ed phillips on Mon, 19 May 1997 08:55:19 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Gift economies. Free!!!! X-Post This.

Get Your Nets Here.  Free!!!!!.

Like the unbidden e-mail virus warnings that echo off of the
unrepresentable "outside" of this englobed surfeit of nets, what we have
on the internet is a "gift economy" very few want, have the time for, or
even know what to do with.

Old usenetters are programming filters into their email parsing systems
that organize hierarchically by the number of exclamation points placed
in the subject header. Even on a moderated mailing list of canny
readers, much as we beseech the meme-transmitting, warnings of the
virally hot dangers of connecting to the "great unwashed" internet find
their way to fill up neurospace.  Some have remarked that these messages
are the virus, which is surely accurate, and others have remarked that
these messages may be wry postings of net artists giving us all another
variation on noise. Hopeful consuming, quick, at a glance scanning and

The tyranny of exclamation points, which infects contemporary discourse
on and off the nets, is not what one hoped for from a market or a gift
economy.  Before I replay the over familiar story of plebeanized,
rationalized, and now completely tautologous, advanced money economies,
I just want to touch on the possibility that thoughtful writing on the
nets is a gift economy of a different order.

Tracing out that difference requires a reversal of all the instincts of
market conscious critics and artists.  What do you mean? Where is the
Business Model? How could you write for free?  What have you invested in
the writing or the reading of free words?

Polytropoi: many-sided, weary, canny, shipwrecked, den
vierlverschlagenen.  You scan the first few lines or just the header, or
like some data monster, take big gulps of almost all your email.

You might keep some quotes from or check the references of an
interesting piece of writing. You might be active in a number of places
on the nets in conversation or trade.  All of it a kind of gift economy.

Communities on the nets are more particular instances of dialogue or at
least dialogical thinking than communities. I would not even use the
word, but Pit suggested that I might write something about those
elusive, ephemeral communities, Levinas, and the other. So here I am
responding to him. Aware of the use of the word but skeptical of it's
application to describe information trading on the nets.

For me, its worth repeating Adorno's remark about the
incomprehensibility if not the impossibility of giving, or a gift
economy, given the prevailing cultural winds.  As Microsoft's Nathan
Myrhvold has said, "It ain't got no Vigs."

Adorno: "violation of the exchange principle has something nonsensical
and implausible about it; here and there even children eye the giver
suspiciously, as if the gift were merely a trick to sell them brushes or

He goes on. "Instead we have charity, administered beneficence." 
Charity you trust or accept, if you trust, because you trust the
reputation of the institution; they stamp the gifts and aid with
value.Professional writing, writing for pay is stamped with the same
imprimatur of institution.  And a successful (in the market sense)
writer has a hyper-trophied sensitivity to what sells, to what fits,
what fits and sells both in the institutions and what sells to the
trusting audience.  One gears oneself to administer the beneficence of
intellectual capital.  If one fights the mass writing markets, one
demurs and has the modesty to accept tenure and the company of twenty
year olds. One develops a reputation and begins to write books and
travel to symposia.  Adorno called it the "rational bad grace,  careful
adherence to prescribed budget, skeptical appraisal of the other, and
least possible effort" of false giving.

Fitfully, in a broken signal, as much out of an abundance of thought,
conversation, and new opportunity, as much out of a kind of over
fullness as out of a frustration with existing media, with existing
protocols, we have a gift economy.  All the scaffolding that was needed
to prop up and package other instances of writing and art drops away.
Not that the removing of the packaging or the propping in itself is of
value, it only leaves a space open for art and writing. A space.

Where this gift economy resides, in the torn edges where we negotiate
our own personal economies, we get an inflow of vitality, a chance for
dialogue and the dialogical.

An ethics of citation keeps these epiphenomenal economies alive and
circulating.  Citation is a currency that allows x-posted and posted
messages to have value and find readers, viewers, artists and writers.  

I'm less interesting in divining when charity and professionalism will
overtake the nets than in using the opportunity a little "forest"
clearing" offers us, using the opportunity, using it well.  Towards
further conversation and dialogue. Soon.

Sunday May 18, 1997 11:24 PM Pacific Standard Time.
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