Felix Stalder on 25 Oct 2000 02:12:37 -0000

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Re: <nettime> LMD: The well-connected rich

Despite the fact that I posted this article to nettime, there are quite a
few things I disagree with. One is that I think it's a misunderstanding to
assume that the Internet gave activists (ok, the well connected ones....)
an advantage over multi-nationals. What it did, though, was to give access
to people outside multi-national organizations to tools that these
organizations have been using from the mid 1970s onwards.

The growth of multi-nationals and of international organizations is
closely related to their increasing employment of advanced
telecommunications networks to coordinate in real time their increasingly
distributed activities. Until the mid 1990s, most of that communication
was carried out through closed, proprietary networks.

One example: By the late 1980s CitiCorp's Global Telecommunications
network, the largest private system in the world, linked offices in
ninety-four nations and transmitted, among others, 800,000 calls each
month. And these are only calls _within_ CitiCorp, that is, calls to
coordinate CitiCorp in a manner that it could act as a _coherent unit_ on
global scale.

What the Internet did was to give smaller organizations, and even
individuals, access to an affordable communications infrastructure to
facilitate to coordinate themselves across large distances in real time.

The reasons why it seems that activists had an advantage recently is that
multi-nationals and international organizations were surprised to be no
longer _alone_ on the global stage.

The quote from World Bank president James Wolfensohn is telling. He
complained that "wherever I go now, there are people saying that we murder
children, destroy the environment, and that every year the World Bank
makes billions of dollars in profits that are handed out to the rich
countries." Before the more widespread use of the Internet, the World
Bank's president could travel without anyone other than his colleagues
being there. And travel he did!

It is clear that the Internet itself does not bring "Athenian Democracy",
but that's a no-brainer by now. However, it also clear that increasingly
things are organized in a global scale and the fact that there is a
relatively cheap communication medium certainly increases the access to
this domain.  A few 10 million people with access to the Internet is
certainly better and a few 10 thousand with access to proprietary
communication networks (as was the case in the 1980s).  This, of course,
still leaves out the vast majority of people, but the same could be said
about the telephone and a lot of other things.


Les faits sont faits.

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