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Geert Lovink
Squatter, Cyberpunk, Datadandy. Amsterdam Alternative Media Strategies (1993)

Язык оригинала: русский

The alternative media strategies which I would like to present here are related to developments in Amsterdam since the end of the eighties. This self-willed free state, international home and operation base of hippies, queers, the unemployed, artists and tourists, sits in the shadow of great upheavals on the European continent. Since Amsterdam has no noteworthy industry, is home to neither the government or the national media, and cannot be called a high-tech center, there is enough space to experiment without anyone breathing down one’s neck. The oft-mentioned tolerance which serves as the city’s hallmark, andits flipside of noncommittance and indifference, make it possible for numerous media initiatives to build up a sound tradition relatively independent from one another, without deteriorating into a closed scene. In the fields of free radio, magazines, computer communication, video and (live) cable television the experiments exceed the character of one-time events. Certain patterns reveal themselves, a few of which I would like to discuss here.

Theory and practice in Amsterdam are only indirectly connected. The anti-intellectual attitude of the punks’ and squatters’ movement, which have been important breeding grounds for many media initivatives, embroiders on the general attitude that people should not chatter, but get to work. Discussion, criticism and self-reflection are lacking and this is not experienced as a deficiency. The combination of practical tinkering with a healthy dose of cockiness ensures that projects people elsewhere only dream about are set up and continued without a lot of money from authorities or businesses. The Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge (ADILKNO) 1, founded in 1983, of which I am a member, is one element of this phenomenon. What many of the media experiments in Amsterdam have in common is their hybrid character, the mingling of high and low tech through linking them together: records found on the street, telephones, old computers, amplifiers, camcorders and ramshackle cassette decks. There is great interest in the hype which rises from the high-tech laboratories on the US West Coast. Yet their experiments are too clean, too healthy, too spiritual. We need not lapse into anti-Americanism, but the pretense that American technoculture would lead the rest of the world should be refused. Their virtual reality is not the only one and need not be copied. There are many cyberspaces. The European variant will surely be polyglot and filled with a deep melancholy.

Amsterdammers enjoy polluting the concepts of others by stirring in a portion of their brilliant dilettantism. Hardware might well be global, but the connection of hard-, soft- and wetware, on the contrary, is always tied to the regional particularities of the culture. The technocultures on the various continents cannot and need not move in synchrony. In technoculture on a global scale there is no longer talk of an edge over others. From the point of view of hybrid practice the differences among the US, Europe and Asia are not so great. Differences exist only if one assumes that only media experiments done with the latest high-tech are interesting. But high-tech is also the waste product of the military-industrial complex and its corporations. A select group of electronic artists has allowed access only with their approval. The mixers of high and low are not bootlickers, and they accept the waste-character of technology.

The data dandy, who I wish to introduce here also, falls under ADILKNO’s category of “potential media figures.” In the Media Archive, which ADILKNO published in Dutch in 1992 and in an expanded German edition in 1993, a series of potential media and potential media figures are collected under the denominator of “Unidentified Theoretical Objects” or UTOs. These compact texts are purely speculative. ADILKNO does not practice media archaeology, hermeneutics, media criticism or cultural studies. The genre of ADILKNO, the mediatext, describes no reality or ideas outside the text. Its material is the media itself — not the equipment or programs, but their possibilities. In the electro-sphere there exists a multiplicity of potential media and media figures. Their present or future existence is indefinite, though it can definitely be tested. The insight the mediatext yields about them is irresponsibly rash. The media text speculates with chance, danger, dream and nightmare. It challenges potential mediato become real; in the first place, in the media text itself. It provokes language into taking on these forms. Potential media exist only as options, but once they are described you run across them everywhere. This also holds for the data dandy. Although ADILKNO members emphatically deny being data dandies, or propagating any similar decadent, outmoded, postmodern consumerism, many people claim to have data dandies in their circles of friends and this notion is difficult to counter.
ADILKNO’s second book, 1990s Cracking the Movement: Squatting beyond the Media, has recently been published in English by Autonomedia (NewYork) following Dutch and German editions. The book describes the squatters’ movement in Amsterdam in the 1980s. It shows how the many big street riots in 1980 and 1981 turned into an advanced, subtle game with the media. It proposes that in the beginning there were only overwhelming events. The pattern that people discovered later was called a “movement.” “In the beginning was the event. Time was compressed, space concentrated into one point - and a metamorphosis took place. Movement is born out of this first impulse. It seeks a way to consolidate the last stage of transformation, to give it substance.”But a movement cannot metamorphose; it can only go on: “It lacks the mobility to easily become something else. It will endlessly branch off, get stuck, scheme, resprout, be exploited, write about itself, see itself on film.”

