calin dan on 13 Sep 2000 16:47:43 -0000

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<nettime> another draft about corporate dilemmas

Indirectly, the following is connected to the on going debate on policing
the crisis of civil-corporate conflict. First published in BALKON - a
Romanian magazine for art and media.

(the Economy of Attention in the prospective of a streaming media)
Calin Dan

[Illiterati quod per scripturam non possunt intueri, hoc per quaedam
licturae lineamenta contemplatur. (Alcuinus)]


New media? What new media? The internet is stepping up its development
under the incidence of three determining factors: technological
excitement, economic itch and political swing. In a vicious circle that
started to spin a very few years ago, more attention the internet gets
from the decisional factors in industry, law making, and venture capital,
more it provides reasons for concern and delays in gratification. Buzz
words are important in the semiotic of large scale phenomena, and if one
remembers what was buzzing in the last years of the previous century - it
all connected in a way or another to the internet. If it was globalism,
net communities, browsers war, bandwidth, net art, gift economy, virtual
money, the open source, the millennium, interactive television, - all came
out of, turned around and got swallowed back into the belly of the

But now finally the pieces of the puzzle fall in place, and the internet
is joining the mainstream of politics and capital. Internet will remain
the local news paper and the toy of numberless information freaks, back
yard activists and software visionaries, leaving enough room for community
service, innovation and protest. But it had to follow the unavoidable path
any medium has taken in history - from epiphany to consumerism. Modern
society works like a two steps engine:

time 1. - new media versus mass media;
time 2. - new media equals mass media, equals old media.

Time 2 introduces usually a paradigm shift: since the new media became old
through massification, the very territory of novelty has to be re-defined.
As it happens, while this process is accelerated along an ascendant time
line (basically from religious mural painting on), its outlining becomes
also progressivley blurred. From the art of the roman catholic and
orthodox Byzantine churches to the first printed books we get a user time
of six to seven hundred years. From books to photo journalism, about four
hundred. >From photo journalism to cinematic images - a few decades. From
there to TV, roughly the same. And then came the fracture.

The analog and then the digital computing machines changed the
media-to-masses process from an accelerated spiral model to a model of
fast competing parallel developments. So far so that at the very moment
when internet is merging with television (which is allegedly happening
now) this gerontic phenomenon is under constant pressure from innovative
hardware-and-software experiments and implementations. As an unexpected
consequence, for the first time the new-to-mass-to-old-to-new media
paradigm shift is put on jeopardy, and together with it our perception of
the new and the good and the beautiful, as sedimented along modern
history. We are probably witnessing The collapse of the ethic-aesthetic
conglomerate. And we are unimpressed.

Eating interactivity. It is still uncertain what format communication,
business and entertainment will take in the future, but it is more and
more obvious that a merger of technologies and functions will be worked
out from today's juggle between priorities. The main direction of that
merger is pretty obvious as well: Wireless communication, while standing
as a hugely successful and diversified operation in itself, looks more and
more like just another opportunity for the further dominance of
television. Through the instrumental development of wireless bandwidth,
television is slowly but steadily eating the internet. And with this move,
it swallows lots of other related features: one-to-one/many-to-many
communication, interactive research, tele-presence, non-linear
entertainment as a whole. TV seems to be THE REFERENTIAL MEDIUM, the
Leviathan swallowing anything that moves in the area of communication
research and development. Why aren't things happening the other way round?
Why isn't internet eating television?

Before the implementation of streaming media (the latest buzz in town),
internet (that is the world wide web) was, among other things of course,
television with a plus. Plus coming from: a) interactive (re)search; and
b) downloading possibilities. Which can translate by: content control (a)
and content appropriation (b). Zapping became mapping, and users could
look back into their relation with the www as readers used to look on the
shelves of their libraries, and dreamers in the cases with family
souvenirs. It all was suddenly so personal and still so entertaining;
differently packaged, but with the same screen-based prospective. Yet this
intimacy fired back quickly and unexpectedly: at this feast of free data
cookies were served for dessert, and the private maps people drew from
their wanderings on the net became surreptitiously but effectively the
property of various web stalkers, corporate initiatives, database holders
etc. Minimal as it was, the web interactive behavior became a priority
purchase item. Therefore now it is time for eating interactivity back into
television. Time for staying put and just watching.

