E-mail exchange with Novica Nakov (Skopje)

E-mail Interview with Geert Lovink (Amsterdam)

NN: From a sociological view we are witnessing a de-construction of the social groups even the family as a basic one. So probably, the question would be: is the development of the new technologies ‘improves’ the individuality of the human nature? Where does it lead to?…

GL: Let me first of all temper your predictions. The individuality you are speaking of is, in my view, a new religion, a belief system, a meta identity if you like. This Western, post-modern subjectivity is foremost an ideological spin-off, a shared dreamspace of the millions, not so much a sociological fact. Technologies in general are producing new social formations, in offices, factories, in clubs and societies, on highways and within computer systems, the famous ‘virtual communities’. These temporary groupings are replacing older family or clan structures, but do not necessarily produce ‘individuality’. Would be nice, but that’s not the reality of these capitalistic structures who are in a big need of creating mass markets. The ideology of ‘personal choice’ will not enhance human nature, if you ask me…

NN:If this system with its tools eliminates everything that represents a treat to it (referring to of the ‘underground’ activities and contra or sub-cultures) what will happen when everything such will be eliminated, or are there signs of something that won’t fall on its knees before the system?

GL: Some say that only Islamic fundamentalism, in general forms of religious orthodoxy are imposing a serious thread to the World System (see Huntington). We can indeed witness a rise of ‘culturalism’. Post leftist, PC-not or yet PC types of deviancy and underground behavior is not a treat for financial markets and global corporations. Quite the opposite, the UK has recently discovered the ‘culture industry’ as a solution for all our problems (unemployment, social exclusion, racism etc.). We will have to deal with this in the near future. Third Way rules. The main problem is that it is hard to imagine something which will not be able to include into this category, let alone pose a serious threat to the Blair-Clinton-Schroeder regime of goodwill capitalism of the third kind. But I remain optimistic. We just have to keep on trying, while remaining negative in a radical and joyfull way. Surpass all postive intentions, and leave them to charity types.

NN: So are we about to say that the small movements are as meaningless as they are usefull? Is there actually a thick money wall that stands in the way of development?

GL: No, I do not think so. We are speaking here about symbolic capital and production (after Bourdieu). Culture is neither meaningless, in the sense of small, futile, nor is it just there to be exploided, misused and appropriated by the powers to be. I am in favour of a ‘relative autonomy’, aware that this position does not exist as such. Money always comes in later, at the end of the cycle, when structures have always decayed. It is only then that the richness of the accumulated work starts to pay off. These days such cycles of production are becoming shorter and shorter. The non existing web companies, going public on the stockmarket even before having started is a good example of floating and exploding cultural capital, lacking any roots in either the real or the virtual.

NN: If the importance of the computers in now is same as the importance of the stone in the stone age, would it be a ‘sin’ not to have a computer or not to know how to work with one?

GL: No, the computer as a machine will disappear anyway, and will be dispersed into our daily enivornment. So it be quite an achievement to negate and ignore these devices. I do not blame anyone for anything. Let us overcome this universal protestantism and instead concentrate on the architecture of these new media now that there is still something to decide. Time is running out. Future generations will look down on our time and think: why did they all use these crap Microsoft products? Why did not they revolt against the supidity ot its interface and the corporate take over of this once so public and open Internet platform?
NN: We are talking about the future. Once you have said that in the future we can see lot of peole running their program from their home computer (I have read this in an old interview). Could you explain this? What would it mean? If we can say that today’s media are objective, wouldn’t it mean that this ‘objectiveness’ would be lost?

GL: For sure I would like to see a dispersion of all media, all computers and telecommunications. This is indeed already happening, despite the statistical fact that an overwhelming majority of the world population is not ‘connected’ at all. But even that does not mean much these days. There is the famous example of the shared use of telephone boothes in India… A clear case of an intensification of available resources. The private use, at home, is very different. It is producing an strange type of intimacy, privacy, and ‘electronic solitude’. I wouldn’t say that the spread of this technology is changing the basic structure of the media business. It is clearly not. So individual opinions, expressed on the Net, will not influence the way in which ‘news’ is manufactured (objective or not). Subjective expressions are merely generating data; interesting privacy sensetive data which can be sold and analysed.

NN: The Art-Media or Media-Art connection is an interesting subject. What is it like at this present time? What will the future bring?

