The Digital Manifesto

On Temporary Workspaces, August 1997 note: This text was written for the presentation of WorkSpace in the Documenta Halle in Kassel/Germany which took place on August 14, 1997 as a part of the 100 days program. We heard only two days in advance that the free slot would be available for us. The only text about Hybrid Workspace was written by a number of people, in a great hurry, just before the final deadline of the Documenta X shortguide, in May. For this improvised presentation, for the first time we looked into the growing audio, video and text archive of the WorkSpace project. We also thought it would be necessary to also have more theoretical text, a first attempt to reflect on the work we are doing here in Kassel. In the second part, the tactical media network presented their work. Special guest was the Colombian videomaker Silvia Mehija. You can see the lecture in real video: + more audio stuff: ——- First Analysis of the Temporary WorkSpaces By Pit Schultz and Geert Lovink For the Hybrid WorkSpace presentation 100 days program, Documenta X, Kassel ’50 days, 120 guests’, August 14, 1997 *how to write a manifesto* — a document type description Classical modernism brought us a new textual format for the multipurpose use in the alien environment of technical media. The manifesto was introduced by several avantgardist artist groups at the beginning of this century as a document type to mediate an emphatic moment of urgency, the utopia of the radical new. Today, the manifesto returns as a useful form of electronic discourse that locates itself into the heart of cybernetic power. It does not just articulate a hierarchical voice from above, representing the wishes of others. It does not just promote the project of one predominant world model, it even cannot be taken seriously in every detailed claim it may make. In the main, the digital manifesto is a highly efficient form of communication which provides a frame of immediacy and presence for those formulating it. The digital manifesto no longer makes the distinction between endless interpretations and the decisive logic of punctual statements, it articulates a profound, and often artificial subjectivity without reclaiming absolute power in the real world. It creates an ambigious mode between visibility and virtuality which makes it useless to serious forms of executing power by virtue of its very absence. Paradoxically, only through the fact of its powerlessness and marginality the digital manifesto can claim to speak in the name of superhuman forces. The digital manifesto, as found in countless instances on the electronic networks, is not rewriting the human command-line-interface as it is known from before the War. In the times of the Nets, after deconstruction is over, the manifesto is a node which attracts other texts, including audio and video, and plays with the viral potential of being able to get forwarded, redistributed, quoted and translated. The digital manifesto functions as a media genre which speculates with maximum attention and possible media exposure. It mimics the gesture of broadcasting in the times of democratised xerox publicity. By definition the digital manifesto has a strong message. It claims an imaginative totality, a possible future, a virtual territory, knowing that it exists amongst a multiplicity of other manifestoes, which all put into concrete practice the passion for polemics and rethorics of public imagination: “I had a dream” (in Martin luther King’s famous opening words). You may find the digital manifesto all over the net refering to its outside, and refering to each other just by the fact that they express a will to be heard, to be heard about an extreme form to see the world. The digital manifesto is the opposite of the self-referential contemplation from within the system. It breaks through the chains of endless interpretation of existing textuals material. It is stating the obvious, claiming the impossible, and deserving the full field of pragmatic possiblities to the limit where they become truly speculative. Next to the document types such as the pamphlet, the declaration, the statement, the sermmon, the agenda, the charter or the petition, and in distinction to the essay, the article, the report, or other lengthy textes, the digital manifesto performs a compression which deals with the need for shortening, cutting and selecting from the media streams. From the very beginning it anticipates broadcasting and what it can do to a text. “Keep it short, my attention span is limited.” (J. Sjerpstra) The typical form of the digital manifesto is a long list of paragraphs, which functions like as a crystal, where one paragraph can reflect all others. The potential character of this text type is not hidden or embedded in a set of characters and narrations like in a novel, or allegory. In a digital manifesto the need for far more possibilities meets the desire to touch the level of the real and serves a popular info-vehicle in the struggle for attention. *representation – media – image* Nowadays, if you are working in the field of the new media, you are very squarely confronted with the institutional power of the image. The multi media are out there, but apparently some media are more equal then others… Those which work with an interface of visual representation are also those which are the most appealing to consumers, advisors, media theorists, and museum curators. Optical media have traditionally