INTRODUCTION TO A TRUE HISTORY OF THE INTERNET
(1) There isn't much you can do if there aren't two of you. Sometimes, if you're entirely on your own, you need to duplicate yourself, betray your country or assume another nationality, in other words, to really be twice. Lenin's great ideas came to him when he was not living in Russia. Later, there was so much he had to do, he spent half of his time making mistakes, and then he died. But his prime phase of creativity was when he was in exile in Switzerland, when Russia was overcome by famine, and when he used to go for bicycle rides in the hills around Zurich. That was when he could think best - when he was in two places at once. The most interesting aspect of the internet or doing websites is that you can share with others the opportunity of being in two places at once. However, these should also function as sites of communication, since that's what they essentially are, but in fact they impede communication.
(2) Setting up a website, the way it is usually done, is so profoundly monotonous that this fact has to be concealed by any means whatsoever, with a bunch of ignorant and bored people who are always seeking novel ways of killing time. Then, fortunately, someone has an ingenious idea, immediately defined as ingenious, because otherwise you would call it stupid, and people would never dare to admit: I'm doing something stupid. That's why you say: I'm doing an ingenious website. You collaborate for three months, you have to talk to each other, and then you break up. But it only takes three months. Then you look for something new. It is really a totally wrong life, held together by fear and a lack of vision in the minds of people who actually have lots of visions, but who, for some reason, are not capable of perceiving them. They want to see less of them on their screens, that's what they like. Even the best website is less interesting than a day in the life of just anyone, and this anyone, once he has seen the website, considers it much more desirable than his own life. These are all quite strange phenomena, but that's not what I'm bothered about. Only, to live such a life is quite miserable.
(3) So how to discuss these matters, how to react? One simply can't. Society and all its pressures are too strong. And even between people who initially liked each other... We were in love, XXXXX and I, in spite of all our mistakes, but then... In fact, all I can say about it is that the internet has driven us apart. I think she always resented not having been offered a job in Silicon Valley, and I guess she would have been happier there, if only she had been born ten years earlier, with the opportunity to end up in San Francisco one day. But in the beginning, the priority was to do internet in a different way, to be able to make a living with it, to survive, to live in a normal fashion, that is, to do internet in a normal fashion, to make enough money for a two-room flat with a nice bathroom and occasional holidays, and to do the websites you want to do, not promotional or pornographic or political sites or whatever. And not to be forced to move to the U.S., like all the other Europeans. We almost achieved this, but it took such an enormous effort, and we felt so lonely, that we ultimately realized: All this is just mad. You have all the means to do websites... And then you find out that people don't want to change as much as you think they do, nor does the world.
(4) In the internet, it is easier to change things, even in the internet industry, much easier than in literature or in the arts - or what we call the arts - just because there is less going on, there are less websites being published than books being printed. It is easier to change programming, because there are less programs and less programmers. In Germany, the number of people who are doing websites is much smaller than the number of people who are writing. It should be easier to change the relation between the computer and the desk, rather than between a printing press or a conveyor belt, a workbench or a machine in an Audi or Ford factory. But the former remains the most resistant configuration. Today, even cars are no longer produced the way they used to be in the past. But a computer... if you take the PC, it is still the same as it was in the seventies, it hasn't changed at all. Everyone is constantly shouting for change. But no, they want things to get better, not to change. Things get strenuous if you are forced to change, change is difficult. To make it from the age of five to the age of thirty - how long does that take? 25 years. That's arduous. Things could be different. But change isn't easy. I believe the internet is an area where it should be relatively easy to change things, because the internet isn't that important. But it is precisely where people cling to their positions more than anywhere else.
(5) You can tell a programmer, or a worker who considers himself to be underpaid: Alright, I'll pay you more - that's what I did, naive as I was - I'll pay you more, but come up with some texts, too. He says: They won't be any good, I can't write. Then I tell him, I know, but because they are going to be bad they will help me to find better ones. So allow me to pay you for your effort of writing absolutely stupid texts. They will help me to come up with better ones. Things would be a lot easier if I could start with something silly in order to come up with something less silly. But, believe me, he would never use the word processor. As a programmer, he would never use the word processor, even if you told him to write something about himself. About himself, that would be even worse. He could talk about himself, but that wouldn't leave a lasting impression. In fact, when it comes to talking, internet people definitely talk a lot. Even more than in normal life. In normal life you have to work, and that means you don't have time to talk. Students are not allowed to talk in class, workers are not allowed to talk in the factory, and secretaries must keep silent all the time. But on the internet, you are privileged: they are talking all the time, it almost never stops.
