t byfield on Wed, 25 Sep 2002 02:46:54 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Patrice Riemens in conversation with Gaston Roberge

[This post was orginally sent on 28 Jul 2002 but got misdirected by an
overeager procmail recipe and was only recently found. This is not good.
But it's still better than that neanderthal baby rediscovered after being
misplaced for 90 years in some dusty drawer in a French museum.
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020902/020902-6.html. Felix]

Patrice Riemens in conversation with Gaston Roberge . 
(at the Seagull Foundation, Kolkata, December 27, 2001).

Gaston Roberge (GR): Patrice, You introduced yourself as a 'media
activist' since the mid-eighties. What do you mean with this word 'media

Patrice Riemens (PR): Well, it might be helpful to look at the two words
separately to begin with. So let's look at the media first, and then at
the concept of activist. These days, when we are talking media , we are
often talking about the 'old media' on the one side, and about the 'new
media', the electronic media, on the other. I am mostly active in the 'new
media'. Yet, I am still a great consumer of 'old media' (newspapers,
magazines, books, etc.) and a small time contributor to them, and I surely
would not want to discard them entirely in favor of the 'new (electronic)  
media'. But the new media, by their very nature, are much more open to
contribution, collaboration, and community building 'from below'. Hence,
as a media activist, I am mostly active as a 'new media activist'.
'Activist' itself is an ambivalent term, with many connotations, not all
of which are positive. You may note that in French, the word 'activiste'
conjures almost the same negative associations as the English word
'militant' does here (in India). Among my political friends and
colleagues, however, political, or social, activism means that you commit
yourself to a 'good cause', say the welfare of humanity in the most
general sense of the term, and that you have a more than average concern
for issues related to that, and that you are prepared to put work, time,
and energy into that on a voluntary basis.

GR:  OK, so now you are putting voluntary work into media activism. What
kind of work is that?

PR:  In the realm of the new media, most of the work of an activist goes
not only into creating content, but also into creating the media
themselves, from the bottom up. Concretely, that means that media
activists are setting up electronic carriers of information, such as
websites and mailing lists ('listservs').  Two examples. I have been
personally more or less directly involved in are the 'Nettime' mailing
list, and the network of 'Independent Media Centers' (IMC), also known as
'indymedia' . Nettime is about 'collective filtering of texts' and
tracking the 'politics of the nets', which in practice means a (large)
group of authors/contributors writing texts or forwarding interesting ones
on the various aspects of our contemporary 'technological culture', and a
(small) group of moderators running the mailing-list - not a small task by
the way. Nettime now exists in six different languages - these are all
different lists, with different contents, and the 'family tree' is even
larger if you count 'associated lists' (e.g. 'Rhizome', 'Syndicate',
'Rohrpost') which have been set up along more or less the same lines. The
evolution and spread of the IMC movement is even more spectacular.
Indymedia started in Seattle in 1999, on the occasion of the summit of the
World Trade Organization (WTO) and the massive protests against it. It has
now disseminated all over the world. There are now sixtyone
local/regional/national IMCs, including one in India, the latter started
this very month (December 2001).All of these are all voluntary outfits
engaged in what my friends from Antenna.nl call the process of
'information exchange for social change'.

GR:  What does prompt one to become a (new) media activist, and what sort
of existential and real problems trigger one to become engaged in that
particular field?

PR:  In my case - and I guess, in everybody's case - this is somewhat
difficult to explain. You have to delve in complex personal histories, the
kind of ideas, of concerns, people have and how they sought to realize or
address them. There is surely a particular mind-set that prompts one to
become an activist. How and why this happened to me, I find difficult to
formulate - so I admit it is important to reflect on this issue.  Perhaps
I would say it came to me more or less naturally, given my world-view and
circumstances. What did not come naturally, were of course the concrete
ways and avenues of being an activist.  Coming to work as an activist was
not a complicated process in itself, but it was quite haphazard and
circumstances driven ­ especially the shift from social/cultural/political
activism into that related to the new media. It is there that the
existence (and at that time rapid development of what was really 'the new
thing') of these new technologies of information and communication, and my
personal discovery of them played a crucial role. Historically, I happened
to be a high school student (in Amsterdam)  at the time of the 'May
events' in France in 1968...

