Californian Ideology

There are Alternatives
Track 4

Despite its claims to universality, the Californian Ideology was developed by a group of people living within one specific country following a particular choice of socio-economic and technological development. Their eclectic blend of conservative economics and hippie libertarianism reflects the history of the West Coast - and not the inevitable future of the rest of the world. The hi- tech neo-liberals proclaim that there is only one road forward. Yet, in reality, debate has never been more possible or more necessary. The Californian model is only one among many.

Within the European Union, the recent history of France provides practical proof that it is possible to use state intervention alongside market competition to nurture new technologies and to ensure their benefits are diffused among the population as a whole.

Following the victory of the Jacobins over their liberal opponents in 1792, the democratic republic in France became the embodiment of the 'general will'. As such, the state had to represent the interests of all citizens, rather than just protect the rights of individual property-owners. The French revolution went beyond liberalism to democracy. Emboldened by this popular legitimacy, the government is able to influence industrial development.

For instance, the MINITEL network built up its critical mass of users through the nationalised telco giving away free terminals. Once the market had been created, commercial and community providers were then able to find enough customers to thrive. Learning from the French experience, it would seem obvious that European and national bodies should exercise more precisely targeted regulatory control and state direction over the development of hypermedia, rather than less.

The lesson of MINITEL is that hypermedia within Europe should be developed as a hybrid of state intervention, capitalist entrepreneurship and d.i.y. culture. No doubt the 'infobahn' will create a mass market for private companies to sell existing information commodities - films, tv programmes, music and books - across the Net. Once people can distribute as well as receive hypermedia, a flourishing of community media, niche markets and special interest groups will emerge. However, for all this to happen the state must play an active part. In order to realise the interests of all citizens, the 'general will' must be realised at least partially through public institutions.

About the site