(6) It's the amateurs who make Yahoo rich. They make a lot of homepages, but always only one at a time, one about their holidays, another one at Christmas, maybe another when a child is born, but they never set up a page that could be linked to the first one. What drives these people to make all these homepages? For them it may be just a natural thing to do, but for a professional I don't consider that a natural thing. For me, the real enemy is the internet professional - who actually spends even less time programming than the amateur. At least I can ask the amateur if he has already taken a look at one of my websites. And then I can ask him, After doing this homepage, why didn't you do another? At least this gives me the opportunity to have a real conversation about the internet. And the amateur will in fact realize that having to do another one means that you want to establish links. That's something he doesn't need to, noone is expecting that from him. Not everyone is expected to do websites. But you should be allowed to expect it from those who are actually doing websites. Professional - what does that mean? It depends on whether you define the term in a positive or negative way. Usually, when I argue with professionals, I accuse them of not being professional, precisely because they claim they are. But towards other professionals who accuse me of not being professional, I reclaim the status of an amateur. I tell them: By the way, you are not internet amateurs, you are even worse professionals than professional soccer players. Of course they are a class, a sort of mafia, and people are afraid of them. Streaming, for example, a field that would not need to be that complicated, is rapidly becoming more and more specialized, but at the same time, it remains the same. Noone has an idea what to do with it, so they do nothing at all. You can explain it by defining what is a good or bad worker. You can assess whether a table is well or badly constructed. Then you can discuss the assessment. If the table breaks down as soon as you sit on it, and someone claims: I built it, and I'm a professional carpenter, then you can answer: Okay, but you're a bad professional. The internet is just as simple. But there is always someone trying to fool you. I think that people really have no idea. Programmers rarely know how computers work, and they are unable to fix them. They prefer taking a broken computer to the store for repair. Hardly anyone knows what a processor is. Even at Yahoo, very few employees know what they are actually doing.
(7) The biggest fraud concerns the notion of the so-called target group. They are telling you: You have to respect the target group, you have to make sure that the website doesn't bore the target group. Above all, you have to remember that that if the website bores the target group, they will no longer visit it, and in case you have put money into your website, that money will be lost. It would be more correct to say: I must attract as many people as I can in order to make as much money as possible. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's what they should say. Instead of: You mustn't bore the target group. "You mustn't" is a completely meaningless line. For a long time, my gut reaction, based on the respective insight I had at that moment, would be: There is constant discussion about the target group. I don't know what that is. I can't see them. I don't know who you mean. When I began thinking about the target group that was due to certain enormous failures, like SansSoleil.com, visited no more than 18 times in two weeks. Only 18 times, I can still count that far. So I asked myself: Who the hell are these 18 people? I would have liked to see these 18 people who had visited the website, I would have liked to know what they looked like. That was the first time I really thought about the target group, that I was able to think about the target group. I don't think that amazon.com is capable of thinking about the target group. How can anyone think about 12 million users? Their CEO might be able to think about 12 million dollars, but to think about twelve million users, that's simply impossible.
(8) Rolux does not propose a concept of the internet. All it may be able to offer, at least that's what I attempted to do, is an idea of people on the internet, and I think that's less dishonest than, for example, the Etoy website, where they are trying to convince people that that's how things are on the internet. And even though people don't understand anything about it they are happy with it, because it fits with their concept of the internet, which is that you can't understand it anyway and that's just how it works. However, the way the Toywar website was done was very different from what people think. It is no coincidence that Toywar won the Webby Award for the best foreign website, because it's a typical American website. Toywar is a technical term, a term for a trick. It is a technical issue. But I think this website was awarded because of its masterful concealment, precisely because it claims to reveal the true essence of the internet, an unattainably distant, magical realm that simultaneously attracts a lot of pleasant and a lot of unpleasant people.
(9) Financiers, go-betweens or providers are more realistic than the majority of net artists, because they think of their target group in terms of dollars, in terms of three million consumers at two dollars per hour, they make a brief projection, and then that's it. That's how they think. At least they are reality-bound, and that's what they are trying to be. But what if you don't think in these terms? What do I have that might attract four million users? It took me a long time to come to a conclusion, and I think that in Berlin maybe one or two hundred people are interested in what I have to say. But how to reach them? The internet is not particularly well organized to such ends. To reach them through e-mail, I would have to send too many mails. My website doesn't reach them either. To reach them, I would have to change it, to do a website I wouldn't like to do. So I say to myself: One has to think smaller, a bit longer, and in a different way. And then I realize how lonely I am. And this leads us to the actual problem. What causes the things I do to be of interest to others? You can knock at your neighbor's door at any time and tell him: Listen, give me five dollars, and I will read you a story. And then you can make a statistical analysis of who opens the door, gives you five dollars and listens to the story. Whether or not it's a good story is a different matter... But that is the true problem of production and distribution. The actual producers, the accomplices of the portals, are the multitudes of users, in other words, the whole of society. They just delegate... In reality, people are living their own lives, innumerable more or less extraordinary episodes. Those slaving away in a factory are living unbelievably arduous lives. But they delegate... they don't use their own imagination... people who are a bit more clever manage to keep circulating their ideas, some of them even quite well - that's their way of working - but that doesn't the fact that people delegate the idea or non-idea of their life to the internet. And then it's over and done with...
