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<nettime> Eternal September
Dmytri Kleiner on Tue, 4 Sep 2012 17:12:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Eternal September

Last month was a long and busy month that started in Canada and ended
in South Africa.

Along the way, SecuShare's {1} Daniel Reusche and I agitated for
decentralized social platfors at Berlin's Campus Party {2}, I
presented the first Octo demo {3} at the latest reSource transmedial
culture {4} event with Jeff Mann, Jonas Frankki and Baruch Gottlieb,
also, Baruch, Jonas and I built the Miscommuniction Station {4} as an
online project of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival.

Finally, Baruch and I traveled to the A MAZE / INTERACT festival {5}
to present and represent iMine {6} and R15N {7}.

Now I'm back in Berlin and looking forward to tonight's Stammtisch.
And it's September.

Tuesday, Septemeber 6944, 1993 to be exact {8}.

6944 days, or 19 years and 9 days after the Eternal September began.

A MAZE was fantastic, and the Braamfontein district of Johannesburg
where the festival took place was an incredible place, not only
to enjoy a great party in a really unbelievable community, but
also to reflect on where we are now, nearly twenty years since the
commercialization of the internet began to deliver a year-round flow
of "newbies" to the Internet 1.0 that nobody yet called "the web".

The Jargon File defines "The September that never ends" as "All time
since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet used
to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking
any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves.
This coincided with people starting college, getting their first
internet accounts, and plunging in without bothering to learn what
was acceptable. These relatively small drafts of newbies could be
assimilated within a few months. But in September 1993, AOL users
became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the old-timers'
capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the
period before, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of
discussions on newsgroups. Syn. eternal September."

Once the internet was available to the general public, outside of the
research/education/ngo world that had inhabited before September,
the large numbers of users arriving on the untamed shores of early
cyberspace "nearly overwhelmed the old-timers' capacity to acculturate

Even in Africa, you'd have to go pretty far out of your way to find a
community where it's not September yet. Internet access is certainly
not as ubiquitous, reliable or fast as it is it "the West," but the
African people do use the Internet, and are part of its culture.

The Jargon File mentions "Netiquette," a quaint term from the innocent
times of net.culture, yet Netiquette was not simply a way of fitting
in like table manners at an exclusive dinner party. The cultural
context of that Internet that made acculturation necessary was it's
relative openness and lack of stratification.

Netiquette was required, because the network had relatively little
constraints built into it, the constraints needed to be cultural
for the system to work. There was much more to this culture than
teaching new users how to not abuse resources or make a "general
nuisance of themselves." Nettiquette was not so much about online
manners, it was rather about how to share. Starting from the shared
network resources, sharing was the core of the culture, which not only
embraced free software and promoted free communications, but generally
resented barriers to free exchange, including barriers required to
protect property rights and any business models based on controlling
information flow.

As dramatic as the influx of new users was to the "old-timers"
net.culture, the influx of capital investment and it's conflicting
property interests quickly emerged as an existential threat the basis
of the culture. Net.culture required a shared internet, where the
network itself and most of the information on it was held in common.
Capital required control, constraints and defined property in order
to earn returns on investment. Lines in the sand where drawn, the
primitive communism of the pre-September Internet was over. The
Eternal September began, and along with it, the stratification of the
internet began.

Rather than embracing the free, open, platforms where net.culture was
born, like Usenet, EMail, IRC, etc, Capital embraced the Web. Not
as the interlinked, hypermedia, world-wide-distributed publishing
platform it was intended to be, but as a client-server private
communications platform where users' interactions where mediated by
the platforms' operators. The flowering of "Web 2.0" was Capital's
re-engineering of the web into an internet accessible version of
the online services they where building all along, such as the very
platforms whose mass user bases where the influx that started the
Eternal September. CompuServ and AOL most notable among them.

The Eternal September started when these Online Services allowed their
users to access Internet services such as Usenet and EMail, Web 2.0
instead replaced Usenet and EMail with social platforms embedded in
private, centralized web-based services that look and work very much
like the old Online Services.

Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and you'll find the AOL logo

The internet is no longer a open free-for-all where old-timers
acculturate new-comers into a community of co-operation and sharing.
It is a stratified place where privileged users have preferential
access, including broadband at-home, servers online, users who can
control there own "domain," can run their own mail and web services
and access the internet as a whole, including the old platforms such
as Usenet and IRC. New users, who may have broadband at home, but have
no services and need to use online services like facebook or gmail to
communicate at all, subject to the terms of use of those companies.
Users who have no broadband at home, and rely on internet cafes and
libraries. And at the lowest tier, Users who can only access the
mobile internet, on locked-down iPhones and other smart phones, where
apps stores control the available apps users can us, and the apps
tightly control the users that use them. And of course, each bit of
data is paid for from the users' precious mobile airtime.

As the African people finally cross the digital divide, the
once-vibrant cyberspace they arrive in has already been colonized,
enclosed and captured by the profit motive. The culture of sharing and
co-operation destroyed by the terms of service of online platforms,
by copyright lobies pushing for greater and greater restrictions and
by governments that create legislation to protect the interests of
property and "security" against the interests of sharing.

The culture of co-operation and sharing has been replaced by a culture
of surveillance and control.

We once believed that perhaps getting the Africans onto our Internet
would help them in their struggles, now perhaps we can hope their
capacity for struggle will allow us to find ways to make the Internet
a transformational force again. Yet, like the urban centers of cities
like Johannesburg, once access is finally won, the centers have been
abandoned. The common squares and open markets have already been
deserted in favour of protected suburbs and gated communities. Access
is allowed not to extend freedom and welcome, but to facilitate

If the modern Internet can't be the liberating force early net.culture
believed it could be, maybe we can hope that as the African people
come online, their experience in working within environments
where inequality, repressions and privilege rule will bring a
transformational consciousness to us. They might be our last hope.

If you're in Berlin this evening, join us at Cafe Buchhandling {9},
while we reminisce and reflect on the unforgettable experience we had
in Johannesburg at AMAZE / INTERACT. I'll be there around 9pm.

{1} http://secushare.org
{2} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GW_imx0z3LY
{3} http://telekommunisten.net/octo/
{4} http://project.arnolfini.org.uk/miscommunication-station
{5} http://www.amaze-festival.de
{6} http://i-mine.org
{7} http://r15n.net
{8} http://www.eternal-september.org/?language=en
{9} http://bit.ly/buchhandlung

Dmytri Kleiner
Venture Communist

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