This short text was written for the publication our Publishing MA students are doing; Click of Time: Reflections on the Digital Age, aimed at a wider audience, also as marketing material for the great work the MA is doing! Hope our planned new MA Cultures of the Digital Economy can do the same (we hope its running in September 2011).
6 Theses Concerning the Digital Economy and Creative Industries
1. There are already too many theses concerning new media culture. Since its inception, new media, new technologies and the presumed new economies have been the object of wild fantasies, unrealistic aspirations and wet dreams. As much as with the utopian discourses concerning the industrial revolution, the post-industrial, digital revolution was seen at least since the 1990s as the big turn. The assumption: everything changes. We need new signposts, new coordinates and new ways of thinking. The project of humanities was to become the market branding team for the new technological and economic revolution. Still remember Nicholas Negroponte? Still remember the enthusiasm of Mondo 2000, early Wired and others? Still remember the drastic changes from atoms to worlds of bits that was supposed to be changing the way we think about the world?
2. There is not much new about new media. Not that I want to say that its all been there before, however, to paraphrase a Finnish social scientist Mika Pantzar, nothing is so worn out and old than the continuous talk of the new. Indeed; part of the boom since the 1990s, when everything was supposed to change, was the methodological and consistent forgetting of history. Hence, it is no wonder that in the midst of the 1990s boom such new fields as media archaeology that investigated the complex relations and borrowings from the old of new media culture emerged. Oh yes, the new has been before. The old was once new too.
3. There is not much new about new technologies. Much of the dream machines that are supposed to bring new value, new ideas, new connectivity are actually based on old ideas. The computer is not really that new media, but born in the after wake of WW II. The network society has been emerging since the 1960s; email and information capital since the 1970s. 1960s and 1970s research labs came up with the ideas of mobile content, ebooks, collaboration with online documents, a variety of graphical user interfaces and tele-work. The principle of the Web was mapped in the early 1990s; the assumption seems to be that we just need constant upgrading to keep up and keep the idea lucrative for the business discourse (Web 2.0, Web 3.0, Web 4.0…). What we are living in is less a culture of new technologies, but a culture of upgrading as the constant logic of futurity of capitalism.
4. There is nothing much new about the new, digital economy. This is what the 1990s dot.com bubble-become-crash was all about (not coming up with any real income streams and business models) and this is what the current hype about digital economy is about in different fashion. Not surprisingly, the most interesting perspectives on the ‘new’ economy are able to point about how it draws on some seemingly ancient forms of power and political economy. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, perhaps the most recognized critics of contemporary capitalism, talk about the return of the rent as a primary mode of extraction of value from the commons; writers such as Matteo Pasquinelli brand our age as one of digital neo-feudalism where the ownership of the infrastructure of communications remains tightly in the hands of few ‘landlords’ while facing ‘a multitude of cognitive workers forced to ‘creativity’.’ The digital economy seems to be a promise of a generalised mode of productive forces from the media to the universities combined with creative industries; however, supportive mechanisms for such fields are at the same time being drastically reduced as with the funding cuts to universities.
5. Creativity is no automatic bliss. Working overtime without compensation, having no other means of income generation besides your skills, brains, bodies and health, being forced into precarious jobs without a promise of a steady income – this characterises as much the contemporary digital economy as does the celebration of crowd-sourcing, collaborative work, participatory culture. Increasingly, the ideas of collaboration, openness and creativity are being harnessed as part of economic doctrines in a manner of parasitic adaptation. I have referred to this earlier as ‘viral capitalism’ – the power of adaptation, subsumption and viral attachments through which critical ideas are turned as part of accumulative value creation. What is often less talked about is labour – the work put into creativity, which is not only a sudden burst of inspiration but takes time, energy and such resources that are not directly monetary but still essential for value creation. The digital artisans are not automatically the new ‘happy class’, but ridden with new mental and physical symptoms of the digital economy; work fatigue, family problems due to overtime, stress-related new disease syndromes…
6. Much of the talk about digital economy is not really that much about the digital. Paradoxically, the systematic and even discriminatory identification of the digital with its technological and mathematical roots misses the point. The Digital Economy Bill and other initiatives by the Government are keen on building infrastructures and maintaining through such hard(ware) measures the competitiveness of the British economy vis-à-vis other networked countries. As part of this and the economic crisis of 2008-2009, the emphasis on sustaining STEM (mathematics, science, ICT and design technology) subjects has also grown; these are seen as the key fields for the future of the digital Britain, whereas the constant attacks against arts and humanities have targeted the wider groups of digital artisans and their expertise. There is no denying that the humanities of the future (oh well, today as well) need to be a new kind of mix between science, technology and critical, historical humanities epistemologies. Yet, the reliance on the primacy of STEM misses the rhizomes. Digital creativity does not grow only of laboratories of computers and such, but from rhizomatic, spreading, uncontained laboratories of experimentality, thinking and artistic methodologies. This is where the computer culture was born – from new alliances of the avant-garde arts and media labs and that is where the new ideas for exciting futures should come from. We need more Stockhausen, Stelarc and Eno – less Gates, Zuckerberg and Mandelsson.
