Slaves of the Cyber-Market: An Interview with Geert Lovink

Event Scenes

Editors’ Note: This is the first in a series of event-scenes that will focus on Net Resistance: resistance, that is, emerging from different social, political and national contexts to the ideological hype of tech euphoria.

Slaves of the Cyber-Market: An Interview with Geert Lovink

Geert Lovink, one of Europe’s leading media theorists, has been involved with Mediamatic, Amsterdam’s key cyber-magazine, as well as the squatter pirate radio station, Radio Patapoe. In Europe, Lovink is well-known as the author of various books, including Data Dandy and Squatting the Media. He is also the organizer of two major virtual conferences over the next few months: Interface in Hamburg, Germany and Next Five Minutes in Amsterdam. Lovink works as part of the collective, Adilkno (Agentur Bilwet), along with Arjen Mulder and others. This interview was conducted in German by Arnd Wesemann for Screen Multimedia.

Screen Multimedia: Is the future already over?

Lovink: You can’t have the future every day. Our future is our neo-natural environment. It’s always already over with and we just missed it. The future isn’t some sort of projection room in two or three dimensions – which is why it’s not the case that, if we all work hard, we’ll simply land in the future.

Screen Multimedia: So we’re already in the middle of the future?

Lovink: Square in the middle of the new media. Future and techno-culture are closely related. But it’s a drag that so much is projected on the new media in the techno-culture. As far as we’re concerned, the computer is a utensil prior to the future. New technology comes out of old machines. To this extent the future has already happened. The new is junk left-over from research and the military. All these machines are trash. It doesn’t matter whether someone is working with a computer that is older than five years or newer than a month. In principle, it’s all eternal cyber-repetition. The illusion of speed, and the reality of inertial subjectivity. Refuse the “more” and the “quicker.” Don’t be a slave to “their” cyber-space.

Screen Multimedia: Isn’t the future already programmed?

Lovink: The issue is rather whether computer-nets will become commercial or can free spaces continue to exist? Are there public spaces in the communication nets? How are they organized? The point is that they have to be shaped now and not in five or ten years. The inevitiblity of the computer should no more be allowed than letting television become a life necessity. Which is why it would be better – even if it’s no longer possible – not to be caught up in the computer-net. Only then can the new media offer a useful option. Everything else is coercion.

Screen Multimedia: Can a future without computers be imagined?

Lovink: It’s possible to be on-line without a computer – with the imagination, with drugs. Being on-line is not a hardware question. Finally it all boils down to exciting the senses. What does a four-color, 600-dpi picture do? It excites the senses. What is the computer? It simply has a range of technical ways of jiving up the senses. The virtual senses, that is!

Screen Multimedia: Does radical media critique have a future?

Lovink: Of course. It’s important to carry out a radical criticism of media theory. To be sure, it could be argued that we already have all of that behind us – as if we should simply abandon ourselves to technotopia and try to realize everything imaginable immediately. But the critical aspect is quite interesting. The way of dealing with media in the 80s, a lot of muttering and grumbling only to arrive at a flat rejection, is over and done, finito. There will now be a media-criticism that is finally informed, and which, insofar as this criticism will take place in the nets, will finally be part of the new media themselves.

Screen Multimedia: What is the role of the content of the new media?

Lovink: If you try to analyze media by means of its content, you’re lost. The only tenable position that approach permits is cultural pessimism: here, only the old media were right; the book is the only correct medium, because it’s the only one that can transport content all by itself. We reject this. For us, media are all media; for the new media incorporate all others, parasiting and tying them together.

Screen Multimedia: Is the future an electronic global village?

Lovink: It must be seen that there’s an enormous variety, even in the technoculture – but all this rap about the global village is vastly exaggerated. We’ll never all watch the same films or the same programs or even be trapped in the same nets. The net is also the Tower of Babel, babbling in hundreds of tongues. It’s technically possible to communicate with Japan, but the question is whether we understand Japanese culture or whether the Japanese are interested in communicating with us, and whether it’s useful for either of us. What is the relationship between information and meaning? Is information a terminal exit for understanding? The computer-net is not necessarily a better world. Such media are parodies of the real; researching them is hard work for the datadandy. On average he spends all day and night, and sometimes even longer, being pixeled by TV, the computer screen, and sometimes just being downloaded into the old print medium of the (nostalgic) newspaper. Which is why it’s obvious that to be a media consumer you have to be out of work, and maybe out of life.