The addictive confusion. It is always useful to remember that the advent
of television was an event so massive that it can be compared only with
the discovery of fire (a shorthand for fire-production-and-control). From
pre-history till the mid 20 century AD nothing else was able to generate
comparable mutations in the human behavior. No wonder that similarities
abound. The TV set as a substitute for the fireplace is an already
exhausted comparison, yet useful to start with. But there is more. Fire
discovery did to Homo Ap(e)iens what television did to Homo Sapiens: it
changed its physiology and its brain processes altogether. It made food
more attractive and shelter more homey. It pushed back loneliness and its
cohort of phantoms. It created irreplaceable needs for comfort. It
enhanced contemplation and stimulated the invention of new gods. It
generated new social power structures (providers, keepers, owners, etc.);
new ideologies; new means of communication; and of course new fears.

Therefore it is jut too hard to believe that television can be displaced
from its dominant position as a mass medium or even slightly undermined in
its authoritarian discourse by any other mass distributed instrument of
content dissemination. And yet an interesting shift is generated here by
the venture between television and internet under the auspices of high
bandwidth wireless communication facilities. The key word of this merger
is INTERACTIVITY. Nothing spectacular, just the minimal
stimuli/response/stimuli equation checked upon via the www platform.
Through interactivity the operation can keep in the game the big discovery
internet brought - users profiling - and keep out what internet promised
to us all - customized content (unbearably expensive in terms of TV
production costs). At least that should be the plan, if the vague buzz
going around is of any consistency.

But precisely since things do not look clear, and since different
directions seem to be explored simultaneously, let me improvise a bit on
this. Summing up what we have until here, there is a mass of couch
potatoes dependent on TV; there is an increasing number of net users,
dependent on a minimum of interactive satisfaction; and there is what we
will call from here on "the industry" - a conglomerate of consumer goods,
services, mass media and advertisement companies planning to cash from the
merger between mouse and channel zapper, respectively between computer and
TV set top box. As far as interaction must stay a part of the scheme,
things might not reach that easy a satisfactory level of response: the
internet has set already a certain standard in profiling, due to its
capacity of providing practically an endless mass of information and
content. In order to make a profitable leap form there further,
interactive television (iTV) must: 1. keep interactively happy the
(former) web users; 2. enhance the user behavior of the regular TV
watchers (the, sorry, couch potatoes); 3. diversify options of content in
order to maintain comparable profiling standards.

So, we have on one hand the audience, addicted to content and somehow
ready to respond to it. And on the other hand we have the providers,
addicted to precisely that response and forced to encourage it. That is
where a window of opportunity might open: a place where the two addictions
meet, which might be the place where internet will bite a bit from TV's
inertial body. Finally.


Advertisement Rules. Advertisement is the most dynamic content carrier
that mass media can rely on at this moment. A lot of financial and
creative energies are absorbed by the domain, for reasons that should not
keep us here too long.

[Still: An increasingly sophisticated production of goods combined with
limited markets made advertisement into an essential factor for the
survival of economy, and developed it through history as a self-standing
industry. The demands of the advertisement industry - in terms of both
production and exposure - were met through: the high level of specialized
education, increased even further in the post war period; the broadening
and diversification of the mass media platforms, capable of reaching huge
amounts of public.]

At this moment advertisement is in position to control important sectors
of the media via direct investment, via purchase of printed
surface/broadcasting time - and via content. This last aspect is less
obvious, since the common perception in the audience is still that of
separate discourses - on one hand the regular TV/radio programs, the
newspapers' main pages, and on the other the add slots. But the content
borders between adds and the rest are increasingly vague, so far so that
advertisement tends - through mimetic processes - to become part of the
mainstream content scheme. Smart stories, witty dialogues, beautiful
images, cool sounds, hip graphics, famous people, a whole world, not very
different from the other world of the entertainment media - all helps the
process of this content merger. In combination with the merger of media in
iTV, this brings the advertisement domination of mass media at a point
from where unpredictable developments can unfold.

