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Re: <nettime> If Only Indymedia Learnt To Innovate
Kristoffer Gansing on Tue, 18 Nov 2008 00:58:44 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> If Only Indymedia Learnt To Innovate


There seems to be two different, yet dependent, "problems" of concern in
this discussion. One is as Jaromil points out about the exploitation of
"your" uploaded content by companies with proprietary data management
regimes. The other is about the paradoxical situation that collectives of
leftist activists use tools and services owned by these companies with
people behind them at the very opposite side of the political spectrum. As
Brian Holmes earlier post is a testimony to, this latter problem stems from
a pragmatical choice of necessity - using the tools that are at hand rather
than waiting for the radical social media platforms to shape up. The
continuation of this discussion however, seems to be locked up in a
discussion of efficiency, as when Jaromil Mon, 17 Nov 2008 04:45:17 +0100
wrote: 

>Naeem and Theor,  sorry to say, but yours are  just rants ignoring the
>real  reasons  impeding  the  improvements  you  look  for:  licensing
>restrictions  imposed by commercial  monopolies of  multimedia formats
>on-line.  It is not to blame the inefficiency of our collectivity, but the
>prevarication of business monopolies, that now have an opportunity to
>exploit  the memories you uploaded on-line  using their proprietary
>formats.

Whenever we decry proprietary formats and the commercial copyright regimes
connected to them, it seems that we do so in the name of some imagined
right to freedom and control of information (information wants to... you
know the beat) which is rooted in a progressive ideal of knowledge as
shared, collective production. The contradiction within this ideal is that
the need to still somehow acknowledge the individual producers of this
knowledge leads to a competitive culture of skills and I was there first
mentality. This has been most evident in the free software "movement" and
its geek culture. Nothing new about that observation in itself though. But
when we turn to what is happening to the cultural production taking place
online today, it seems to me that we are all too quick to assume that there
is some kind of straight line from free-software and open-source to Web 2.0
- as if the forces of massification didn't really alter the relations of
production at all. I'm not saying here that there aren't critiques that
deal with how Web 2 services have exploited the collective production
models of free software. What is missing from this critique however, is a
consideration of how the very notion of collectivity may have changed in
the public eye. This change has to do with evident shifts in the
construction of the private and the public. The blog it, post it, upload,
share, tag, mashup, mix and re-mix it mode of production is for me very
hard to either think of as a) content that needs to be copyrighted along
traditional lines b) content that needs to based on an open-licensing
optimised for collective sharing. The problem with the first is that it
disables collective sharing and the problem with the latter is that the
content itself is "bastard": a mix of everyday media and works copyrighted
a long time ago so that open-licensing would be impossible on all content
anyway. This is why most alternative solutions end up marginalized, they
can't enter the new kind of media public where all content is potentially
usable, not created from scratch or even just remixed from your online
friend's content. This is where Web 2.0 companies have the edge - they
treat data as an economical flow in the first instance, not as a social
one. In this way collectivity has become economical too, a principle by
which users decide to go public or not - without seemingly caring so much
about traditional forms of privacy. (except when it re-surfaces as an
economical or juridical issue) In spite of radical critiques a la cognitive
capitalism, most people on Facebook or YouTube, and I think I dare to
include most alternative media activists, do not see themselves as
"workers" in these forums and this pragmatic mentality cannot simply be
ignored in order to call for some more radical idea of collective,
alternative media production. This mentality seems rather to be part of how
the boundaries of private and public has shifted so that online production
has become more akin to spam: there are filtering technologies yet more
than half of all e-mails sent are still spam. In the world of social
networking services , radical content become spam in the general economical
flow of data - filtering only occasionally steps in when different
stakeholders intervene. These could be the new media companies as well as
in this case radical media activists - both have some stakes in the flow.
In the face of this it is equally nostalgic to put your hopes up for a
totally open licensing system as it is to crave for a return to strict
copyright. It is by necessity always a negotiation taking place.

As for building the autonomous space for sharing radical media - it seems
strange to me that this should only be left as a question of development.
As if it's mostly a technological issue and finding the (human or
economical) resources to resolve it. Where is the basic discussion of how
you actually want to create and share? Is it all about keeping up with the
Web 2.0 mode of cultural production or could other ways of intervening
online be imagined? In this case, it could be more productive if the
pragmatics could be left aside for a moment and politics of participation
be problematised. This does not mean, as Brian warned about, the simple
anarchist withdrawal from development, but an engaging in the negotiation I
tried to outline above.

cheers,
Kris

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