GR:  You're talking about the "Student Revolution"?

PR:  Yes, that was my first encounters with the ideas - which were my
ideas too ­ 'whose time had come'.

GR:  And it was contagious...

PR:  Very much so. And politically speaking, I have not very much looked
back ever since. Even so, things have evolved, and I have noticed how my
activities over time became embedded in an organized structure. Not
structure as institution, but something informal and intangible. And yet
it is something very solid, that has been created along the way. A network
also, that prefigured, and went on to constitute, the web of activities
and collaborations I am now part of. And yes, there is a red line of sorts
running from my days as a high school student activist in 1968/69 (I was
among the original members of the first of such a union in the
Netherlands) till now when I am involved in the hackers movement, in the
independent media centers (indymedia) movement in Amsterdam and other
places. And by now, at 51, I have become some kind of a 'elder statesman'
(or 'statement' ... ;-) of 'cyberspace activism'.

GR:  But what were the issues that over these years since 1968, triggered
you into becoming an activist, and more particularly a media activist? Of
course May 1968, the Students¹ Revolution was not only about media...

PR:  Let me reformulate what you just say, and state that the very same
issues that triggered media activism, triggered political dissidence and
activism in general.  At the risk of being somewhat simplistic, let me say
that for me, the most important issue boiled down to the twin concepts of
freedom and justice.
GR:  There was therefore a feeling that freedoms were being curtailed or
that attempts were made to do so.

PR:  Definitely so, and I felt that it was unfair.

GR:  This curtailing of freedoms is indeed a general issue and it can take
many shapes depending on times and places. Do you have in mind a few
specific areas or manifestations of freedom being curtailed?

PR:  All over history there have been unfairness, curtailing of freedoms,
unjust hierarchies, unjustified inequalities etc. And there has always
been a struggle against this situation. Speaking about new media, and
generally about present day activism and 'new social movements' as they
are called, I do not want at all to draw a line between what we do and
what our predecessors did. But I would say that we have evolved and may
even have improved on a few points. Personally, I may add that even when I
was a 'rebellious' high school student, and later at the university, I
never joined an established oppositional party - in those days, and for
most politically active people that meant the (Dutch) Communist Party ­ or
any institutionalized movement for that matter. This is something that now
has come to age, I mean that modern day ­ or postmodern day ­ activism is
much more autonomous of established parties, and springs much more from
the grassroots than it used to. It is also much more pragmatic, concrete
and issues oriented. They've called it 'the end of the great narratives'.  
I could quote one of your stories, Gaston, and say that "we do not want to
make people do what we want them to do because we know what they should
do.² We do have a fairly clear idea of what we want, and not want, and
what would be good for us, and we also tend to believe that it would hold
true for the majority of the people, but it is for everyone to take it
upon her or himself, and to decide to go for it and realize it.

GR: Since one may assume that issues of intellectual and of material and
economic freedom are not of Œdirect¹ concern to media activists, can you
perhaps indicate where threats to freedom actually occur in the realm of
the new media?

