netz.macht.kultur - interview with web activist Geert Lovink
"Culture is a part of society - and society has long become digital"
Dr. Geert Lovink is media scientist, web activist and heads up the Institute of Network Cultures at the Hogeschool in Amsterdam. He speaks about "digital culture - the human being as an actor in the digital society".
What effect will digitalisation have on cultural politics in future?
The digitalisation been somewhat completed and in a way you can say that this process will soon be finished. Digitalisation has no future, so to speak. It is now. In Germany, computers have been present for over 60 years. Thus, we have to stop projecting these technologies into a certain future. The same applies to cultural politics even though the cultural industry has been particularly slow - which is interesting but this it not the case any more. Culture is not an exception, no separate way nor an anachronism. Culture is a part of society - and society has long become digital.
Which measures do cultural politics have to apply in times of the digital age?
I plead for laziness and doing nothing. The idea that we have to act on it, behave in a certain way or to deal with it... stop it! Either you get on it or you don't. The time has passed when we had to explain to each other how the Internet works. That was long ago, 15 years ago. We can also stop moral politics. People use it anyway no matter what cultural politics say about it. However, what cultural politics can do is to support software development and the underlying art practice. It is really advanced in Germany. What Europe needs is more visibility of such projects.
People don't need any more web culture from above. Instead, we need exports of network culture from below. On a worldwide level. Just take a look at the strong privacy movement in Germany. It's great how many are participating! Exporting is the anwer, much like the high Wikipedia involvement in Germany. How are you doing this, everybody wants to know...
It cannot only be those long winter evenings.
Which question has to be answered most urgently for the digital society of the future?
Clearly the individual status of what the individual will be made of. The online subject is mangled between the growing individualism on the one hand and the see-through person of our mass society on the other hand. You could say that this movement is nothing new but it takes place regardless of what any detached sociologists say about it. The answer to ethical quesetions that arise from this matter are not so easy to answer.
To what extent will digital communication take the place of real communication? What are the limitations of digital communication?
Ah yes, the romanticism of reality. Totally forgot about it. Perfect communication didn't exist in the past and it doesn't exist now. Of course it is a good thing to meet in real life at a real place. That's why there are so many congress meetings, coffee places, airlines and hotels where everyone is linked in using smartphones. The limitations of digital communication are self-inflicted by companies.
Which role to social networks play in your everyday-life?
I used to have more than enough social life on the web prior to Facebook and Twitter. I regard social media primarily as software functionalities and not as platforms. I don't like these centralised websites.
Would you call yourself web optimist or sceptic? Are there any digital developments that scare you or which you welcome in particular?
I belong to the faction of radical pragmatists. Negative in thinking, proactive in acting. What we are trying in Amsterdam at the Institute of Network Cultures and in other places is what we call web critique. Reviews on the Internet, even in Germany, have regarded the medium as a hype - as something that comes up and goes away. The project Net Criticism on the other hand clearly states: The Internet is here to stay - no matter what happens to the protocols, the influence of mobile devices and the limitations that companies or states may apply.
This has something idealistic of course. Everything vanishes, even the Internet. Yet we have refrain from cultural relativism. There are too many arguments for an engaged, critical and radical involvement. The times of general verdicts are over. We are currently in the age of mass consumption. Many intellectuals, scientists but also cultural wisemen are not yet ready to perceive this reality as it is. That's their problem, however.
Dr. Geert Lovink, *1959, media scientist and web activist, head of the Institute of Network Cultures at the Hogeschool Amsterdam, professor at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.