media migrations new design and publishing challenges, re: design answerability to new communication paradigms
skip the intro, take me to your links
The basic idea of daily operations is, for design and designers, to return from professional 'splendid isolation', into an everyday, in order to anchor an artistic production in the abundant information exchange which is going on in today's media, without having at the same time to legitimize their activites 'outside' their discipline, on the basis of irrational guilt and lame interpretations of why we destroy our world. Because 'we' don't, and neither do 'they', or 'you'I would certainly hope, if I at all know who I am addressing here.
This paper introduces not solutions but observations and imaginations of two closely related, equally important cultural and political challenges, folded into one experience: a challenge for design, and a challenge for publishing, folded into real time information exchange and shared learning. As its point of departure it takes the past ten years' drift of popular communication, in education and entertainment, through a changing media landscape.
Networked many-to-many digital media, which are defined by cheap production, instant distribution and flexible feedback, first complemented one-to-many print and audio/visual media (which depending on their impact and ambition are most often referred to as 'corporate'), but increasingly compete these. New media can offer a more truly dialogic alternative, enhancing participation and organization beyond media boundaries, in direct civic action.
I propose to look at our need for communication in and of the everyday, as at the same time uneventful (a necesary intimate alternative to invasive mono-culture's spectacular commercial and political interests) as well as expressive without precedent. Rather than in a time of 'experience design' (being the latest faux future for the design disciplines), we should demand to live in a time of enhanced public performance.
It is in performance design that new design and publishing demands for the information era should be met, and designers should play their natural role and pay their due.
This paper was written for the Concordia University Art and Design Department's 'Declarations' conference, 26-28 October 2001.
Daily Operations: the Weblog
(...) this all works only if each person makes links as he or she browses, so writing, link creation and browsing must be totally integrated
(Tim Berners-Lee, when writing about 'his' world wide web, in 1990, at CERN, Geneva)
(...) I can remember being amazed that whatever city we landed in, my folks could always find these little bookstores and record shops, art galleries and jazz clubs that no one else knew about. I thought of them as secret places where you could go and meet people who were part of the secret thing.
(Dave Hickey, in Air Guitar, 'Unbreak my heart, an overture')
There is no technological fix.
There is no design fix.
Slogans dumb you down.
Which media have ever worked for us, in the way that today the world wide web does? In the past, expectations for the printing press, the telegraph, telephone and radio have been similar to those proclaimed by early Internet adopters, when the 'media revolution' started in the early 1990s. With an exception of print, these older media did not deliver like the Internet has done since. Even while radio and television could have developed into a more democratic forum, they were taken over by capital interests to be commercialized soon after their introduction. 'As is the Internet and world wide web', pessimists claim today. But these critics overlook the same quality which is overlooked by the media moguls: the Internet can route around commercial interests, just like it routes around censorship. With infinite channel abundancy, there's just too many alternative trails to follow and organize one's interests around: there is simply no conceivable mode of control for supresive ideologies to apply. Even if this can be imagined (like the net is policed in some parts of the world, where the same isolationist ideology for example forbids parabolic antennas), for that part of the world which most of us still tend to call 'democratic', restraining the network would mean a considerable loss of economic value and is therefor ruled out. With the communication and entertainment industry having (been) built (on) the web-as-is, there is no way back. Alternative expression (alternative to one-to-many media monopoly) might in the long run compete blockbuster ideology, but is not a ready set goal, as will follow. Net competition will have to reap from civic action and/as full individual, personal engagement.
With the unstoppable rise of digital recording, processing and publishing media, at last artists, designers and writers, those who use text and images and sound to inform us and enrich our experience, possess the tools of cultural production which they had been needing for a long time, while our faith in big corporate ideologies, whether political of commercial, has been fading since several decades already. Since probably the end of WW2, in mega media narratives, life's basic desires and needs, or life's richer questions have not been represented in any generously faithfulor in the case of fiction, any imaginativeway, with all due respect to the individual artists who have benefited from the willing agency of powerhouses, while otherwise they would never have spoken to any audience at all.
Don't get me wrong. At all times, small press or poster printing, garage music recording and distribution, street wise art publication, all that wonderful stuff that was performed in and from Dave Hickey's 'little shops', was very importantalternative cultural production served many a radical shift in people's perception and continues to do so. Consequently I still consider 'new' media in the context of the larger media landscape, in which print, radio and television remain irreplaceable. But the role of these media becomes redefined now that new media arise, which' technology and design deeply reconditions also the printshop's and other studio's productions and distribution. Dislocated availability, global accessibility and interest driven recommendation are only a few of the effects which I will mention, that at the same time shrink the world and infinitely enlarge it, beyond 'explorability', I would say. Don't believe a slogan like the old Microsoft Network one, which suggests that the decision 'where you want to go today' should be a daily routine. It wouldn't open the world to you, but destroy it for yourself and all others. Remember, it's a slogan.