PR:  Nice take here! Indeed, the threats to freedom are not always
directly related to the media (as technical carrier), but they apply to
the message. What we see in the mainstream media, especially in their 'old
media' manifestations (newspapers, magazines, radio and TV broadcasting),
is that the news about alternative politics have been distorted, the
message about alternatives ignored, and even suppressed. Now the great
advantage of the new media is that, unlike the old ones, they are easy to
use and open to almost anybody. Remember the quip "the freedom of the
press is for those who own one" - well these days 'anybody' can 'own' a
media platform: a website. So if you are not happy about what the
mainstream media report ­ and do not report ­ about your ideas or your
outfit, you can try to correct that in cyberspace. And there is one more
thing. Political activists have taken to the new media much quicker and
effectively than the mainstream outlets did, possibly because they are
working on a totally different economic basis (often called the 'gift
economy'). This created a situation in which 'activist media', exemplified
by the Independent Media centers (IMC) network, Indymedia, have a
significant impact on a large number of people, often equal to that of
global media-media players like CNN - and this with a fraction of the
latter's resources! And so the message about global injustice and global
struggle, about alternatives to the current massively unfair
socio-economic and political dispensation is coming through at last. This
is very bad news for the powers that be, and especially after September
11th, plans are being hatched to curb this uncalled for 'anarchist'
freedom of expression. You are hearing conservative think-tanks
'theorizing' about 'good' ­ security services, financial institutions,
academic partnerships ­ and 'bad' networks ­ terrorists, drug peddlers,
pedophiles, and while we are at it: 'anti-globalization' activists.  
Aren't the latter the disseminators of discontent, the breeding ground of
terrorism? So, now we have a climate where 'security' has become a
convenient excuse to curb the use and access to the new media.  This is a
clear, actual present danger which new media activists are set to expose
and resist.

GR:  Now to something different: using the new tools of computer-mediated
communication, one gets the impression of becoming a very captive
consumer, being driven like a slave by the compulsion of constantly
'upgrading' ­ meaning buying ­ into the latest hardware and software
packages. I can see that skills and technology are progressing all the
time, and that this should not be stopped, but on the other hand: is this
constant expansion really necessary?

PR:  This is a very interesting point you are raising here, and actually ­
or unfortunately ­ one could keep talking on this subject for a very long
time indeed. It is a complex and convoluted issue, which I will try to
address as comprehensively as is possible here and now. So to start with
the perceived need of constant upgrades and sophistication: it depends
very much on what sort of use you would like to put your ICT 'capital' to.  
If you keep it to 'texts' only ­ and to you I need not explain the power
of the Word ­ you have fairly simple applications which run on fairly
simple software programs (many of which are free) on fairly simple
machines (which are cheap, and sometimes free too) necessitating, if you
want to go on-line, only limited access bandwidth to the network (and this
is now near-universally available). We are talking here about e-mail,
listservs (i.e. mailing lists), and simple mostly text-based websites. And
you can truly achieve a lot with those. For one, I am in favor of
simplicity­- and for text. But then I am not a 'techie', and techies love
the new opportunities technological advances have brought in their wake,
for instance, in the realm of images and sound. "One image is worth a
thousand words" they say. But one image also needs the same resources (if
not more) as thousand words. Fact is, as a political activist you can now
run your own radio and TV-station on the Internet (this is called
'streaming' ­ audio or video ­ or more intriguingly still, 'real media').

GR:  I have heard about that and was greatly excited!

