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Richard Barbrook
Andy Cameron
Wired
Californian Ideology
neo-liberalism
John Perry Barlow
Louis Rossetto


The Rebirth of the Modern
part 10

Even if it is not in circumstances of their own choosing, it is now necessary for Europeans to assert their own vision of the future. There are varying ways forward towards the information society - and some paths are more desirable than others. In order to make an informed choice, European digital artisans need to develop a more coherent analysis of the impact of hypermedia than can be found within the ambiguities of the Californian Ideology. The members of the European 'virtual class' must create their own distinctive self-identity.

This alternative understanding of the future starts from a rejection of any form of social apartheid - both inside and outside cyberspace. Any programme for developing hypermedia must ensure that the whole population can have access to the new on-line services. In place of New Left or New Right anarchism, a European strategy for developing the new information technologies must openly acknowledge the inevitability of some form of mixed economy - the creative and antagonistic mix of state, corporate and d.i.y. initiatives. The indeterminacy of the digital future is a result of the ubiquity of this mixed economy within the modern world. No one knows exactly what the relative strengths of each component will be, but collective action can ensure that no social group is deliberately excluded from cyberspace.

A European strategy for the information age must also celebrate the creative powers of the digital artisans. Because their labour cannot be deskilled or mechanised, members of the 'virtual class' exercise great control over their own work. Rather than succumbing to the fatalism of the Californian Ideology, we should embrace the Promethean possibilities of hypermedia. Within the limitations of the mixed economy, digital artisans are able to invent something completely new - something which has not been predicted in any sci- fi novel. These innovative forms of knowledge and communications will sample the achievements of others, including some aspects of the Californian Ideology. It is now impossible for any serious movement for social emancipation not to include demands for feminism, drug culture, gay liberation, ethnic identity and other issues pioneered by West Coast radicals. Similarly, any attempt to develop hypermedia within Europe will need some of the entrepreneurial zeal and can-do attitude championed by the Californian New Right. Yet, at the same time, the development of hypermedia means innovation, creativity and invention. There are no precedents for all aspects of the digital future.

As pioneers of the new, the digital artisans need to reconnect themselves with the theory and practice of productive art. They are not just employees of others - or even would-be cybernetic entrepreneurs. They are also artist-engineers - designers of the next stage of modernity. Drawing on the experience of the Saint- Simonists and Constructivists, the digital artisans can create a new machine aesthetic for the information age [48]. For instance, musicians have used computers to develop purely digital forms of music, such as jungle and techno [49]. Interactive artists have explored the potentiality of CD-rom technologies, as shown by the work of ANTI- rom. The Hypermedia Research Centre has constructed an experimental virtual social space called J's Joint [50]. In each instance, artist-engineers are trying to push beyond the limitations of both the technologies and their own creativity. Above all, these new forms of expression and communications are connected with the wider culture. The developers of hypermedia must reassert the possibility of rational and conscious control over the shape of the digital future. Unlike the elitism of the Californian Ideology, the European artist-engineers must construct a cyberspace which is inclusive and universal. Now is the time for the rebirth of the Modern.

'Present circumstances favour making luxury national. Luxury will become useful and moral when it is enjoyed by the whole nation. The honour and advantage of employing directly, in political arrangements, the progress of exact sciences and the fine arts...have been reserved for our century.' [51]


Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron are members of the Home of the , London.

We would like to thank Andrej kerlep, Dick Pountain, Helen Barbrook, Les Levidow, Jeremy Quinn, Jim McLellan, John Barker, John Wyver, Rhiannon Patterson and the members of the HRC for their help in writing this article.

 
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