Operational Media: Functional Design Trends Online
Tuesday, February 16, 17.00-18.30, Helmore 252 at Anglia Ruskin, East Road, Cambridge
Two prominent visions have guided the development of Internet technology from its beginning: the never-ending information space of creativity and information; and the networked tool for action. Now that markets for media production and search are saturated and stalling, second generation web tech has shifted focus to media that helps people make decisions and get things done. This lecture provides an introduction to key issues in the information design and software engineering of operational media.
Bio: J. Nathan Matias is a software engineer and humanities academic based in Cambridge, UK. His work focuses on enhancing human capabilities and understanding with digital media. Recent work has included digital history exhibits, work in online documentary, research on visual collaboration, and a visual knowledge startup. He currently spends half of his time as a software engineer on SMS information services for the Knowledge Generation Bureau, and half on digital media projects.
>A guest talk by professor Richard Grusin, the co-author of Remediation, and the author of Premediation
>Thursday 14 January, at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (East Road)
Organized by ArcDigital and sponsored by CoDE — the Cultures of the Digital Economy-institute
4 pm, room: Hel 251
Premediation, Affect and the Anticipation of Security
In this talk professor Grusin will explore how in our current biopolitical regime of securitization, socially networked media transactions are fostered and encouraged by mobilizing or intensifying pleasurable affects in the production of multiple, overlapping feedback loops among people (individually and collectively) and their media. Grusin outlines how, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, social media, like cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, or YouTube, encourage different historical formations of mediated affect. This distribution of affectivity across heterogeneous social networks or assemblages is coupled to the framework of securitization, which helps to explain why these particular socially networked media formations have emerged at this particular historical moment. The talk concludes with a discussion of the political implications of this security regime—what it means for the explosive growth of socially networked media after 9/11 to have as one of its many consequences the proliferation of media transactions or interactions, which help to “vitalize” the political formation of securitization. If mediality today employs the strategies of premediation to mobilize individual and collective affect in a society of security and control, then we need to look at the ways in which premediation deploys an affectivity of anticipation that functions to vitalize the regime of securitization that has replaced surveillance as the predominant disciplinary formation of our control society. Our everyday transactions of mediation, transportation, and communication are encouraged for security purposes not only by making them easy and readily available but also by making them affectively pleasurable—or at least not unpleasurable, by maintaining low levels of affective intensity that provide a kind of buffer or safe space, a form of security, in relation to an increasingly threatening global media environment.
Richard Grusin is Professor of English at Wayne State University. His more recent work concerns historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of technologies of visual representation. With Jay David Bolter he is the author of Remediation: Understanding New Media (MIT, 1999), which sketches out a genealogy of new media, beginning with the contradictory visual logics underlying contemporary digital media. Grusin’s Culture, Technology, and the Creation of America’s National Parks (Cambridge, 2004), focuses on the problematics of visual representation involved in the founding of America’s national parks. He has just completed his new book Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. (forthcoming 2010)
Digital culture is one of “nondescript animals”, or if one wants to be a bit less poetic, “nondescript objects.” Originally, “nondescripts” were such animals that fell outside the analytical labeling system in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Later, as Michelle Henning points out in her Museums, Media and Cultural Theory, such anomalies were “apt rather to appeal to casual curiosity-seekers”.