Media are never just tools you can work with at will. The transformation of an originally rage and subversion into information is a painful process. The crystallization of a movement is accompanied by fragmentation, selection and exclusion. Once taken up into the media sphere, the now virtual movement can never again return to street level, however hard it tries to force its way back via the staging of spectacles. In Cracking the Movement ADILKNO speculatively divides there action to the medialization of the squatters’ movement into three parts: the antimedia movement, the extra-medial, and sovereign media.The antimedia movement is in a certain sense a UTO, which doesn’t exist but is nevertheless an ever-growing movement. “There are individuals who have undergone the extra-medial experience and are left upon return with an immense anger. The experience is being turned into information as an assault on their lives. They go offensive. The antimedia movement they unleash fights hard, but wants nothing to dowith powers that oppose the freedom of the press. They demand that democracy breaks its ties with the media. They do their part by literally cutting the connections. Not out of fear of contact, but for the chance to meet someone again. The antimedians wrestle with the problem of how to meet others without bringing the media into play.”In the 1990s many squatters have renounced belief in any media, their own included. The realization that all information, including one’sown, is subject to media laws and is just one part of a gigantic selection, has resulted in a healthy media-relativism. Autonomists no longer wish to justify or express themselves. Squatters move from one house to the next like nomads and no longer believe in defending aplace with words and bricks. Information as such has no healing or subversive properties. People no longer harbour the expectation that others will be “turned around” simply by reading a pamphlet or manifesto. Although the radical refusal of new technologies asinstruments of control over humanity has largely disappeared, skeptical pragmatism is widespread.

Hakim Bey writes about this in similar terms in his essay on”Temporary Autonomous Zones.” Opposite the Net he places the Counter-Net and the Unofficial Web, which consists of “the marginal zone network, the BBS networks, pirated software, hacking, phone-freaking, some influence in print and radio and almost none in the big media.” The TAZ exists in information space as well as in the ”real world.” But “the Web does not depend on any computer technology. Word-of-mouth, mail, the marginal zine network,”phone trees” and the like are sufficient to construct an information web work. The key is not the brand or level of tech involved, but the openness and horizontality of the structure.”

The TAZ according to Hakim Bey is not out to simulate resistance or toresist spectacularly. “The TAZ desires above all to avoid mediation, to experience its existence as immediate. The very essence of the affair is ‘breast-to-breast,’ as the Sufis say, or face-to-face.” The TAZ cannot be for or against technology; it does not wish to be utopian or nostalgic. “Because TAZ is an intensification, a surplus, an excess, a potlatch, life spending itself rather than merely surviving, it cannot be defined either by Tech or anti-Tech.” Hakim Bey no longer believes in well-intentioned anti-information spread via the radical networks.”Frankly, I already had plenty of data to enrich my perception.” What the wants is “marvelous secrets.” “Most of all I want computers to provide me with information linked to real goods - ‘the good things in life.’”

ADILKNO’s second alternative is an enigmatic category, about which there is little to say: the extra-medial. “Extra-medial figures view painful wrestling with the media issue with something like pity. When asked to participate, they don’t answer. They do not wish to be spoken to. They appear to live in another universe. They are occupied with all kinds of things, but their purpose remains invisible through the medialens. They seem never to know what they want. But this dismissive attitude is not merely indifference. They are intently concentrating on’the right thing’; their silence comes from this. They answer only unasked questions. Their attention is focused on the approach of an event. And when the time comes, they are the ones who move into action without hesitating. Then they are together in extra-medial space.Metamorphosis occurs.”

The third alternative is that of sovereign media. Recognizing and living with the media’s omnipotence does not always lead one to happy destructivism. The laborious strategy of antipublicity or total absence can be avoided. Instead of being employed in an alternative way, the media can be raised to ecstatic heights. This, the media’s supreme self-experience, has passed the stage of information absorption and transmission. The point is to cause media effects without references to an outside world. This is achieved through so-called sovereign media.

The data dandy is, as a potential media figure, a difficult character. Since this UTO was brought into being by ADILKNO in 1993, it has been leading a life of its own as a buzzword. Appropriately, the dandy give sumbrage and can expect deep admiration as well as resolute revulsion and contempt. Although the dandy shows off his affinity for the wretched and the criminal, his relationship to the underground, the experimental media artists or the remnants of the autonomist movement is absent at first glance. Data-dandyism does not strive for media practice in the strict sense. It is a techno-mask that can be put on and taken off within an information environment like the Net. Information overload is his natural milieu and his counterpart is the media ecologist, who cannot bear waste and wishes to prescribe a media diet for the community. This hedonistic and frivolous manner of dealing with contemporary navigational problems disturbs essentialists, who are in search of a truth or reality within the networks.