Today, our choice and use of those older media is deeply in/reformed by some of the very basic qualities and effects of networked media: not only in the technological, but primarily in the social, organizational, communicational sense. Information media decisively model our communication and other consumption habits. They inform our expectations and guide our experience of and thoughts about access, speed, quality and quantityin short they inform every value we embracefor all goods, services and their social-political appreciation. The material world is sucked forward in the slip stream of the virtual world and has no choice but to keep pace and deliver like it does. Print will become increasingly ad hoc, ephemeral and local, while everything that we think deserves to be archived and/or actively worked upon over a longer time span or of which it is important to be shared with the widest of possible audiences, even over time, all that material or content will be online.
Following Berners-Lee's early warning: 'this all works only if each person makes links as he or she browses, so writing, link creation and browsing must be totally integrated', I will further introduce and discuss a recent publishing genre, the weblog, which to me is the first proper exploration, since 1990, of that write-browse-link hypermedia challenge, as embodied in the web.
daily, by definition
'I am only a poor approximation of my weblog.' 'Some people have a life, others do a weblog.' So what is and does a weblog, exactly? I will try to give some answers to these questions, before engaging into speculation on how weblogs might mark 'the end of the world wide web as you know it', to finally live up to its original challenge.
The above are just two quotes overheard in the weblog community, illustrating an intimate, complicated, not seldom paradoxical relation of the weblog publication to the everyday life of its author, and more in general, to a 'corrupted' work/life relationship. Corrupted when compared to times, when education, work and leisure were strictly separated, as was expressed in their codes of communication. On a strict 9 till 5 40 hour 5 days working schedule, most people dressed, behaved, consumed and produced differently on the job, than in the remaining 128 hours of the week, and week-ends. How different this is compared to today's economies, in which at work people are requested to relax and bring their families, but outside these hours are forced to exhaust themselves in permanent education and the improvement of their leisure experience. This opportunity comes primarily in the West, and exemplifies an information based economy, in which consumption and production values are inverted, leaving people producing information (having industries monitor and measure their behaviour), when consuming. With no other explanation than the development of better services and finely tuned customization, content industries constantly have as much eyes and ears out as possible, to check our trends. We are invited to their shops not to buy their products, but to perform behavioural patterns before them (play consumer, play!), in order to increase production and reduce waste in the process. Information in today's everyday is not only dumped upon us in large quantities, but also sent back by us in equal amount, most of the time without us knowing when and what exactly we are revealing.
Another simple example would indeed come from the realm of design (are there any other realms today?), where actually, as is argued elsewhere, individuals would have to be paid, instead of pay, to flag brands all over the gear and modes of expression of the leisure industry. Again we see a reversal of interests between consumption and production, in what could be called, in the spirit of the day: an Attention War. Brands feed on attention. Attention is the consumer's real capital. S/he pays a dear price when deciding for such and such entertainment: to go to the museum or the park, to the concert or the bookstore, to the zoo or the gym, to drink a Coke or a Pepsi, to wear Nike or Adidas, to use a pc or a Mac, to click MSN or AOL, to support the US or the terrorist. But I am digressing.
Some of this however goes to illustrate that a corrupted work/leisure distinction is not exclusive to weblog publishing, but like a lot of other distinctions, not nearly as black and white as they are usually presented to you, they inform your everyday. I cannot in this context elaborate on too many examples. Following the links in and with this paper will allow you to experience some of the underlying observations by yourself.
What makes then that, given an everyday invaded by corporate attention, weblogs draw so much attention from their authors and readers, to a point at which they comp(l)ete their private life or even 'identity'? One answer would be that they are indeed driven by a radical desire for alternative lifestyles and information. Moreover, most are produced by a professional group and in a milieu (artists, writers, designers) that hasn't known a strict work/life distinction for all of its tradition, while in an industry where flexibility rules (or hires and fires), a new generation of professionals (artists, writers and designers, programmers, media developers) know no strict hours either. Don't you love the understatement?
As a daily publication, not unusually performed at several update moments per day, the weblog does effectively talk back to 24/24 infotainment unhealthy-mix-media, precisely by the personal and professional expression of its author. Weblog is voice. It expresses its author's everyday experience in text, illustrations, editing and design, all in one hand. Weblogs are not all encompassing critiques that pretend to stop the information invasion. On the contrary they are very precise professionally and personally guided expressions of the world its author lives in, limited to one person's experience and learning, for better or worse. Every weblog reflects the moods that come with the life lived and performed. It shows endless subtle variety, much of which will only appeal to very small audiences: circles of equally challenged people. On the other hand, thanks to the interconnectedness in its networked medium, weblogs are open for the widest imaginable perusing. With every new link they acquire, by publishing specific content, their potential audience widens. At the same time, because so much of its content is idiosyncratic, personal, lived in every sense, a weblog will not easily become a popular hangout, tempted to please a crowd.