As a category of anomality, such nondescripts are what puzzle and do not fit in. They are in tension between cognitive and affective categories, borrowing elements from what seems too many directions. They are not neat, nice and they do not make sense. We have headaches because of them, and I am not just talking about academics or businessmen trying to figure out best ways to extract value of such weird objects of for example p-2-p-culture.
This is why such objects of digital culture are often seen as “hybrids” or for example mixings of cultural and computational (Manovich). Nondescripts are more than just objects, as they are processual foldings of so many scales and layers that their ontological status remains puzzling. This applies to their status as objects as much as to the workflows and routines in settings where digital objects are created and passed on; design studios, game companies, service operators, etc.
The emergence of the new research institute CoDE – the Cultures of the Digital Economy is for me a vehicle to reach such nondescripts of which our contemporary culture is constituted. I was appointed as its Director starting January 1st, 2010, and in that role I see myself as a cartographer of nondescripts.
The nondescripts are everywhere. Value creation and business models are filled with such weird objects that copyright law and such are trying to pin down often with archaic models. Cultural interaction turns puzzling with communities, communication, and even modes of emotional engagement from friendship (think of Facebook) to sex being mediated through software platforms. Cultural memory does not escape nondescripts either, with materiality of the objects being embedded in new forms of social media, distributed archives and heterogeneous access methodologies. Its no wonder we see a continuous emergence of neologisms that try to grab the complexity of such trends; media ecologies, media archaeologies, and such, all trying to flag the multiplicity of ties both horizontally and temporally.
In terms of CoDE’s remit, there are various directions we could go. In addition to several essential ones, the institute is a good way to take into account:
- - transdisciplinarity. To excavate such research themes but also knowledge transfer contacts that fall outside the disciplinary boundaries. Not just between disciplines, but in-between as a space of nondescripts. The UK has a great history of art and science collaboration (think of for example the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the London ICA curated by Jasia Reichardt and in general the history of British cybernetics).
- - Software objects and studies. As part of the possible future(s) of media studies, software studies is in a crucial relay position to tie together a variety of ways of tackling with the ontology of where we are now. Software, automated cultural processes, new ways of creation of visual and sonic content, programmability, articulation of politics in and through software embedded contexts, etc. is the stuff of “cultural” studies – or should we say “not-just-cultural-studies.” Just like good media theory is always “not-just-media-theory”, any engagement with contemporary culture realizes the extent to which it is articulated through software.
- - Old/new/dead media. We should not let the newness of digital culture fool us. It is new as a temporal phenomena, whereas too often the newness of new media has been non-temporal, almost like a void. Old media is going nowhere, and new media is the one that takes care of that – paradoxically. The short term innovations are embedded in the longue durée of history of uses and ideas – what media archaeologists have referred to as the history of recurring topoi (Huhtamo) and deep time history (Zielinski.) This is where digital culture and economy are not only about the digital; but about media culture as a beehive of innovation of ways of seeing, hearing, feeling and where “old media” is a continuous archive for such ideas.
- - Creative practice and theory intertwinings. CoDE needs to extend research from pure theory/written research into a variety of other modalities in terms of optical, sonic and other media modes of creation. Research-creation. Here again the reaching out to what the 1990s called “creative industries” and what is rebranded as part of “digital economy” (even if also the government seems to be really uncertain what this means) is an essential component of academic collaboration. The Cambridge area of technology and related industries that are strong e.g. in entertainment (thinking of games here) is still a buzzing arena for collaboration.
This is where I see “nondescripts” also as passages and vehicles that transport research outside the academia as well. They are transversal in the sense Félix Guattari talked about transversal relations that are able to cut across normalized hierarchical organizational relations. Institutions and institutes do not necessarily have to solidify, but can be based on principles of circulation, mobility and a sense of vitality that does not lack in criticality either.
To conclude, a short insert on the emerging research streams of CoDE:
The Cultures of Digital Economy (CoDE) Institute embeds research streams in artistic and cultural approaches to digital technologies. It emphasises cultures in the plural, and uses creative practice as the motor for value creation in digital environments. Its research projects, business and community engagement and learning collaborations emphasise this innovative, critical, and creative approach to the digital economy. The research is by nature transdisciplinary –between and across disciplinary boundaries – and probes new opportunities to cultivate innovative approaches to new information, media, and communication content, platforms, and networks.
