Access for who to what?

Trans-cultural network strategies: Access for who to what?

Accessible technology is not equally and everywhere available. In many countries speakers, forums and initiatives still have to face with economic and political pressures. The meaning of ‘freedom of speech’ is very relative, as is the protection of civil and individual rights. On the ethnical and cultural level in densely populated areas they are often determined a fragile social-political consensus. Culture is invented and carried on by the people and is regulated by states, churches and corporate enterprises, all of whom are actors in the information society and users of the information tools. Media have played a role ever since their creation, and new media keep on relying on much the same old messaging, reproduction, propaganda, publishing or broadcast techniques. Today, media – now called web sites, news channels or computer games – play an active part in all societies. Only until very recently had the new media technologies been applied first in laboratory settings before being made accessible for public use. Development in Eastern Europe and outside Europe proves to be completely different. In many areas what counts are good distribution channels, poor energy resources, low investment and little export. But if people have no or very expensive water, food, education or medical care, and almost no money to live from, if people are still murdered because of different political ideas, artistic views, cultural or ethnical backgrounds, the only possibility left is the fight for a free phone line. In Latvia for example only a few initiatives such as E-lab in Riga transmit new media art and culture in a local context. Youth and pop culture, fashion, television, games, the internet – they have become the carriers of a new social structure in a free economic area, addressing a generation that wants to take a clear position in the society it lives in, not only by right but also intellectually and economically. Compared to Northern Europe, the Eastern European regions between the Baltic and the Black Sea have to cope with much weaker infrastructures, because populations are less dense and the resources available scarcer. Cable and wireless technologies are still expensive, if not unaffordable. However, many ‘foreign’ companies begin to settle in these regions, and together with a ‘local’ scene of business people and artists they invest in the local infrastructures. Since in many of these countries budgets for culture are tight and the notions of new media, or media culture still difficult to understand for many, on-the-spot improvisation, collaboration and cooperation with others to create a network and offer easy access, interesting content and important information, have become the keywords. Internet access is now targeted by transnational companies and corporate industries which spend incredible sums of cash to license futuramas. It does not matter whether we will ever have broadband cellular telephony, but our nation-state simply sells the sky above our heads. We have no idea of what they will do with this. In the end we might have to pay for going and being off-line. Staying off-line is against the interest of the company-state. Nowhere is the connection to the internet easy, nor is the know-how and awareness of the available technical potential very widespread. In a global market, it is this very knowledge which has become the new capital, product or service. In the new media, too much emphasis has been laid on aesthetic and artistic design, as well as on the prospect of flourishing e-business and short-term financial profit. Not enough thought is given to longer term issues, such as translation, education and necessary research. Neither the creative potential of programming and authoring for new media, nor the acknowledgement of the actual value of ‘old’ media as distributed text, narrow open source, free software have yet been put in a programmatic environment which really belongs to the public domain. Issues as free and easy access, bandwidth, property in virtual domains, are not discussed or addressed thoroughly enough. It is free access to education and knowledge that could lead to benefits for all; apparently it is not of any interest to the core ICT industry to support a free flow of education. Training yes, education no. But with models as ‘open source’ and through culture networks, such as initiatives like Syndicate, Nice, Encart and the European Culture Backbone, one could relay more attention to support and help local organizations and people. On August 25, several members of Nice (Network Interface for Cultural Exchange) met in Riga. During the festival Art & communication contributions of cultural policy development of Latvia and within the Baltic/Nordic region in the field of new media culture were presented.

This text was published in d’Land e-culture from September 28 2000, an addition to Lëtzeburger Land on the occasion of ‘How does the artificial become real?’ International symposium on September 22nd / 23rd, 2000 in Luxembourg