In other terms, which fit the occasion of the Declarations conference, because they compare well to the different modes of publishing in old and new media which are discussed, the weblog can be seen as a publishing genre, a new journalism, multiple new journalisms, informing a life while at the same time informing about (that) life, connecting it to other lives. As a dialogic publishing genre it benefits from new media affordances of cheap production and distribution, and can be targeted thanks to its connectedness: because it is linked to for its exact content, of that day, that moment, that precise line, image, sound, bitephemeral as it may be.
When I preferred earlier to refer to weblog content as 'uneventful', I meant this as anti-spectacular, as in how we've come to read the spectacle after Guy Debord: as a capital media conspiracy for which we all serve willing or not, conscious or not, as mere agents. Some of my own analysis and certainly some of what we hear at Declarations or read in FTF2K discussions, goes along with that paranoid view. For myself the anti-spectacular can only be found in very small media structures, local and networked at the same time, down to the size of a single publishing individual, as uneventful as his or her information can get: common as it might be as 'a life lived', a profession applied. Precisely in its typical common identity lies the enormous power of change, to connect the inter-personal to (be) the political and free some space for immediate concerns, without having to fight the brand bullies head-on.
Its format of coded electronic hypertext allows weblogs to be publications that can be linked to, at any precise spot of reference, line per line if necessaryif designed as such. Weblogs are not just 'recommended reading', no matter what issue one puts hand on. Content is tagged for reference, entry by entry, paragraph by paragraph. A weblog is technically radically different from any old media publication. This means that it is read differently. One can read across several weblogs to gather one's information on shared subjects, on shared ideas. Given the very 'local' personal quality of most weblogs, what is shared is how local circumstances relate to global developments. You should not have too simple an imagination of this. Weblogs do not just give their 2 cents on any event that marks mega media publishing. Like I said, they are precise, idiosyncratic publications. Their content does not only review the relationships of the local, situated to the global, mediated, in a topographical sense, but (taking full advantage of the realm of rich reference which is the web) it might link every possible utterance, whether actual or historical, which its author believes to be relevant in case.
recorded life shared
A life lived today means a life recorded. Digital tools record our life from the cradle to the grave in ever so many happy moments, as still and moving imagery, audio and video: very boring material, as anyone who was ever forced to browse a friend's holiday pictures will confirm. But another take of MyFirstSony shows us Rodney King, or several WTC impact angles, or a downtown DV doctor wading the rubble, or whoever holds a camera these days. We're not recording all this for mega media. If extended into the publishing domain, whoever runs a weblog, a publishing outlet, whoever lives a life, encountering issues of safety, security, education, information access etc. etc. is in business. Business meaning information business. Business meaning constructing our own narratives, or providing the material to other people to construct theirs and fight for it.
Personal publishing means in the uneventful sense anti-tell-it-like-it-is publishing, not fighting slogans with slogans. By the mere fact of its daily routine, of daily editing, not for scoops or the latest word, but for vital matters of the everyday, an everyday 'under information': under siege, individual publishing is a way to reclaim space and reconnect to the other underrepresented citizen, on a personal basis.
the inter-personal is political, or: ways of life the plenty
'Design is a way of life', myself and probably more of us learned at school. Yes it is, as much as it is a skilful tradition, a vocation, a job or an industry. Graphic design's tools are text and image, their relationships and the play on our relationships towards them. Whether used to promote useless commodities or useless political agendas, our skills remain the same. A long history of commercial and political propaganda is available to prove this point: some great design was made. But one can also point at a history just as long, of service to a more humane world, better education, equal rights and higher ideals than capital gain or commodification. If design is a way of life, it should not surprise us if we see that typical way of life plenty reflected in its practices.
It is my conviction that whoever wants to improve the narratives that we construct to communicate our relationship to the world, has to use one's tradition and skills and insight into how communication works, for those issues that are left out (these are perhaps more simple 'political' observations than you imagine)for those inclined to be critical and do good, it doesn't bring you any further to be too concerned with legitimizing your discipline and all the time repeat how bad the world is. It is energy lost. Energy that could be spent for some better cause, which would better prove your point that indeed there are ways of life the plenty, we should be proud of that and hold on to them and put them in front of ourselves and everyone else. A design challenge, especially in the abundance of linked fragments of networked publications.