One can be, of course, the dystopic scenario where ingredients like mind
manipulation lead to an abnormal growth of the media/advertisement
conglomerate towards political/military control, etc. I would go this time
for a better case scenario, where audience and media, public and the
industry realize the fact that they belong to the same eco-system and
therefore have to find ways of working towards some kind of positive

A few reasons for making history. The worst accident in a business
relationship is the loss of confidence. This occurrence is virtually there
when the industry underestimates the expectations of the audience, while
the audience reciprocates by perceiving the industry as arrogant.

1. A limited but sophisticated segment of the audience is in position to
influence business developments by the intelligent use of opinion
dissemination and/or media dissent. Ignoring that level of refined
consumerism will endanger the equilibrium of the social species playing
this game. And not only because this segment has a disturbance potential.
But precisely due to its capacity to improve the type of attention wider
circles dedicate to the discourse of the industry. 2. The main segment of
the audience has indeed a limited level of expectations. But keeping those
limitations unchallenged might damage the industry's reason of being -
which is expansion. A tendency to solve (2.) in a manipulative way should
be taken into account as always possible. Corrections of such
(self)damaging policies should (hopefully) come from segment 1. - if other
regulatory systems are not in place.

Keeping in balance the needs of the masses and the expectations of the
elites means building history. Including that kind of missionary approach
in the business agenda might look excessive, but there are some facts to
be considered in favor of a pro-active attitude of the industry in
relation to the social-cultural conglomerate. For instance:

3. The industry has, besides its market priorities, less obvious but
urgent agendas in the domain of image strategy. By becoming the referee of
the new (globalised, ICT based) economy, the media/advertisement
consortium has to define and maintain itself as the top player in a
society based on labeling and profit figures. For image purposes
sponsorship of culture could be a handy solution, yet not different from
initiatives generated by other private sectors, and moreover, not close
enough to the specific policies of the industry itself. *Stewardship *
would be a more complex and accordingly efficient solution. 4. The Economy
of Attention is undermined by the Economy of Speed. While this might sound
positive for the business (increase in demand and supply), and it actually
is on a short term, on a medium-to-long term it could bring a loss of
interest on the side of the audience and a loss of edge on the side of the
industry. One should not overestimate the capacity advertisement and media
have to spin attention and to endlessly heal the inflationary tendencies
of the economy. Saturation of goods can find easily an equivalent in the
saturation of good ideas. Creativity has to be enhanced by *a sense of
tradition * as much as by a crave for innovation. 5. The neo-liberal
system of education and promotion will increase the difference between the
haves and the have nots, not only on the level of economic power, but
mainly at the levels of knowledge and judgment. That will imply a loss in
the expectations the audience will have from the industry, and therefore
in a drop of activities on the markets. *Supplying for education * might
become a safety belt for the industry.

The Big Merger. The industry cannot solve internally the 5 fundamental
issues listed above. As the general trend goes, the potential crisis they
point at has to be contained through a merger: the merger between industry
and culture. The advertisement/media conglomerate and the cultural
conglomerate (from patrimonial domains to state of the art cultural
research) have to join efforts in order to increase the economic position
of both potential partners, to build a historical dimension of the
industry, and to rebuild the credibility of culture.

I am not talking here about the privatization of culture, education and
research - which I consider intrusive. I am also rejecting sponsorship as
superficial and partisan. What I suggest is the build up of an integration
model that will put cultural values in the economic circuit, and deliver
them through this bias to an audience neglected so far by the elites.
Criticism from the industry can be that cultural information, scientific
achievements, fundamental research are a part in the industry's strategies
and focus for a long time. If this is true, things are not happening of a
systemic manner and on a noticeable scale. Criticism from the culture can
be that the suggested merger is posing a serious threat to creative
independence. If this is true, it happens for a long time already, and
some negotiation about it can do only good.

