More Networks, Less Internet?

When I started this blog 6 years ago, the internet was still a poster boy for freedom. Anyone could publish or access anything, anywhere, anytime. We were all pretty amazed by how “far” we had come. Surfing the waves of neoliberal postermodernism, we celebrated the right of individual freedom online, free from physical constraints. Free knowledge for all! We were all living the American dream. Or something.

So, at that time, it seemed almost irrelevant to talk about other networks for communication. Even so, I was writing a paper on the Amiga music scene in the 1990s, and what it could teach us about the future of copyright and distribution. Amiga musicians formed a teenage folk culture that effectively worked outside of the “music industry” and its long arms of the law.

While this seemed more like a historical curiosity at the time, these issues are now becoming relevant again. We’re starting to question “the internet” again, although our behaviours are still pretty much the same. We silently agree to mass surveillance by continuing to use platforms infected by spyware and backdoors, through infrastructure that analyzes and profits from that information.

I’m not sure we should be surprised. Maybe we should be more surprised that we had this “digital wild west” in the first place. I mean, we were able to reach billions of people at almost no cost at all, with very little control from corporate or public institutions. Is that a realistic situation? Well, for companies that work with “personlized content” and authorities who need to “fight terrorism”, or stock market bots that predict the future, it’s most definitely not.

In 2006 Alexander Galloway wrote that the internet was always about control, and not freedom. I assume that there’s more understanding for that statement today, compared to 8 years ago when YouTube was all the rage. Not only because of all the surveillance scandals, but because of an increased interest in net politics and new materialism. There is a need to understand the technology and the politics, to deal with things like net neutrality, hobby surveillance, drones, censorship algorithms, bots, IP, spam, etc. 

Many recent attempts at creating alternative networks have not been so successful (as in big). But there’s been many successful attempts in the past, and I for one would love to read more about it. So I’m glad that Lori Emerson is writing a book on other networks, and that Kevin Driscoll is writing a dissertation on hobbyist networks 1977-1997. And I know that Jörgen Skågeby is doing interesting work on software distribution with cassettes.

There is probably a lot more out there. But most of the research done in this field has been made by enthusiasts so far. They usually get the details right, but lack a certain critical distance. It often gets retro-romantic rather than future-fantastic. But these old networks can be an inspiration for the future!

Just look at the Amiga music scene. They used open file formats, free distribution, a distributed informal copyright system, and its own kind of infrastructure combining bulletin boards and postal mail. It was a small-scale network of like-minded people with no worries about big business hindering your work. It wouldn’t surprise me if such networks became more common again.

So, here’s to a 2014 full of BBS theory, Fidonet history, real sharing economies, low-tech infrastructures and platform politics. Bring it on!

3 Responses to “More Networks, Less Internet?”

  1. Peter Swimm (@peterswimm) Says:

    Who would’ve thunk that AOL style internet would’ve won after all. The one good thing about modern internet is how annoying everything is. Annoyance is a good sign that you are being expose to ideas that are different to what you commonly accept.

    • goto80 Says:

      Yeah, can be. But for myself, I know I’m not exposing myself to enough “wrong” ideas. I think it’s fair to atleast partly blame the internetz.

  2. Birds / Drones - Princes of Ubiquity Says:

    […] Technology, and especially information technology, has never been (and will never be) neutral. Also at Transmediale and festivals alike there has been an extensive debate on this. Instead of another debate, this workshop offers a practice-based reflection. A hans-on approach of what almost seem dirty or obsolete tools (but which aren’t, e.g. the unix terminal, a bss) is crucial. It reminded of the meaning and role of ‘arts and crafts’ in the ate 19th century as not solely an artistic movement but at least as much a political and economic one, and the recently published essay by Evgeny Morozov as a harsh morozovian critique on the maker movement. Instead of getting all our hobby-time into 3D-printing or urban agriculture, or regressively withdrawing into quitling bees and knitting clubs to “join the revolution”, it might be far more urgent to get our hands on the network and our devices that are connected to it. A nice quest for more insight in and experimentation with obsolete network technologies can be found in what I regarded as Goto80′s new years resolution: More Networks, Less Internet. […]

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