PR:  Well, the most famous recent example is radio station B92 in Belgrade
under the Milosevic regime ­ and the NATO bombs. There are now over 2500
radio stations and scores of TV stations 'broadcasting' over the Internet
­ most are 'mainstream' of course. But to send, and also to receive, real
media, you need much more bandwidth. So there is a quality and speed lap
to be taken here (key word: 'real time'), which makes your costs, both
investments and upgrades in computers and programs, and also in
connectivity­- ISDN is a minimum but, in fact, nothing less than fiber
optic cable will do­- will skyrocket, even if you do it on a completely
'hands-on', not-for-profit way. Now, this is an ongoing subject of
discussion, even of polemics, among media activists, both at the 'sender''
and at the 'receiver' end. Some argue for keeping it simple while other
ask why we should deprive ourselves of the latest advances in technology
which offer so many more options (think for instance that sounds & images
are more readily assimilated by the public at large than text). I am
myself concerned that going for the latest developments might make you
less accessible (at the 'point of entry') to your community, and to the
people you want to reach, your constituency. This is an argument you also
hear in the North-South 'Digital Divide' debate. But it is not a simple
issue. Contrary to a widely held opinion in the North, people in the South
do not want to be dumped with second hand, 'simple' computers, neither are
they backwardly ignorant of the latest hard- and software developments and
unable to put these to good use. And they do not want to be stuck with
lousy connectivity as 'a fact of life'. In fact, despite, or may be thanks
to their less luxurious (or extravagant) material conditions, they have
developed countless ways of doing (much) more with (much) less, and
rightly resent being treated as poorer cousins. So it is a never-ending
discussion. I think part of the solution is to keep the options open,
which means offering the full range of available facilities.  "Qui peut le
plus peut le moins" is an often forgotten maxim that can ­ and should ­
easily be put into practice in cyberspace. For instance, your website may
display the latest in flash technology, but it should also be accessible,
and hence formatted, to a user on 'Lynx' (a text-only interface).

GR:  What is remarkable is that when technology reaches a certain level of
complexity, it seems to be able to revert to a simpler model also. Now
(but I haven't seen one yet) we are told of the arrival of a simple
computer called "Simputer", with an Indian language interface costing Rs.  
9000/- (US$ 140) My question, and I am discussing this with my students in
class at the moment, What would a farmer do with a little computer that
would tell him ­ orally ­ what the weather will be? They already get the
weather forecast on the radio, so you don't need a computer for that ...

PR:  Quite so ...

GR:  They also would get the current price of various goods and
agricultural produces from the radio and via other media, and it costs
them next to nothing, so now there is talk of databases and other
information you could store and retrieve on a Simputer. What do you think?  
Have you actually heard ofthat Simputer?

PR:  Yes, I have read about it, but I have not seriously delved in the
question, so I'll talk a bit generally. My first impression ­ or rather,
intuition ­ is that the Simputer is a 'solution' that has been thought out
by some technically minded people, together with some folks in the field
of 'development', all of them with some preconceived idea about what I
would call a closed perception of the situation ("help those poor farmers,
now!"). So they embarked on developing a device with certain features
which at best will be useful in a certain place and at a given time, but
the whole concept looks to me non-evolutive, a dead-end. I mean you have a
simplified version of a computer make 2001, and then? Looking at its
price, then Rs. 9000/- in 2001 for sure looks cheap - you can't get very
much hardware for that money right now. But I'm fairly sure that within a
few years, Rs. 9000/- will buy you a PC with a lot of features on it. This
has been the trend up to now (it's called "Moore's law"), and I don't see
why it would change. Looking however, beyond the field of computers, or
PCs as such, one notices that the advantages being bandied about Simputers
are remarkably akin to those of mobile phones. Now I am under the definite
impression -and I am not the only one ­ that our electronic information &
communication landscape which is now firmly associated with computers and
the 'wired' Internet (i.e. connectivity via telephone landlines or cable)
is moving fast towards a new platform which will be wireless and probably
much more mobile-phone-based. (Already you're seeing a shift from PCs to
'laptops' among the high-end users. A laptop is basically halfway a mobile
phone, and with an 'Ethernet card', for purpose of data exchange, it is
one). A mobile phone then is a much more credible alternative to a
computer in terms of price, facilities, availability, and easiness of
learning & use ('usability' in developers jargon). Another thing about the
Simputer, is that, to me, it smacks very much of the user as a passive
consumer in need of help and 'guidance'.  Farmers have been keeping tabs
on prices and stocks and inputs from time immemorial, may be in ways not
readily understandable to modern scientists (and hence 'irrational'), but
the nice thing is that they will be able to transfer these techniques very
easily into the use of mobile phones, which are straightforward (voice)
communication devices. And to top it all, Rs.  9000/- may look cheap for a
computer, but that sum gets you the top of the range in terms of mobile
phones - with a lot of extra features thrown into the bargain. To me, the
Simputer sounds like a typical NGO/Development industry invention. Mobile
phones, on the other hand, are an entirely business-driven, commercial
development. Now you will be surprised to hear this from an activist, but
here I think the market ­ that infamous capitalist market ­ 'knows' much
better what the people really want than the politically correct

GR:  And the market would say Œno¹ to the Simputer?