The data dandy does not bring about any partial media connections, but dedicates himself to an aesthetic attitude toward the phenomenon of information. The motto of the “User as Artist” is “La toilette digitale est l’espression de la societe.” A dandy always figures in an ambiguous social situation, and in this fin de siиcle that is the state of profound confusion and boredom. In the face of an overwhelming assortment of identities, the data dandy concerns himself with the depth of devotion to computerized elegance. Like the splendid heroes of the19th century, he is solely dedicated to his own perfection. Beyond hype or life style, beyond criticizing the corporate character of technoculture, the dandy tries on programs one after the other, with Oscar Wilde’s line, “The first duty of life is to be as artificial as possible,” as a guideline.

The masquerade in which the dandy takes part on the Net might bea game, a MUD or a MOO, but he can also appear on a newsgroup or an IRC channel or in a chic Electronic Grand Cafe. These spaces might be filled with data dandies, but more probably they have merely been designed by them. The data dandy is not an person, but rather a program.This is not a identity nor a role model you can take on at will. The data dandy, like the cyberpunk, is the product of literary fiction.These are not social constructions, as are the Otaku, the Zippie and Generation X. Magic words like these prove to be strange attractors. People quickly wonder what they might be, and how you become one. But that only dulls the figure’s shine. They are, at most, digital spirits who suddenly, briefly flicker up on the screen and then disappear again, or never appear at all. Their existence is improbable, and their profile remains blurry and vague since they are fluid phenomena. Only after a long time do these invented figures acquire firm contours and disappear into fashion, where they circulate in a fixed, crystallized form.
This law is easily observed through the example of cyberpunk, which was brought into being by a number of science-fiction writers.Cyberpunk appeared at the end of the 1980s as a projection of the future and has now almost become history. Thanks to Billy Idol and others it has become an element of popular culture. But cyberpunks will probably actually appear only sometime in the next century. Or they existed only at the beginning of the 80s, even before science fiction made reference to their coming. The same holds for the data dandy; it remains uncertain whether he is a remnant of decadent 1980s postmodernity or an unproductive trouble maker of the heyday of the Net. In any case, this is impossible to think about outside fashion and media. In the designing of techno-masks it is important to carry negativity as far as possible. In times of well-intentioned positivity, merciless effectivity and overpowering pragmatism, it is important toremain as unclear as possible. Only when the chaos of thought is optimal and complexity is no longer surveyable, out of the gray mist of image fragments, the forgotten discourses of heroic times and third-hand high-tech info will rise the figure of the data dandy.

The data dandy collects information to show off and not totransmit it. He is well, too well, or even exaggeratedly well-informed. Pointed questions are met with unwanted answers. He alwayscomes up with something different. The phenotype of the data dandy is as feared as his historical predecessor, whose playground was the street and the salon. The elegant extravagance with which he displays the most detailed trivia shocks the practical media user. The data dandy makes fun of the gauged consumption and the measured in take of current news and amusement, and doesn’t worry about an excess or overload of specialized knowledge. His carefully assembled information portfolio be speaks no constructive motive. He goes to the greatest effort to appear as arbitrary as possible. One wonders: why did the data-head want to know all that stuff? He zaps not out of boredom, but out of unwillingness to keep abreast of current events and everyone else’s latest worries.

In the era of multimedia mass information one can no longer differentiate between uni- and multiformity. Neither broad overview nor clarifying detail can relieve the mental confusion. Against this background the data dandy proves what everyone knows: namely, that information may be omnipresent, but it is not readily accessible. Certain facts are very flattering and one must develop a fine nose for them. Unlike the data collector, the data dandy is concerned not with the obsession of the complete file, but with the accumulation of as many immaterial ornaments as possible. While the otaku withdraws into himself and will never cross the boundaries of his solitary cultivation, it is precisely the most extroverted news groups which the data dandy searches out to launch his unproductive contributions. What the data dandy skims off in order to present elsewhere would be only of secondary importance, if the presentation were not so indiscreet. His freakish wit distracts attention from the run-of-the-mill items. The ingenuity of his bon mots has a duration of 30 seconds, after which they disappear from the screen as suddenly as they came. Our data dandy is a broker in giga-wares, with the understanding that your garbage is his makeup, and his substance your fluid.

The screen is the mirror at which he performs his toilet. The buttoning and unbuttoning of textile-dandyism has found its successor in the channel-surfing of on/off decadence. Wrapped in the finest facts and the most senseless gadgets, the new dandy deregulates the[time-]economy of information/money-managers. He spends most of his computing time on the luxurious decoration of his hard disk and the creation of sophisticated circuits among thousands of heterogeneous software trinkets. The PowerBook-as-jewelry is the pride of many asalon digitalist. He derides with actuality, hype and fashion: just for a second, a self appears that is its own anchor person.