a predominant role in the process of constructing the truth and representing the invisible. When it comes to reflexion about reality, our Western language is full of terms which privileges the visual above all other senses when speaking about the truth. The direct way of exersizing power over people’s dreams and visions is by controling the sphere of images. This plays a crucial role not only in religion and advertisement but all fields which need the services of representation of power through visualisation as a form of celebrating and mediating its legitimacy. In the new media industry which is specialized in the development of *interfaces* most of the work goes into the production of demos (see Peter Lunenfeld in nettime). Finally it needs a surface to cover the emptiness of the final products with a shiny glamourous aura. The aim being to produce media products that succesfuly suggest content, context, and communication. To produce a psycho-physical stimulus through visual information is a skill that has been learned from the various avant-gardes by putting their experiments into the commercial context – without taking the social, political and idealistic world models of modernism, of course. This format speculates with the investments made by the users, like their craze on the stock market, the investments into an ‘economy of ideas’, and the simulated empty products snatching away the peoples’ attention/money without satifying their desires. As long as a product is in demo mode it produces wishes by reiterating the promise of the tremendous potentials of the full version always to come. The problems of media design have not yet been properly discussed. Some tend to see this ‘artisan’ practice more in its classical terms, where design is the final phase of the production process. In the information business, however, design plays the role of architecture, since it structures activities and organises knowledge and memory. Navigational design determines the modes of orientation and in the best case predics all possible moves and interpretations by the users. The best interface is the one which becomes invisible. Electronic images are bringing you to the other sphere behind the screen, they are stimulating the imagination, they are trying to mediate between programmers and users, they are pretending to give technology a human face and are helping to reorganise business and workflows. Electronic images are fulfilling an initiative role in the first encounter with the realm of new media, they are mediating today the sphere of [to-morrow’s] dream time, the mythological nomos, the realm of the uncouncious. The aesthetics of total dispersion of the televised image do not break through the screen of the representational paradigm. The celebration of optical media exchanging the role of painting does not say much about the average media users which even probably wish they could see real paintings again. It is the the play with the modes of visibility and invisibility, the aggregates of mediation between possible modes of representation expanded from the flat tableaux of the computer screen, to different frames of code and transformation, which can easily circumvent central authorities of quality control just by finding new combinations, or creating new hybrids and different intensities. On the carrier of digital media, such very private mixes introduce for a while the pure joy of doing it yourself. Before the old institutions or commercial enterprises move in, other fields for tactical use are already there. *hybrid* Hybridity has many names, many faces. One of these is the merger we are witnessing between video-technology and the Internet. But the much-vaunted wedding of TV and Web may well never happen. The cult of the interface culminates in its current brief to unifify all media under one big browser. The most recent manifestation of this idea is the ‘setup box’, the ‘network computer’ and the attempt to reinvent Television on the Internet in the so called ‘Push Media’. During the phase of the war of standards we see a diversity of interrim media, a variety of sub-standards, incompatibilities and central giant media which try to include and swallow up small media. On the technical level hybrid systems are very often the pragmatic way of resistance, and an attempt at finding the best possible solution aside from the one which consist of dominating the market by including different or older systems. This quite resembles the status quo prevailing in pop culture, where hybridity as cultural policy works against ‘apartheid’ and the sweet promises of a totality which is hidden behind the concept of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’. Hybridity as postmodern condition is not a strategy but a starting point [ – or a benchmark]. There is a certain threshold where the dirtyfication, mixing and opening of systems gets rejected. The double face of hybridisation needs both a critique in the context of the expansion of global capital and an analysis of its possiblities of emancipation at the micro-level. On the dangerous road which leads to becoming a Media-Gesamtkunstwerk the concept of hybridity looses contact to subjects and serves as a model of sophisticated organisation and domination. *work* “Networking is notworking.” (George Soros) Beyond the ideal of full employment and the scenario of a jobless economy there are many practical examples of inventing new forms of work. Whether