PR:  Yes indeed. The market seems disinclined to get involved in the
Simputer. But it is pushing mobiles 'to the max' ­ just look at all these
ads around you!

GR. As you said earlier, the case of the Simputer is quite complex.  
Frederick Norohna, a Goa based free-lance journalist and media activist,
has put on the web an extensive report on the issue, emphasizing several
interesting points. We cannot go into these now, but I would like to
emphasize that one¹s attitude towards the Simputer is not and should not
be a matter of optimism against pessimism. It should be possible to arrive
at a reasonable view on the subject. For one, I still wonder what a farmer
can do with a SimputerŠ But I would like to add that the simple fact of
utilizing a Simputer may have a sort of Œeducational¹ value for the
farmers. That cannot be neglected.

GR:  Now here I may branch out a little off our subject and go on with
mobile phones and Japan, the country where mobiles really seem to take off
as an alternative to PC-based Internet connectivity: I believe that four
of five years ago the Japanese thought the future was the multivalent
television monitor, which would double as server and do literally
anything. Why do you think the Japanese now shift to mobile telephony?

PR:  Well, you may want to ask a better expert than me on this one.  
Actually, I was not too conversant on what was going on in Japan. It
seemed to me they were all (video-) game oriented over there, and were
adverse to the Internet - Japanese e-mail addresses looked like a rarity
(and were very complex to boot - you couldn't remember them). I, and I
think many people with and before me, became acutely aware of the Japanese
net-scene with the phenomenal success of 'i-mode' (Internet on the
mobile), and that happened at the moment that European telecoms were
plunged into crisis - which is now becoming a rout ­ precisely because
they had banked like mad on the mobile-Internet 'convergence'. For some
kind of reasons, the Japanese took to i-mode as ducks to water, whereas
the European equivalent, 'WAP', failed grievously. The ways of consumer
learning and acceptance/rejection are intractable indeed, and 'usability'
is a difficult concept to handle ­ just ask Philips. That brings me back
to the Simputer, also a polyvalent box that looks to me what Bruce
Sterling, the 'cyberpunk' Sci-Fi author, and his group, call a 'Dead
Medium'. A stillborn device that embodied a brilliant idea and great
technology ­ I assume ­ but in the end, i.e. in reality, got nowhere.

GR:  Well, I think we may now shift back to the question that is
apparently of central concern to you: what does the Internet mean to you,
as an activist, as an intellectual, and as an academic?

PR:  To me the Internet is first and foremost a community. Or may be
better: a community tool. I hesitate to declare the Internet itself a
community, though it has been theorized as such by some people, especially
the French philosopher Pierre Levy, who even talks of it as a 'world
brain' ...

GR:  But it is not simply a technology ...

PR:  Well, of course it is a technological thing. Even though I view it
primarily in terms of community, I am careful not to cut of the
technological aspect, which is very important, and which you need to
understand as fully as possible ­ and to respect ­ if you want to make use
of all the possibility of the Internet, and not be a passive consumer
('couch potato' ;-).  This being said, the Internet is in my view a
fantastic community platform, a modern age forum/agora, a space of freedom
and of expression, even a place of (self-) realization. For all these
reasons, the coming of the Internet has been a great blessing.

GR:  ... and it is not simply a tool either?

PR:  No, or yes, it is, but not in the first place. Internet is an
excellent instrument, a device for communication, for exchanges ­ a tool
of freedom. But for that I think you must first approach it in terms of
community. We would lose a lot if we were to conceive the Internet simply
as a convenience, a utility - just like the telephone.