GL: Traditionally, artists have been accused to merely produce promotion material for the industry. Companies are indeed interested to get fresh content for their new products; imagery which is explicitely playing with new forms in order to create the necessary visual language for the new application. Against this dominant current there have always been different artists/groups with a critical social and political agenda. These undercurrents, visible throughout the 20st century, understood the importance of early and radical intervention and the longterm cultural effects these rather conceptual (and strange, alien) artistic contribution have. At this moment, I think, media.art should focuss on structural level rather than staying at the level of the image. But I know that this a naive and utopian idea. Artists will have to work for Babylon, earn money. There is little time for radical constructivism and deconstructive investigations into the architecture of hard and software.

NN: As I was reading the N5M3 workbook I have noticed terms such as streaming nad tactical media. Are the media divided in some kind of groups? If it is can you explain why, how, who is grouping it?

GL: In the past we would have made the clear division between Mainstream media, owned and controlled by governments and corporations, and alternative, ‘underground’ media at the same time. But with the decline of social movements, their integration and dispersion into the social system, the dicotomy between us and them began to blur. The spreading of cheap electronic consumer goods has produced a vast do-it-yourself universe, which is no longer obsessed with the mainstream all together. And then there are the formal divisions, like the rivalry between old (print and broadcasting) media and the so-called new, digital media. That distinction will soon no longer be relevant, if it ever was. And last but not least there is a rich world of conceptual media catagories, invented by artists, theorists and historians. A classic example here could be McLuhans hot and cold media, Adilkno’s sovereign media, or even the mythological, pre-technological definition which points at its spiritual origin.

NN: I would like you to explain some of those ‘underground’ media. You pick one (the most important ones, maybe) and explain how do they work, what do they do.

GL: There is not mysterious about the production of these do-it-yourself publications, pirate radios, cable television programs, free software, independant labels, t-shirts and stickers etc. If they have a small circulation and there is no one who is censoring the content, than please go ahead and experience it all yourself. Today the avarage costs are lower than ever. Hardware became very cheap. There is a lot of old, second hand equipment around. The problem now has shifted from the access to the media technology towards the distribution. Everyone can produce a book or magazine these days, let alone a website. The problem now really is how to reach your audience. The grip on the channels of distribution is rising. That’s why it is more easy to get money for a free magazine and just spread them out, more or less randomlym than it is to get back a small amount of money from thousands of different sources. Real underground media of course are not even disturbed by this frustrating fact. They just produce their texts, or music. Even for 50 or 100 people. Or less.

NN: Arthur C. Clarke first forecasted the death of the printed media with his Space Odyssey in the late 60s. The ‘electronic’ progress we have achieved since then seems remarkable. So are we ready to bury the printed media?

GL: Perhaps we are ready for it, but it won’t happen. Don’t worry. Or do I disappoint you now? No. Let’s not act as prophets, or forecast the Fall of the West and its written culture. Again, I have no vision on sale here. But certain trend begin to revail. The role of the priest (spoken word based on the Book) has demished, at least here, in Western Europe. And so has the influence of the 18th century role model of the ‘public intellectual’ with its cafe culture, the reading of newspapers, magazines and books. Everyone should know by now that public opinion is manufactured by media companies, advertisement companies and their consultants. Compared to television there might now be a short renaissance of the on-line written word, but this will soon become marginal again with the rise of broadband capacities from web-tv type of applications. With this goes a rise in the actual consumed pulp per capita in the world. More people read and consume paper-based media. But the written word has lost its magic, its power to lead (and educate) the masses. So it is specially the intellectuals which should finally start rethinking their role, without immediately turning TV-personalities, of course.

NN: And finally, could you give your opinion on which specific media will have it’s next five minutes and will be a priority in the years to come?

GL: Wanna buy internet stocks, or what? That’s what I would do, in your case. Just gamble, and see what happens, if you have got some nerves, suppose you are a fair player, knowing that a total crash could always be close. I am joking. Produce content, that’s good, no matter what data carrier, as long as it is sort of digital… Internet radio is still doing well and looks very promissing, though it might not grow as fast as some of us might have thought… Downloading of MPEG3 music files will be a much bigger deal… I do not see much happening in the field of (moving) images or 3D stuff. The networks are still growing in all directions, owned by fewer and fewer companies. On the political front the concept of infowar could pick up soon, but during the Kosovo ‘conflict’ not that much has happened, apart from the rise of diary genre and some advanced forms of propaganda and image/public opinion manipulations on both sides. We still have to wait for a new generation of net.activists who grew up with/inside the Net and who will start to attack the state and the corporation in a more suffisticated and playful way then which is being discussed now.