The data dandy considers his avatar in cyberspace the center of the digital universe. He knows he can only assume this position through the grace of the open structure of the network. His irksome interventions are preconditioned by public access, which he does not view as a means of changing thenon-virtual world. He recognizes the Net as a space to display oneself, not to communicate. Simulation is the fundament of his “GeneralPrinciples of Digital Elegance,” which is dismissed by essentialists,who still believe in the real/unreal binary, as “Lust am Untergang” or”Reinen Hedonismus.” The data dandy is a secret democrat waging are laxed battle for the unbounded expansion of digital human rights.Because if the plug is pulled on the Net, his personality will evaporate.

The absolute vacuity of the data dandy greatly resembles the exalted laziness of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, Slackers, McJobbers, Beavis and Butthead fans and vague types. They see themselves as necessarily inextricable from the media and resist the historical mission of being subjects of the technological revolution. They laugh themselves sick over the idea that the mouse, remote control and data glove are revolutionary tools, serving a new creative productivity. The creative potential of the new media lies mainly in their potential for auspicious deception, with which few can earn money. These “cool”products are consumed by X’ers with few illusions and much irony. Their pleasure at the self-referential character of the media results in nothing. We see them, hardly full of abandon, tinkering with the multiplicity of the techno. The garage romanticism of the 80s has disappeared; tinkering with hardware has made way for copying, pasting together, cleaning up and reprogramming others’ software.Digitalization in the 90s is taking place at a sub-proletarian level, beyond the crumbling welfare state. Machine-assemblage and data processing take place nowadays in a global context and are displaced, telematically sent, to Asia, the Caribean, China, India and Eastern Europe. The Net as the nirvana of lost jobs is above all an arena where one can delight in the pathetic, wooden communication of others. Unlike Generation X , the data dandy veils his cynicism about speculation in the new media branch. The folly of interactivity need not be unmasked as far as he’s concerned. On the contrary, carefully-tended negativity, full of paradoxical humor, should be stylishly disseminated. The great Nothing, which is devalued in the yawning digital abyss, should be kept covered. This is the most important mainspring behind his will to illusion and deception. The deep melancholy of the computer and the infinite emptiness of cyber-spaces inspires extra-existential fantasies in the users which the data dandy tries to exorcise with his humanoid artificiality. He admires the prefab poverty cult of grunge, the hideously fresh and cheerful colors of Swatch and Benetton (fluorescent as well as natural) and the well-intentioned and healthy hallucinations offered by cyberculture. In response to the computer-driven spectacle inside the brain with its endless navigation through data-masses, the data dandy advances the gracious art of brilliant inspiration. He admires all search systems, the know-bots, agents and other variants of hypercard philosophy. His seductive attractiveness is based on conjuring up one-time knowledge. The heroic production of data dumb founds counseling clients and careerists, who begin to ask themselves in aggravation where they can get hold of the data-dandy manual. But they will drift away in frustration as soon as they realize that the media and their theorists are praising hot air after all and that the chameleon-like data dandy can laugh freely about his own inevitable death.The Net is for the electronic dandy what the metropolitan street was for the historical dandy. Strolling along the data boulevards cannot be prohibited and ultimately jams the entire band width. The all-too-civilized converzation during a rendez-vous turns up a few mis placed and objecti on able data, but never results in dissidence. The point of will fully wrong navigation and elegant joy riding inside someone else’s electro-environment is admiration, envy and confusion, and consciously aims for stylized incomprehension. The dandy measures the beauty of his virtual appearance by the moral indignation and laughter of the plugged-in civilians. It is a natural character of the parlor aristocrat to enjoy the shock of the artificial. This is why he feels so at home in cyberspace with all its attributes. Cologne and pink stockings have been replaced by precious Intel; delicate data gloves and ruby-encrusted butterfly goggles and sensors are attached to his brows and nostrils. Away with the crude NASA-aesthetics of cybernauts! The data dandy has moved well beyond the pioneer stage; the issue now is the grace of the medial gesture.

Foot notes:

1. ADILKNO has published regularly in Mediamatic magazine since 1988. Its first book to be published in English was Cracking the Movement:Squatting beyond the Media (New York: Autonomedia, 1994). Available in German are Bewegungslehre (Berlin: Edition ID-Archiv, 1991),Medien-Archiv (Bensheim: Bollmann Verlag, 1993) and Der Datendandy(Bensheim: Bollmann Verlag, 1994). The original Dutch texts are published by the Ravijn publishing house, Amsterdam.ADILKNO may be reached at: Post Box 10591, 1001 EN Amsterdam,Netherlands; telephone/fax +31-20-6203297; email geert@xs4all.nl

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