GR:  There seem to be quite some variation of opinion about what the (new)  
media are: a product, a technology, an institution, a tool or an
instrument. Some people would see them primarily as a way to make
propaganda, of religious, political, cultural or economic nature ­ what
make all these people interlinked in your opinion?

PR:  Well about the new media, specifically the Internet, it is said that
it is not a network, but a network of networks...

GR:  Yes, but then we think of it in terms of a network of interconnected
computers, but what about the Internet of people?

PR:  That brings in mind the words of Stephen Wernery, the first
'chairperson' of the famous German hackers group, the 'Chaos Computer
Club'. He said, way back in the eighties: "the intelligence sits right in
front of the keyboard, it does not reside behind the screen of the
computer". The intelligence is also the mind of the people to whom the
signal will be transmitted thanks to machines and thereby reach many other
minds, that is people, doing the same thing. In that sense the Internet is
the first real 'network of networks' that we see on earth, because it
links ¹common¹ people together, and not only the rich and the powerful.
That is why I think of it as ­ pace Mr. Saddam Hussein ­ 'the mother of
all networks'.

GR:  Perhaps this suddenly lifts us to an almost metaphysical plane, but
it does remind me of my student days in philosophy when we struggled to
understand the concept of 'relation'. Aristotle admitted that it was the
most difficult of concepts because the relation is nowhere tangibly to be
located - and that applies also to the Internet of the people.

PR:  Makes me think of what Manuel Castells writes in the introduction of
his latest book 'The Internet Galaxy': "the network is the message".

GR:  Isn't that a plagiarism of McLuhan's 'the medium is the message"?
PR:  I wouldn't say plagiarism, but a jestful allusion it is for sure...

GR:  You mean, Manuel Castells doesn't mean it seriously?

PR:  Mmm... it's funny that you say this. I think he does mean it quite
seriously in fact. I've always 'suspected' (suspected in a friendly way,
because I like and respect him very much) Manuel Castells of harboring
closet mystical or metaphysical thoughts ­ who doesn't by the way? But I
'suspect'(!) that he would firmly deny this.

(NB: On retyping this I'd 'suspect' (there we go again!) the reader to
feel there is quite a jump being made here, and that the question whether
the network/the medium is the message or not is not seriously addressed,
let alone answered. The intuitive leap consists in that I think ­ or
rather feel ­ the (both) formula to have a very 'profound' and
'transcendental' meaning. I could be (very) wrong, of course)

GR:  OK, I could see there is a message. But in what sense?

PR:  In the sense of bonding, of establishing relationships that are not
value-free, of sharing a commitment to certain causes. It is not ­ not
only, and to me, not even mainly ­ about forging links that are purely
instrumental to a particular purpose (e.g. an action, a publication,
etc.). I have been through that sort of discussion at length in activist
meetings; establishing meaningful linkages with groups and individual
people is not easy. And maintaining them, even when there is no immediate
objective to it, is where commitment (or lack of the same) shows. Many
contacts in our time are on temporary benefit basis: I'll be in relation
with you as long as we have a common work to do, that is as long as suits
my interests. I'll snap these ties, i.e. let them vanish without remorse
when you're no longer useful (to me). That is a very 'post-modern'
attitude, which, beside being phony, is also dangerous and self-defeating
in the end.

GR:  You might compare that to what Roman Jacobson has called a Œphatic¹
communication where the content of the exchange is of little importance in
comparison with the aim of being in communion. It seems to me important to
be reminded, by Jakobson or others, that communication can be engaged in
for several different purposes. But the postmodern puts the emphasis on
the instrumentality of communication. I some time feel that much of what
we say has no particular content, it is communication for communication,
that is, for communion. To get in touch and keep in touch is the final aim
of communication.

