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Geert Lovink, My First Recession

Geert Lovink, My First Recession, 2003
Lovink, Geert. — My first recession : critical Internet culture in transition. — Rotterdam : V2_Organisation, Institute for the Unstable Media, 2003. — 296 p. — Includes a bibliography.

In this book, Geert Lovink seeks to define the outward signs of a critical culture specific to the Internet that would counterbalance the growing privatization of Web content. A series of case studies helps clarify the context of this emerging culture in mailing lists and other platforms for on-line distribution. Lovink then uses the findings of his analyses to draw conclusions on the potential (unrealized, he feels) of these media.

In the first chapter, "Post Speculative Internet Theory," Lovink comments on three methods of Internet analysis as a social phenomenon. Hubert L. Dreyfuss represents the conservative-moralistic stance of sociological studies of the Web. Manuel Castells offers a more complex analysis of the infiltration of the Internet into public and private institutions. Lawrence Lesig, for his part, warns of the dangers of a corporate takeover of the Web, which originally boasted an open structure. However, Lovink asserts that these often polarized analyses ignore the phenomenon of parallel networks. In the second chapter, "Anatomy of Dotcom Mania," Lovink describes the e-commerce boom between 1990 and 2000, as well as the bursting of this bubble with the fall of stocks for new technologies. He also discusses different theoretical points of view put forward during the expansion of the so-called New Economy. In the third chapter, "Deep Europe and the Kosovo Conflict," Lovink presents his first case study of a parallel network: the Syndicate mailing list created in 1996, and the project Deep Europe, which forged ties between communities in Western and Eastern Europe. By supplementing his analysis with posts from the mailing list, Lovink shows how this network gradually opened up to people outside the media arts community. The involvement of outsiders intensified during NATO interventions in Kosovo when Syndicate served an alternative news media. In 2000, Syndicate shut down as the result of "trolls" saturating the list with encrypted messages. Lovink details the issues raised by the rapid expansion of a collectively developed forum exposed to this type of information overload. In the fourth chapter, "Principles of Streaming Sovereignty," Lovink maps the use of streaming media and webcasts by groups of artists and activists. He zeroes in on the Xchange network created in Riga, Latvia, in 1997, which spawned many collaborative projects between people in regions separated by great distance. By exploring the initiatives of the network’s members, Lovink attempts to define streaming through the activities that this type of distribution (direct data exchange and file sharing) encourages rather than from a strictly media or technological perspective (bandwidth speed, resolution of incoming data). In the fifth chapter, "The Battle Over New Media Education," Lovnik looks at the recent emergence of departments of new media studies at universities. From interviews with professors, Lovink assesses the two most popular educational approaches in this field. The first method of teaching disregards technical training in order to familiarize students with the theoretical aspects of new media. The second approach, which is more tailored to market demand, stresses the mastering of computer skills. For his part, Lovink believes the programs in place should be rethought in keeping with new paradigms that do not arise from a cinema-based production model or from a theoretical bias.

The sixth chapter, "Oekonux and the Free-Software Mode," examines the ins and outs of distributing open-source software through alternative networks. In particular, Lovink delves into the German mailing list Oekonux, whose participants have discussed a public licence for using open-source software, which, according to them, represents a model for a new type of economy. Lovink underlines the intricacy of the technological and cultural plans in such a forum for exchange where the on-line discussion becomes a metaphor for a future society. In the seventh chapter, "Defining Open Publishing," Lovink analyzes the phenomenon of weblogs, messaging platforms that are generally replacing the mailing lists popular in the nineties. In his conclusion, Lovink reviews the state of a parallel Internet culture when, according to him, its most subversive elements belong to the past. He opens the discussion by stating that software, with its ability to blend into the context of use, can mediate between social experiences and technological possibilities.

Vincent Bonin © 2004 FDL