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<nettime> The corner bar
Brian Holmes on Thu, 2 Apr 2015 19:08:00 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> The corner bar


Down the street there used to be a bar called Dorothy's. A real Chicago dive, it was run forever by a Greek guy known as Gus. Home to down-and-outs and shambling drunks, the place would be seized by wild-eyed hilarity on Saturday nights or during football games. I used to stop by to pick up a beer and chat with Gus, but I never actually sat down in there. I was too busy with things like nettime.

For us, Saturday night was the tech-boom, free software, globalization, war, empire. It was trends, events, technologies, social movements, economies, meltdowns, revolutions and the ways you can interpret them, via art, algorithms, philosophical concepts, social sciences, straw polls, news items or just plain keyboard improvisation. Apparently all of us somehow cared what the other, known or unknown, might have to say about it, because we were willing to rant, argue, research, compose, deleriate, flame on, get embarassed, make up, sulk, forget it, go back to it, and so on for about two decades. Sometimes we were wild-eyed, other times dull and predictable. Surely more than a few owe a lot to this obscure activity. Personally, that is how I became a writer.

That is also how many of us "wasted" a lot of time. You can't exactly capitalize on weeks of reading, websearching, analysis, and back-channel discussions that finally amount to an ascii post on an antiquated majordomo listserve. No professional credit accrues to the public amateur. Instead you either become an isolated crank, or mutate into a reticulated transsubjectivity - or more likely, some combination of the two. I cannot count the number of people on at least three continents that I first met on nettime, before finding the actual bar, cafe, conference hall, hack lab, protest march or living room where we could meet in the flesh. Sometimes the meetings led to vast quixotic projects, such as the Technopolitics odessey that Armin Medosch and I got into, or they became private sinkholes of uncalculable energy, like learning Linux without a command-line clue. As I became more of a crank (moving to Chicago and whatnot) the meetings became rarer yet even more important, arbitrary, one-off, lasting friendship, strange misconnect, whatever. I guess the Holy Grail of this whole thing was the idea that a certain missing cybernetic loop might actually open up a viable way to inhabit the twenty-first century.

About a year ago (or maybe it's already been two) Gus decided to hang it up and move back to his village on a Greek island. The bar was taken over by a nephew, just as the neighborhood began to gentrify. Now a hipster set with jobs in the Loop packs away ten-dollar beers and samples craft whiskies, while the shambling drunks are reduced to panhandling at the door. Sign of the times. What capitalism calls propserity are the boring moments without any revolution.

Ted and Felix - our collective Gus - are apparently ready to hang it in, with or without the Greek island. Perhaps they have other things to do, or they're just plain burnt out at a low moment (maybe even an unplumbed depth) of recent history. They haven't capitalized on this thing, but they wasted even more time than the rest of us, so we all owe them the unrepayable, which I hope can occasionally translate into something more concrete here and there, in terms of hospitality and/or collaboration. Anyway, the April Fool moment is wierdly existential. Since I am still not really interested in sitting down at what used to be Dorothy's, the question arises, what I am gonna do for a corner bar? How am I gonna meet y'all in the future?

As gray hair and the rest of it sets in, we can certainly imagine ourselves as shambling email drunks sitting at the doorway to the newest, glitziest social media, hoping for the toss of a virtual dime. However, human life is a lot longer and richer than the cycles of technological innovation, and in reality we are a multigenerational interpretative community of unusual breadth, sobriety, madness and unexplored potential. Has nettime really become nottime? Who in the hell has a Greek island to go to? Don't we need to set up something cheaper, more trustworthy, less dreadfully privatized, and more open to philosophical, artistic, literary and technical complexity than the current versions of like-button interactive community? Otherwise, where we gonna get wild-eyed and hilarious when the rollercoaster of social change gets rolling again? Because it will, sooner than you think.

Hoping for an answer to this question, Brian


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