RG: Is it possible to build upon Internet as a means to defend civil rights and collective and personal empowerment?
GL: No. Social movements do not emerge out of technology. At best they can make a cleaver, or let’s say ‘tactical’ use of the means they have available. It would be a step back to argue in some quasi materialistic way and believe that movements grow out of communication means, like the leaves from the trees in spring. We can see in places like Japan that techno gadgets can produce interesting user cultures but that does not automatically lead to resistance or protest. The same with China. Technology may as well lead to numb forms of consumer cultures, informal structures of survival. They are always the object of surveillance. Of course, new media are used to empower people, but that has little to do with the chance that collective forms of protest occur. You need a broader cultural and political framework to understand the ‘birth’ of movments, in which technology can only play a modest role.
RG: The “tactical media” expression you created at N5M Conferences (www.n5m.org), does that refer to contra-media groups, or is it rather a general attitude?
GL: The tactical media concept, to me, is closely tied to the festive and liberating nineties, when activist groups started to work with new media and the Internet and mixed them with performance aspects, art practices and ‘old media’. Tactical means that you localize, switch quickly between formats and platforms and use a variety of media at the same time, according to the situation. I am not sure if is a general attitude. There are other terms that have a similar meaning, such as communication guerrilla, but that’s also very specific.
RG: Presumed “tactical media” were an attitude, how would it look like? Perhaps being autonomous and active. Would that be individually or cooperatively as well?
GL: Of course individuals can make use of tactical media, but to be honest, that’s quite uncommon. This has got to do with the complexity of software, real existing division of labour in society (between music, acting, graphic design etc.) and the crisis of the nineteenth century model of the genius. It is simply impossible for individual artists or activists to have that many skills. New media have to be compared to orchestra, theatre and film, not painting or writing.
RG: Using Tactical Media, have journalists the choice to release some dark or hidden aspects of the information that traditionally have not been offered to the people?
GL: I am not sure. To me tactical media always have a performative aspect. You probably mean whether new media can be used by journalists to do investigative stories? For sure. Soon there won’t be much else. But to me, the crisis of journalism is lying in the fact that they are encapsulated by the news system and have to work under this incredible real time infotainment pressure. One of things new journalism can do is radically question the logic of the current news industry. What we need to create is temporary ‘time capsules’ in which investigative journalism can unfold. We need to smash the real time dictatorship in order to create time and space for other stories that cannot be told within the dominant formats. This struggle has got little to do weblogs yes or no, or tactical media for that matter.
RG: In order to let activism and tactical media work, what kind of role-play free radios and TV, free digital media and weblogs?
GL: I see them as ‘memes’, as Richard Dawkins called it. They are ‘cultural genes’ that can easily grow and replicate. I am searching for non-biological metaphors here. They need to have a certain aesthetic; otherwise they are condemned to the ghetto of worthy content. The question of form is not just a matter of abundance and ‘beauty’. Alternative media filled with ‘correct’ messages are meaningless if they do not have that cool and dirty, problematic street (or cyberspace) style. There always need to be an artistic component, even if it software. I am not talking about design as a goal in itself but about tactical media that have this wish, this passion to break through certain social and cultural barriers.
RG: And so, how can journalists and common people manage face to face with Macro-Media-Groups (Vivendi-Universal, AOL-Time-Warner…the most from USA)?
GL: Well, by the act of refusal. Don’t use hotmail, for instance. Start your own (mail)server. It’s all very cheap and simple these days. Set up independent collective (infra)structures. Reduce your dependency of big firms. Start using free software and promote open source as a principle, also outside of the computer realm. In my view this can only be done in collective ways because overcoming capitalism should never be portrayed as an individual problem. Please, never go near such protestant moral.
RG: Can Indymedia reviews and projects be the example of the new journalism?
GL: Most certainly. But then together with Slashdot. Indymedia has become to static, in my view. It is a pity that they had to marginalize the open publishing part. There is still a lot of experimentation that can be done, in particular with those collective weblogs. There are enough weblogs of individuals. They are not very innovative, in my view.
RG: Your book “Fibre Oscuro”, recently translated into Spanish and published by Tecnos Ed., includes reports from Taiwan, Delhi and Albania, where new media works hard to wrest the Internet from state control and for the freedom, laws and cyber-citizens. What about this spirit in East Europe and Central/South America? Was the “Zapatista revolution” a historical milestone, a paradigm?
GL: Perhaps for some but not for me. The Zapatista mythology is exactly the wrong example. There was no use of the Internet and computers by poor farmers. Instead, a lot of this work was done by old school leftists as a form of solidarity. It had little to do with education and empowerment. Early Internet work in the name of the Zapatista movement was done out of San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. The examples that I write about break away from such heroic representations and deal with the use of new media by people themselves, for instance in B92 in Belgrade, Sarai in Dehli, the South African local radios, you name it. There, people have gone beyond such pathetic revolutionary romanticism.
RG: Will the weblogs be the next step in the Internet mass media? How can Internet users be sure about credibility and information sources of the weblogs?
GL: Weblogs have been around for a number of years now, and I do not see that have changed the overall media landscape. Perhaps we expect too much from the Internet. Weblogs are not much different from homepages in the past, just that they are now empowered by easy-to-use software. Content management systems come with user-friendly interfaces so that people do not have to make individual HTML pages. Weblogs are a technical innovation and have NOTHING to with the question whether or not we should believe that particular information. The whole question is absurd. One should ALWAYS distrust media—in particular your own writings. People are people. They are beyond good and evil. The rise of the Internet hasn’t changed their intentions.
RG: Is it still valid the distinction between mainstream and alternative media? Are blogs the future of new media? What is your opinion of collaborative tools such us wikis?
GL: Internet and mobile phones can weaken the dominant top-down media industries, but are incapable to pose the power question. You are right that over the past decade the gap between alternative and mainstream media has become smaller. But the position of television, worldwide, remains uncontested. The 2003 Iraq War is a good example. The main manipulation went through television, whereas critical voices could be found in print media and on the Net. Wikis for instance are very interesting tools but can only become subversive if the big media power is questioned. Wikis, in my view, are not so much focussed on news anyway. They change the parameters of knowledge production. But then if we could slow down ‘news’ perhaps wikis could play a role. So far their influence is mainly felt in technology circles and education.
RG: It is widely thought, or at least widely publicized, that Internet it is a gateway to greater freedom and choice. But what I see is an ever-increasing concentration in technology and cultural industries, less and less supply and more and more social standardization thru coercive methods such as marketing strategies. What is your analysis of the situation?
GL: I agree with you, but I wouldn’t put it that dramatic, that pessimistic. One needs to be alert but not alarmed, as the Australian Prime Minister Howard put it nicely. There are power relationships everywhere, and the same can be said of ideology. We need to be self-critical and be able to analyse our specific situation within a broader context. That’s hard enough because the situation is very fluid. All theory and criticism is historical these days, for the simple fact that theorists cannot work within a real-time environment. Reflection needs time, and space. Stories can only unfold in time. If there is going to be something like digital storytelling, it is up to us to invent it. But we should never be afraid of appropriation. If we don’t take risks, make bold steps, experiment and stretch up the existing limits of new media, no one will do it for us.