out to be the Killer App, the Next Big Thing, the Golden Mean, the Ultimate Combination. Welcome to the fast expanding universe of radical pragmatism.

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.

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, Yahoo!,, 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.

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.

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, 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.

Beyond the dialectics of the 'real' and the 'virtual' there are networked jubilees, tactical gala events, affectionate cyberspatial gatherings, and nastier forms of electronic resistance, all of which are unaffected by the Laws of Infotainment. Hot zones of useless data. But it will take a while to overcome the damage caused by the regime of political correctness. PC's internal policing has installed a culture of suspicion and surveillance, effectively keeping people from expressing their unaccustomed, spasmodic anger as soon as unskirtable contradictions arise.

Currently, dissent is being monitored by NGO and media professionals who have assumed the task of speaking out previously shouldered by political parties, trade unions and 'new' social movements. This type of 'perception management' can easily be smashed, or even better, ignored. Their profound, ongoing misunderstanding of the Net is an encouraging sign. The nomadic hedonism of raves has been contained, like the political rebellion of previous decades, by reducing it to a pop fashion commodity. But, despite these processes, it still has a sting in the tail. Don't believe the (hype of the) Fall. Disillusionment is no longer the tragic end but the 'human condition'. Realism and pragmatism are not just the fall-out of a demised idealism - they have grown into major ideologies.

There must be ways to exit the logic of the sell-out's eternal return. Transformation should be possible without being absorbed into the culture of business: ways of speaking about processes of 'growth', anti-careerism, sovereign forms of agitation, illegal models of finance, large scale communication guerrilla, mass protests within the boundaries of the Net. Macro politics with dirty hands, supporting a margin of revolutionary spirits, and visa versa.

Media activism, old school. Still, there is a need for dialogue, a growing sense of solidarity among media-aware groups and individuals, to stop the terrifying state-control and corporate take-over, and defend the free territories, before it's too late. For in the end, the 'paper tigers' are not that powerful, as Mao used to say. We should not overestimate them, they are real and paper at the same time, and this specially counts in the days of virtuality.


Geert Lovink (1959, Amsterdam), studied political science on the University of Amsterdam. Member of Adilkno, the Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge, a free association of media-related intellectuals (Agentur Bilwet auf Deutsch). He is a radio program producer and a co-founder of The Digital City, the Amsterdam-based Freenet and 'Press Now', the Dutch support campaign for independant media in Former Yugoslavia. Former editor of the media/art magazine 'Mediamatic' (1989-1994). Since 1991 he is lecturing media theory in Eastern Europe and participated there in conferences on independant media, the arts and new technologies. Co-founder of the Amsterdam-based internet content providers '' (culture/arts) and '' (politics) and a 'cultural ambassador' for 'de Waag', the Society for Old and New Media. Regular contributor of Andere Sinema (Antwerpen) and member of the editorial board of ARKzin (Zagreb). He co-organized the 'Wetware Convention' (Amsterdam, 1991), 'The Next Five Minutes', a international conference on public access and camcorder activism (Amsterdam, 1993), 'Ex Oriente Lux' (Bucharest 1993), the first Romanian media/art event, 'Metaforum I/II/III' (Budapest, 1994-6), 'Interface 3' (Hamburg, 1995) on the culture of computer networks, 'Next Five Minutes II' on 'tactical media' (Amsterdam, 1996). and moderated the (net) symposium of Ars Electronica 96 on 'memesis'. He was the project coordinator of the Hybrid WorkSpace, which took place during the Documenta X (1997) in Kassel.
In the spring of 1995, together with Pit Schultz, he founded the international 'nettime' circle which is promoting 'net criticism'. Nettime is both a mailinglist, a series of gatherings (The Beauty and the East, Ljubljana, 1997) and also appears in paper (Netzkritik, Edition ID-Archiv, Berlin, 1997 and ZKP 1-4). Among his publications are Adilkno's 'Empire of Images' (Amsterdam, 1985), 'Cracking the Movement' (Amsterdam, 1990/Berlin, 1991/New York, 1994) on the squatter movement in Amsterdam, 'Hoer zu oder Stirb' (Berlin, 1992) on free radio, 'Medien Archiv' (Amsterdam 1992/Mannheim 1993/New York 1997), 'Der Datendandy' (Amsterdam/Mannheim, 1994) and 'Elektronische Einsamkeit' (Koeln, 1997)

Institution: Adilkno, the Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge, a free association of media-related intellectuals (Agentur Bilwet in German).
Agentur Bilwet
Geert Lovink
Zandstraat 2-b
NL-1011 HK Amsterdam
tel/fax ++ 31 20 6203297
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