What is that integration model about? It is about propaganda. The whole
history of art as we consume it today, either directly (via manuals,
academic studies etc.) or indirectly (via exhibitions, museum and media
discourses) is the history of a series of major propaganda campaigns,
instigated and planned by artists, writers, philosophers and other
mercenaries of the mind; but generated and financed by the equivalents of
today's corporate power centers: the kings, the rulers, the church(es),
the military (at very early stages in time even by bankers, traders,
politicians). The 19th century brought in the picture the Romantic genius
as anti-industrial hero, and by that changed the perception of art
history, helping meanwhile in the dismantling of the collective systems of
faith. >From there on the public and the artists went their separate ways,
reunited at times through economic accidents staged by rich collectors,
sponsors, mecenate people. The last attempt to propaganda art, the state
sponsored Soviet avant-garde ended in a disaster. But that should not be a

Merger Problems. Problem No. 1 is the above mentioned lack of collective
systems of faith. It is symptomatic how the expression "suspension of
disbelief" became lately the coining term for all kind of successful
operations using the platform of cultural discourse. Believing in
authority is no more a part of democratic culture, and believing in
culture is no more possible after the post-modern experience. The
exceptions can appear only in "suspension". Can industry itself provide
the values of a new faith? I am afraid that this is precisely the tendency
now, and it better be abandoned, before the suspicion of cynicism will
ruin the hedonistic mood of the consumers. No, the industry (media,
advertisement, and their partners) cannot - thank God! - provide us with
systems of faith. But, if biological and anthropological research prove to
be correct and humans are genetically prone to transcendent needs, then
identifying the spiritual trends and resources understreaming today's
a-moral behavior becomes compulsory.

Problem No. 2 is the parochial attitude of the art world. As a partner in
the suggested merger, the art world brings a curious way of prioritizing.
What matters in arts nowadays is not legibility by the public but
eligibility by an internal promotional system. Since this system is
predominantly self-reflective, visual arts have a tendency to isolation
and encryption. In how far this serves the purposes of the art system
itself is not relevant for our discussion here. In terms of re-building
the popular confidence in our visual surroundings this attitude is
counter-productive. Contemporary art as such is in that sense not a
reliable partner, at least not without careful filtering and mediation.

Problem No 3. is - paradoxically - the complacent attitude of the same art
world. In a mimetic tendency, art is dominated now by the jargon of market
economy, by the clichés of consumerism, by the populist solutions sold as
survival techniques, tongue-in-cheek criticism etc. A sub-culture of
compromise is cashing in from the combined lessons of conceptualism and
community oriented activism, all wrapped in the relaxed post-modern
confusion of criteria. A process endangering the creative potential and
polluting the main goal of art - which should be the search for enhanced
visions, emotional richness and meditation. Art needs a different, more
targeted funding system helping to reposition it in the social tissue. Art
should focus more on transcendence, and less on the mundane: for this kind
of job design was invented.

Recipes for a good propaganda. One can re-write art history as the History
of Successful Propaganda, so there are plenty of solutions there to be
extracted, analyzed, updated and re-applied in the present situation. The
best example coming to mind is the "Bible of the Poor" - a paradigm of
communication through images meant to enhance quite a few aspects of life
and economy at the time of raising Christianity. The murals covering
generously the walls of churches with biblical scenes, the stained glass
panels and the relief carved in stone were bringing the Book to the
illiterate, but were as well talking about fashion, social interaction,
moral boundaries, political hierarchies and trends. Religious art was
updating the biblical message in order to upbeat it. This made Roman
catholic and Orthodox art excellent examples of highly synthetic
discourses, if not in form, but in intention and content. Take art history
as an endless pool of examples, target your momentous priorities, look
into the long term needs of your audience, and do the deed. It is so much
easier now than it was then. And so much more difficult.

- Look into the history of cultures. - Look into the history of religions.
- Find the concepts that fit today's needs. - Find the images that fulfill
today's sensibility. - Encourage fundamental research:
		in visual arts
		in literature
		in sciences
		in religion

- Facilitate the incorporation of good advertisement in the history of
culture. - Find the go betweeners from research to the industry and back.
- Develop interfacing institutions for the go between to operate.
- Use art history as source for models of top-down communication.
- Use literature history as source for models of independent criticism.
- Use all other media and their respective histories in an informative way.
- Discourage the intrusion of production into fundamental research.
- Discourage direct translation from fundamental research to production.
- Revisit hermeneutics, etymology, psychoanalysis, mythology.
- Make your goals clear, don't make them obvious.
- Stewardship from the industry/Connoisseurship from culture.
- Good advertisement and good propaganda are similar in intentions and tactics.
- So are the bad ones.

Calin Dan
Rozengracht 105/D4
NL-1016 LV Amsterdam
T: + 31 (0)20 770 1432
F: + 31 (0)20 623 7760

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