PR:  I completely agree with that. I had indeed vaguely heard of Œphatic
communication¹, without giving very much thought to it, but yes, now I can
see the point indeed. I think this type of communication is the basis on
which my favorite groups, hackers, and people at independent media
centers, operate.

GR:  Let's move now, if you don't mind, to the aspect of responsibility.

PR:  That's fine, because what we were talking about very much leads us to
that question anyway. It is an important matter, because in a certain
sense we are still 'alone' in cyberspace. This was even more so a few
years ago, and it prompted John Perry Barlow to write his famous
"Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace". There he stated that 'the
citizens of cyberspace' had nothing to do anymore with the politics and
politicians of the previous ('old media') epoch. Maybe somewhat
hair-brained, but a very nice text all the same, even if we say like the
Dutch: 'the wish was apparently the mother of the idea".

GR:  Independence of and in Cyberspace is then a wishful thinking?

PR:  Yes, but which ideals are not? Think of the fact that Jane
Kirkpatrick, when she was the USA ambassador to the United Nations,
declared that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a "wish-list
to Santa Claus". I'll buy such a 'wishful thinking' as reality to act upon
any time!
GR:  But where does responsibility come into this?

PR:  Ah yes, I got diverted again...It's all the fault of John Perry
Barlow ;-) He also once somehow recycled the 'John F. Kennedy question':  
"Ask not what the Net is doing for you, ask yourself what ¹you¹ are doing
for the Net." The net brings a lot of advantages and opportunities to
individuals and groups, so you may ask what they are doing in return. That
is important in an age when commercial forces actually want us to do
nothing, know nothing, leave it all to them, and behave like passive
consumers. This is also the stance taken by the People's Communication
Charter, to which you also have collaborated: people, as users and
consumers of media, of communication channels have rights ­ of access, of
freedom of expression, of respect, etc ­ but with rights come also duties:  
fairness in the most general sense. The networks are not a neutral, merely
technical infrastructure, they are also a common good, our 'electronic
commons' as some have taken to call them, so we should ensure they remain
open and in good shape (this is incidentally why genuine hackers take such
a dim view of 'Denial of Service' attacks, even when they are for
political motives, by so-called 'hacktivists') Another point is well
expressed in the motto of one of my favorite outfits, the Antenna
Foundation: "Information Exchange for Social Change".  That means that
working with and in the field of information and communication is not a
value free exercise. We are not shuffling data back and forth on the
networks for no purpose. We want to achieve something with that activity,
and for that we need to have a network architecture that permits it, now
and in the future. The future envisaged by the 'market', the corporate
world, which is steadily getting a greater say in cyberspace, and wants it
all, is altogether different.  As I said before, they want passive
consumers, just like the infamous 'couch potatoes' of the
advertisement-driven commercial television - the fresh word some jesters
coined for it in the digital age is 'cyberspuds' ... You can see this very
clearly as ever more 'bandwidth' (network access capacity) is being
deployed right up to 'the box' in the homes. It is remarkably
one-directional. In the beginning days of computer-mediated communication,
the incoming and outgoing bandwidth was small but equally apportioned. In
the new dispensation, the former literally explodes while the latter
augments only marginally. There is the joke that the idea 'the industry'
has of interactivity is to deliver the use three options: 'Enter', 'Exit',
and of course the most important one: 'Buy'... Activists, responsible
'netizens' should never accept such models and must put pressure both on
corporations and on governments to prevent them. And since that will most
probably not work out, they should take matters in their own hands and set
up their own networks. (Sometimes I am dreaming of the return of the BBSs,
the Bulletin Board Systems of old, which were true electronic communities
before the Internet all but swamped them over...) 'Globalization' is then
of course the next concept that springs to mind.  The opposition we see
mounting against it all over the world is very often misrepresented in
terms of a '*anti*-globalization movement' (the Italian mass-media
vignette is even starker: 'no-global'). But it is much more correct to
talk about a ¹counter¹-globalization movement. Globalization is the best
friend, and the aim of the multitudes (= all the diverse people)  
worldwide. Globalization from below, for and by the common people, is what
mobilizes many energies, which are often channeled through the networks.  
In fact, nothing is so global as the resistance against corporate
globalization, and that is exactly what governments and big business fear

