Dark Fibre (Tracking Critical Internet Culture)

By Lisa Nakamura, 5 November 2002

Lisa Nakamura on Geert Lovink's new book Dark Fibre

What happened to internet culture in the nineties? How was it transformed into an ‘amorphous form of almightiness’, what impact does this have upon artists, activists, and everyday users, and is there anything that we can do about it? Geert Lovink knows and in Dark Fibre: Tracking Critical Internet Culture he tells us. Lovink has a unique position among cyberculture critics; as a founder of the nettime mailing list he has had a privileged role in a long standing community of European new media critics and scholars. The increasing cultural cachet of nettime within American academic contexts will no doubt appeal to readers who wish to appear on the cutting edge of net critique. Lovink’s singular position within cyberculture studies is reflected in his writing style, which is hilariously snarky in regards to corporate net culture and also offers some dense and critical insights. This book is immensely thoughtprovoking and generative, especially for American readers who are fairly ignorant of European new media theory.

Lovink looks at media-poor parts of the world such as Delhi, Kosovo, and Albania to trace media’s workings on the ground. This approach is typical of the book as a whole: it deals with the real internet, not some abstract and apolitical ‘cyberspace’. Many of the chapters were written as nettime posts in dialogue with other nettime members, some of whose posts are also reprinted here, and others in this volume have been translated into English for the first time. Many English speaking readers will get their first exposure to Lovink’s work in this volume, and for those hungering for some exciting dispatches about the net’s possibilities and realities, this is the book to read. This is a text ported from the electronic word to the Gutenberg universe. Thus, this loose and lively discussion with its occasional moments of severe, Germanic new media criticism is ideally suited to reading out of sequence.

Unlike cyberculture critics who prefer to ignore material culture, Lovink is very focused on assessing the impact of dotcom mania’s long boom and subsequent crash upon the internet as a space for art and resistance. This is an anti-utopian vision of the medium from a self-described radical media pragmatist. ‘Dark fibre’, the surplus of unused bandwidth present in modern fibre optic networks, is Lovink’s metaphor for the untapped potential for subversive and critical action that the internet may contain, despite corporate incursions. Lovink’s speculations over how best to discover politically engaged, critical uses of this bandwidth end on an ambivalent note. How and if activists will share the net with commercial interests is yet to be seen.

Dark Fibre: Tracking Critical Internet Culture // Geert Lovink // MIT Press // 2002 // hb £19.50 // ISBN: 0262122499 // Metamute will be publishing further responses to Dark Fibre in its Web Exclusives

Lisa Nakamura is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts, Media and Cultural Studies section, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the author of Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet which was published by Routledge earlier this year