The False Memory Theory of Information Vacuums

By Mute Editor, 10 April 2000


Including: John Fitzpatrick on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, Chris Darke on the Rotterdam Film Festival's Exploding Cinema, Ulrich Gutmair on George Soros, Josephine Berry on etoy, Ted Byfield on Lawrence Lessig and the apocalypse industry, Kate Rich on The Centre for Land Use Interpretation and Ben Seymour on CRASH + David Panos on No Logo and Lev Manovich on Blade Runner.

When it came to critique and commentary on cyberspace, you knew where to find it: ensconced in various academic ghettoes. Lately, though, the worm has turned: a new form of Internet critique is becoming the mainstay of the mainstream, not just media studies departments. What with stories of ever more streamlined systems for purchasing shopping or insurance jostling for a nine o’clock news spot with ones about teenage hacker info-terrorists, and profiles of start-ups with no turnover yet valued in the millions alternating with ones of angry global protest movements, the polarities on offer are just too good to resist. Welcome to the most reliable press fountain in the world!

But polarities they remain. After all, what for some is a nightmarish scenario of American hegemony and mindless, mercenary speculation on ‘virtual money’, for others is the final delivery of one of the Internet’s perceived promises: to provide a dynamic, horizontal and flexible environment, unhindered by regulatory obstacles, in which ‘ideas can shine’ and a meritocratic model of society determines who has most power and wealth. Good riddance to the top-down establishment!

In the latter version of events, the e-commerce phenomenon plays itself out like a sun-lit Western: irrespective of education, class, gender or age, anyone can take a shot at the big time courtesy of capital and networks, those great – and ‘unprejudiced’ – social levellers. And lost at without the help of The Usual Experts, the UK media genuflects to venture capitalists and other new-born authority figures who opine on everything from electoral revolutions to immigration laws.

Time and again, the media debate on e-commerce illustrates the degree to which Blair’s Third Way Britain is incapable of thinking of anything like a third way. Lurching between a sort of ‘wowie zowie’ infantilism and a weary lament for threatened ‘human values’, the only thing most mainstream attitudes to the Internet share is a sense of feeling at the mercy of something out of control and desperately in search of guidance and leadership.

Nonetheless, useful consideration of the corporate-technological drivers of our culture – and their antagonists – never went away; it just remained invisible for some. Funny how, in this flat landscape of total availability, certain things remain so hard to find...

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>