GR:  When we speak of globalization, and you have indicated that all we
have discussed so far can be seen in the context of globalization, one
thought comes to mind when speaking of the philosophical and spiritual
response we see at every stage: the material world is very complex as it
is, but then it seems that in the Internet we have a linkage that is both
intangible and material and which permits a new form of connection among
human beings, among communities, which I find extremely promising and
exciting - but also rife with much more powerful ways of being 'bad
fathers'. So what would you say on that?

PR:  The globalization of dissent has come as an effective response to the
globalization of oppression and repression. And it appears that corporate
globalization means the power, wealth, and opportunities in general, are
going to be more concentrated than ever in fewer hands, in the North as
well as in the South. A worldwide movement has now arisen against these
developments and this happen to be carried in a large measure by the
Internet. So the opposition against global capitalism turns out to make
use of the very same new technologies of information and communication
that are thought to represent the apex of the capitalist system - and its
preserve. This realization has come as a very bad surprise to the powers
that be, in government, and in corporate circles. Something 'they' thought
was theirs, for them to use, and for them only, turns out to be used by
their opponents on a big scale. Now this is one of the main reasons why I
have become a new media activist: it works! But today, the menaces and
threats are there. Manuel Castells has written that the networks operate
in such a way as to include some people, the connected ones obviously, and
exclude others, the disconnected. It is clear that the powers that be,
under various pretexts, NYC 911 (the moniker for 11th of September 2001)  
being the latest and the most threatening, to curtail the Internet as a
space of freedom ('anarchy' in their parlance) and exclude the opposition.  
So before you know the Internet is also dragged into 'the war against
terrorism' and become a battleground, a space of war - the 'infowar'. In
most activist circles, the Internet is not seen as a weapon, at least not
in the direct sense to attack the 'capitalist enemy' with it. But there
has been a tendency among some to call for more 'direct action' than
'mere' information exchange and organizing protest over the Internet., and
to use the networks to sabotage and disrupt 'the capitalist system' by
engaging in "Distributed Denial of Services" attack (DDoS) for instance,
blacking out or paralyzing websites and mail servers. Despite the name
'hacktivism' that advocates of such practices like to call them, true
hackers, as I said earlier, a opposed to this misuse of the network and
are concerned that this will provide a ready excuse ("cyberterrorists!")  
to curtail and suppress the active use of the Internet by 'unauthorized
parties' - you and me, basically. But may be more importantly, there is
also a deep concern that 'hacktivism' - and other purportedly 'radical'
approaches and usages of the Internet, betray an attitude that considers
the Internet to be already a corporate thing, a capital and an
infrastructure that belongs to 'them' rather than 'to all of us'. Well,
the funny thing is that this is not (yet!) the case. The Internet, despite
all attempts, covert and overt, to 'privatize' it, still has no particular
proprietor. So in my view, the struggle that is waged at this juncture is
to keep that situation like that - for as long as possible. This is also
our responsibility towards the networks, even if that sounds conservative
and defensive, rather than 'forward moving'. But that is because, in my
view, seldom in the many instances and moments of history of the struggle
of the people against oppression the multitudes had such a powerful
instrument as the Internet at their disposal. Seldom have the prospects
for empowerment and emancipation looked so good, at least in the
'spiritual' sphere, as with the current state and existence of the 'new'
technologies of information and communication, and of the electronic
networks in particular.

GR: Well, that makes for a nice conclusion. Thank you very much.

(edited version, Amsterdam, July 30, 2002)  
(with many thanks to Gaston Roberge for his assistance)

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