this takes the form of a neo-liberal part-time McJob or some activity within state-run dole-for-work programmes, or some kind of occupation within the fast-expanding black money economy, or a slave job in a sweat shop in the “Little Asias” sprouting all over the place, or just a new, formalised way of neighborhood help, the traditional concept of work is changing rapidly. And very often it does so by applying information technology. Also, at the same time, a certain type of “autonomous work” seems to perstist. It drudges on at the limit of complete exhaustion, working with the bare achievement of the existential minimum as reward, within settings endowed with low resources and next-to-no budget. It must be the lure of some different gratification than money which motivates some people to work so hard in the non-profit-media. And yet this could become the model for many more people. Work is still the golden road to self-realisation. To detach it from the curcuits of capital begs the question on which economy it should rely. It is all too easy to state that through the rise of neoliberalism many sectors of the public sphere are being privatised as well as other resources are getting exploited in an irreversible way, which also means that there are no ways in turning back the clocks. While everybody seems to reluctantly agree on the fact that not much money has been made on the net to date, one keeps betting on a big boom triggered by the global information networks. The main issues at stake here are the emergence of new types of jobs in the service sector and a need for more and lifelong education. Yet, in the same breath, one oversees the existence of a shadow economy of gifts, a do-it-yourself culture of producing public content without prospect of making the big buck. Apart from the small community of net experts which earn their keep with advisory or journalistic work, or the even smaller band which finds their little niches in the art world, the vast majority of small content producers are private individuals which like to publish what they like for the sake of it. This process of democratisation of the means of production, as sore and basic as it is, realises a big dream of many social utopians. The only drawback being that the glory and class consciousness of the new virtual working class does not seem to come very much into existence. While we have all possible tools for more media freedom still in front of us we are often unable to do anything, hypnotized as we are by the pronouncements about the rise of total marketization. Avoiding self-exploitaion and burn-out on the one hand, sell-out and alienation on the other, the exploration of the possible modes of finding work in the new media is a challenging task indeed. While the trap of an ascethic ideal as well as the tragedy of a realised utopia makes you hyper-sensitive against false promises, you still have to work it out. *space* Different kind of spaces deserve different kinds of action. The media space is defined by its participants: there’s no content without social context. And there is no way of defining a media space either without someone accessing it. The problem with spacial metaphors is that they do not normally include any time model. A combination of a time model with a social model, with a definition of the modes of access to a set of media equipment can already be enough to build a model of a small cyberspace. (You can do that at home, like the radio-amateurs in the 20ies did.) It could describe the ways a network can dynamically change, the multipliticity of layers of accessablity, and the diversive ways how to represent a set of datas. It could emphasize the importance of relying on mutually agreed-upon standards, not only in the definition of interfaces between the machines or parts of programs, the software and the hardware, or different pieces of hardware. These same standards also occur on the level of social associations, in form or jargons, marks for orientation, certain conventions of naming and adressing the yet unknown. In this way a cultural space could evolve, which is completly constructed by the definitions and interdependencies of the actors which create it through their actions and decisions. Cyberspace, besides its geographical extension, is a pure social construction. It has as many dimensions as there are nodes within it [male or female?] it is more a vectorial space, or an imaginary one describable by fairly abstract mathematical models far beyond any three dimensional metaphors. To bind a cyberspacial social environment to a physical space therefore may well render the need for a metaphorical architecture obsolete. Through social contacts (and the attention they bring with it) a more fuzzy process of forming a hybrid space which combines the real and the virtual becomes productive. But the connection between the real and the virtual realm will not go smoothly. It is a never ending story of disruptions, bugs in the human-to-human communication, conflicting standards and cultural glitches. The virtual should not become a quasi parallel world, nor should we return to the tactile solidity of the ‘real’ cities, the so-called nature or the social that might have existed once. The temporary workspaces and gatherings we are organizing do not intend to produce a concensus. No constructive solutions here. Our aim should be the design of problems and conflicts, free content, not the synergy of all technical media.