CoDE has four key Research Streams:
1. Social media and Network Politics
The ubiquity of networking, social media and web 2.0 in everyday life means new positives and pitfalls in building social relationships, value creation, and knowledge production, and in highlighting politics and activism. CoDE is dedicated to analysing emerging forms of peer-to-peer activity, social collaboration, and remix culture through a combination of established and experimental research methods.
2. Digital Performance and Production
With the establishment of Anglia Ruskin’s Digital Performance Lab and a strong cluster of research productive staff, CoDE will develop and grow innovative research in music and embodied performance in digital environments. From creative practice research to the development of new interfaces and applications for music production this stream thrives on rapid changes to sonic economies and creative communities fostered by digital interfaces, immersive environments, and wearable technologies.
3. Digital Humanities – Archives, Interfaces, Tools
Rethinking humanities in the age of new media is a crucial and unavoidable challenge for academics worldwide. From new theoretical approaches to innovative modes of distribution, archiving, and accessing of material, CoDE research projects tackle complex questions posed by efforts to digitize forms of cultural heritage, intellectual archives, and humanities-based forms of critical and creative work.
4. Play and Serious Gaming
Digital culture is by its nature playful. Gaming does not only represent a mode of entertainment and a new form of interactivity that gives rise to new practical and theoretical tools, but also a way of rethinking learning and education. Including everything from visual effects to serious gaming, this research stream brings together SMEs, informal programming communities, interface developers and designers. It will create new opportunities for Cambridge’s existing and emerging strengths in the gaming industry to collaborate and will explore the future that these technologies hold.
Code is Directed by Dr Jussi Parikka, Reader in Media Theory & History at Anglia Ruskin,
Co-Director: Dr Samantha Rayner
Research Fellow: Dr Greg Elmer
CoDE has over 50 affiliated staff members from across a range of disciplines: from computing to media theory, creative music technologies to creative visual practices and much more.
>The creation of a research institute is itself a media ecology – a flood of processes, negotiations, talks, emails, phone calls and such; negotiations of people being placed and displaced, of belongings and outings. Who owns their heads, and their work time; true biopolitics of arranging things. Its what constitutes research in the current world: its mostly arranging stuff to such positions to be called research.
To call it multidisciplinary might be asking for it, but calling it transdisciplinary also risks falling between disciplines in a way that is not romanticized in any booklet on the need for interdisciplinary culture to sustain creative industries. The complexity of getting it working is , well, complex. To be “trans” is indeed risking it as any such huge system as higher education demands a fair amount of recognizability before it gives you necessary access and passage.
How to make it work? How to move on from a romantics of nomadism to a sustainability of movement as a strategy for research institutions? First of all, one needs to recognize that moving outside borders does not mean moving without some borders. Movement itself becomes constitutive of bordering, and tracking lines that were perhaps invisible before but nevertheless effective. This is what institutions are made of, in addition to the walls usually too ugly to be but ridiculed; patterns, habits, “the ways we do things.”
The movement can however become a bordering that is not creating rigid lines that want to stay there just to see the landscape change, but to sustain the dynamics of the energies put into that action. To see the movement reach its peak, and turn into something else. Institutions are not necessarily bad, but we have to envision such forms of institutions that suit our action. Its clear that not many of the old ones are up for the job.
Secondly, you talk in languages, and use languages to deterritorialize positions. You have to find again such passages and access, which you can use as vectors, not positions. Positioning is not what we need; we need vectors.
Thirdly, in the midst of such vectors, you need a minimum amount of identity. As said, things feed on recognizability, whether we want it or not. And for that, you launch numerous emails, actions, requests and meetings which produce logos, slogans, further patterns. Another media ecology.
Fourthly, you need routines. Patterns are mentioned as well, but it’s the routines that make up the borders and settings. Set up the dispositifs; the meetings, the schedules, the arrangement for temporal cycles to turn into action plans, or other ways to control time.
Fifth, fill in with anything considered necessary________________