Finally we should not forget that among that content there are a lot of good causes and even more concern about them and even more concerned who spend more time than you and me would ever choose to give to work on these causes. They developed other skills than we did. They can analyse the workings of power for us, they can come up with the best cases, they can teach us whatever we need and want to know to apply our skills, with them and for them and for their causes. This once was called maintaining professional relations. Today these relations can be more informed by personal relations, because networked media offer another paradigm, of linked fragments, abundant smaller stories, different readings, anti tell-it-like-it-machismo, no hype change. And a lot of content, a lot of critical information, is provided from the very same sources which mega media tap for information, to increase their symbolic and capital gain.
So (graphic) designers bring their way of life, in its professional and in its personal specificities, and engage in professional, inter-personal relationships, to work at the service of better communication. Designers tend to know, or have the informed intuition or talent or whatever you want to call it, to discuss with whoever is concerned in the matter at stake, how to be an agent, how to perform that agency, how to invest the budget and the human resources that are available. In my practice, designers and increasingly liberal artists are invited as strategists and conceptual thinkers who are engaged not after the message or product has been developed, but at the outset of it. Artist and designers are invited indeed to offer agency for different parties in representational relationships, or symbolic exchange.
An old discussion is about whether one should prefer to use one's civic voice in political organisation, when disciplinary 'ways of life' do not set the agenda, but instead people express themselves and organise themselves around common issues, beyond the particularities of such and such special interests or skills. In other words: should a designer always be a designer, or is his or her voice best heard as a citizen, among other citizen who equally give up their special interests? Can we still conceive of politics as part of civic life, civic duties, that precisely serve to break away from all those needs and desires that one builds up around specific social, cultural, economical even commercial desires? I think this question has become obsolete now that the private and the public have come together in manifold hybrid social expressions. We have to trust ourselves to develop an awareness of how to weigh all kinds of different information input. Our own hybrid interests will have to be answerable to the strange workings of consumption and production, to work/life inversions, to public/private perversions, to markets that are set up around us to 'brand' our very desire for unbranded space, as was one of Naomi Klein's conclusions.
interest based organization
We do not support anymore party lines, we cannot identify ourselves with 'liberalism' or 'communism' or 'socialism' or 'capitalism'. Let alone 'conform' ourselves to civic duties which, as long as representational democracies have existed, were thought of as what 'politics' were exactly about. Now the critical 'movement of movements' (Klein) cannot center around one or two big ideas, or narratives, and fight itself for linear realizations of their dogmas into better worlds. Interest based organization is a very big challenge, under new circumstances that measure from the intimate, private and idiosyncratic, to the common terror of outrageous acts in the domain where larger ideologies are still believed in. How to connect these scales is part of the challenge. We see it happen.
Over the past three years I have learned a lot from browsing the individual sites that are recommended below. If I overstate that weblogs might mark 'the end of the world wide web as you know it', it is because I do believe that their modes of expression, their everyday public grappling with an abundance of private and public concerns, is indeed projecting a web as was pictured by its inventors and by the early believers in a networked society, and offers a whole new publishing paradigm.
The personal publishing challenge is apparent. The design challenge follows from that first challenge. Every designer is an author, a publisher who, with every intervention, adds content to the bulk of exchanges, whether commissioned or not. There is always a commissioning voice, a commissioning tradition, a commissioning way of life. Design is content, attached to other content.
Weblogs today are many, but form only a very small part of the Internet. Developments have proven however that scale doesn't count, certainly not in an experimental phase of a medium. Compared to the histories of older media, the web is an experiment in its infancy. Ten years ago none of us had private Internet accounts. An information society has to be built on a nodal economy of means of expression, of interconnected individuals. That development has only just started and it takes tons of imagination to work on.
links to the culture jamming industry
Directory - Society: Activism: Media Activism: Culture Jamming
The Culture Jammer's
hotsy totsy club (Bellona Times)
nqpaofu (c'est moi)
Ethel the Blog
wood s lot
some listings and lists
the page of only weblogs
Bellona Times/Hotsy Totsy Club update selection
history and perspective by Rebecca Blood
Come The Weblogs
how to blog by Mike Murry
ISSN for Weblogs by Joe Clark
Online Journalism Review:
Blogging as a Form of Journalism by J.D. Lasica
pt II: Weblogs: A New Source of News
upping the ante dote
Web Design Issues by Tim Berners-Lee
The Personal is
not the Political by Seyla Benhabib, on Hannah Arendt
The Self as Narrator by J. David Velleman
© Jouke Kleerebezem, idie.net: Innovation and Design for Information Empowerment 2001