New media/information technologies, practices and processes have undoubtedly made a huge difference to our traditional understanding of media. The crucial question – one that perhaps underlies so many other important questions, from shifting relationships to the new terrors and new wars – is, of course, what kind of difference. Yet the question of what this difference is remains unresolved. After at least a decade of serious debate about the defining qualities of new/digital/networked media, we are left with the perhaps more exciting task of engaging with the specificity of events as they emerge. Indeed, this seems the point. The intensity of differentiation intrinsic to media seems somewhat hostile to stable media/information technologies, practices or thinking. A more pliable thinking about media/information events is now required than one constrained by the traditional divisions often still found in academic, media, information, computer sciences and related industries. At the same time, media differentiations are not easily disengaged with the past, although the specificity of media events complicates their relations to the past. A challenge to contemporary thinking also has to account for the persistence and mutation of the past, as if refracted by shattered glass, in the current divergence of media/information events. As Trebor Scholz notes in this issue of the Fibreculture Journal, ‘there is no such thing as one stable new media industry and the required skill sets are constantly shifting. A fixed identity of the artist as it may have been possible for filmmakers, for example, is no longer possible. In new media job opportunities drift from the VJ turntable, VR lab, and the local non-profit organisation to the theatre stage’.
All this is reflected in Issue 3 of the Fibreculture Journal. We are very pleased to publish not only an appropriately diverse series of articles in this general issue for 2004, but also a series of articles that attend in some detail to diversity as an issue itself. The articles here do not just consider diversity as a pre-existing collection of different forms, but pay attention to ongoing processes of formation, divergence and mutation. Belinda Barnet’s interview with the well-known evolutionary biologist (and cornet collector!), Niles Eldredge, concerns ‘the dynamic at work behind cultural evolution’. Eldredge and Barnet discuss the differences between biological and techno-cultural evolution, giving some valuable insights into the specific dynamics of the latter. Trebor Scholz discusses the promotion of different forms of “free cooperation” – collaborative processes, structures and technologies that allow for a socially responsive diversity to emerge outside of the corporatisation of education and social engagements. Describing a series of practices from his first-hand experience of promoting new forms of collaboration, Scholz wonders how we can ‘invent our own future’, with ‘more independent learning projects that orient themselves towards radically new configurations of communities based on sharing and cooperation’. This is a take on education and technology very different to the homogenising corporate and governmental mentalities of ‘audit culture’ (Strathern). In a slightly different register, Phillip Roe problematises a number of concepts central to new media/information theory. In particular he critiques the notion of “reading” the interface. He argues that this notion is based upon a print model of textuality, and seeks to begin to define a ‘post-print’ model. He writes that, ‘What is obscured in the naturalisation of the print model of textuality are the technological dimensions of textuality: that all textual models are technologies. This print model has become so naturalised that it “disappears”‘. This naturalisation avoids both what he calls the ‘dis-ease’ in the interface, and the possibilities of the post-print model (for example, in three-dimensional immersion). Séamus Byrne gives a detailed analysis of the informational side of this ‘post-print’ model, celebrating that which makes some uneasy. He describes the struggles involved in the google bomb, the attempt to influence rankings of search topics within google. He argues that we should be less anxious about this kind of event, instead celebrating it in terms of ‘the widely accessible power that still exists on the web for those who care to engage with it’.
Several articles concern the way that media/informational divergences and mutations have allowed for changes in important cultural practices. José van Dijck asks whether ‘lifelogs and blogging [can] be considered the digital counterpart of what used to be a paper diary and diary writing’. Her answer to this question is subtle, hinged as it is upon a refined understanding of the already intense relations between the private, the intimate and the public or communal in the diary. Although this is perhaps intensified further in lifelogs and blogging, blogs do not simply replace the singular or the private with the interactive and communal – there has always been an interplay between them. In a somewhat similar vein, Kylie Veale’s ‘Online Memorialisation’ reminds us just how far cultural processes have moved onto the Internet, with a detailed description of online practices of mourning and remembering the dead. Veale attends to what is different in these practices, but also to what is brought across from the offline. This is a significant development for Internet culture (there’s no culture without the dead). Veale also reminds us that in ‘a society that is increasingly fragmented and where families and friends, often separated by significant distances, cannot actively participate in physical memorialisation’, the online provides a useful form of adaptation, not only for information about the dead, but for the affective expression of the persistence of the past, even in the rapidly differentiating present. In ‘The Online Body Breaks Out’, Jonathan Marshall develops the concept of ‘asence’, a real condition of the body somewhere between presence and absence. Marshall also provides a detailed critique of assumptions about the body online, as well as an anthropological description of what really happens regarding the body in networks. Again, the differentiating series of processes that involve the body online still calls for concepts, but perhaps for more contingent concepts that are themselves in some ways ‘asent’.
The Fibreculture Journal is once again grateful to those who continue to contribute to its smooth operation: those who have submitted material, those who work on the editorial committee and board and, of course, those who have given their time and expertise to the process of refereeing.
The Fibreculture Journal has an ambitious year planned for 2005, with 6 issues. The themes are: Mobility, Precarious Labour, Contagion and the Diseases of Information, Distributed Aesthetics, Games Networks, and we hope New Pedagogies for New Media. If it is true, as Bernard Stiegler has suggested, that the globalisation of media/information technologies is providing an unprecedented series of interventions in the basics of democracy, education, thought and memory, we take it as our task to continue explaining this intervention in the future. More than this, we hope that you will come with us in attempting to intervene in these interventions.
Strathern, Marilyn. Audit Culture: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy (London: Routledge, 2000).
Stiegler, Bernard. ‘Our Ailing Educational Institutions’, Culture Machine 5, http://culturemachine.tees.ac.uk/Cmach/Backissues/j005/Articles/Stiegler.htm