(10) And when I take a look at the Etoy website, I consider mine more honest, if you like, since I have remained totally outside, because... I don't know... Back then I didn't think that way, but today, if I had to start again, that's what I would try to do. What is dishonest about the Etoy website is that it doesn't show how they engage and employ people. Why they employ agents and lawyers and why... Etoy just present themselves in front of a small helicopter that they don't even own anymore, and then they put the word "Internet" on top of it. Which, even as an indication of what they think of the internet, is complete bullshit. The true history of Etoy would be a very fancy website that would become horribly expensive during its production. To me, the internet is primarily a matter of money. Someone has money and gives it to someone else who in return acts as if he was an artist, but in reality... And about Rolux: I don't know, I see people working on the internet, and then I see how it is ruining their relationships, the internet obviously isn't a good place to... But after Toywar - how could you still explain what that is: doing a website? You would say... I don't know what you would say. You wouldn't be able to... And this is precisely the power of the internet, it strengthens people's belief that it is mysterious and familiar at the same time, because it costs them 50 or 60 dollars in access fees each month. Internet and television should be like local newspapers. Small papers do exist. The artists here... they are publishing their own paper. There are small papers published in universities, and noone would say: This paper has to be distributed all over the world. It is internal, and that is sufficient. I think that the same goes for websites. There may be some major ones aimed at everyone, but it is wrong to begin with everyone. I believe this can have quite horrible consequences that people have no idea about.
(11) There is one thing that has always interested me: how to get from one website to another? That means, basically, why you link a website to another. Amateur programmers don't do that, they don't need to. But professional programmers, they don't just link two pages, but rather 800. They can rely on the fact - that's how it works today - that the 800 pages are all the same. One page multiplied by 800. They are engaging different designers, just to prove... the only reason that all the links have different names is that, if they hadn't, people would stop visiting. But people are completely at the end of their tethers, working at the university or at the office, so they don't notice that it's always the same website.
(12) The internet is a power, and people still like websites. What do they enjoy on the net? Rolux, or if you like, Toywar: if that's still what people like, then that's because the way these sites are done is closer to them, because they possess an enormous power, and because that won't change. Technical standards may change, but the essentials remain. The internet is the only field where it is possible to change things that are useless the way they are. In any other area that would require too many people and too much equipment. So you have the choice to wait and manage your own petty affairs. But even this demands profound passivity. Sometimes there is a sudden explosion, you don't get it done. But it's possible on the internet, because it's relatively easy, it only takes a small number of people. Sometimes you collaborate with twelve people, sometimes just with two, and then, given two or three others, you can try to find a few more out there who might be interested. Maybe you don't even have to join up with internet people. One should be seeking one's allies elsewhere to get things going. Silicon Valley? Indeed, that is a cultural phenomenon, much more powerful than anything else, and it will never disappear. It simply can't. The proof is that it is more prosperous than ever. It is more prosperous than it ever was in the nineties. And the users? There are more users than ever before. How many babies are born each year? Where do you think the target group has its origin? After all, the people who are supposed to use these websites have to be created somehow.
(13) We only know very few people. We quickly break up with the few people we know. I just can't find a friend. The only one I managed to find - and it was him who approached me - was XXXXX. He came and told me: I can't do websites on my own, I have to be more than one. He wanted to do websites, but in a different way than all the others, not on his own. And unconsciously, I realized that I wouldn't be able to make it on my own. You have to be at least two. And then maybe three, if possible. But I didn't make it. After XXXXX I got to know a woman, a girlfriend, but we said to ourselves: We are only one-and-a-half. One-and-a-half, because together we were only half of three. One-and-a-half doesn't mean one and a half one, it means three divided by two. I have never managed to be three. The problem of my website is finding the third one. A programmer, for example, but a programmer who would also like to do something else, other than programming, or at least one who would need programming for himself, who would not be happy just earning money and selling his knowledge, but who would need the code for himself and not just for the agency or for me. If it would be a programmer - fine. If it would be a financier then it would be a financier. If it would be a writer then it would be a writer. It wouldn't matter - anyone could be the third one. We tend to believe that the major Silicon Alley portals are done by one person, sometimes by two, if they are good, if they are slightly better. And if, for example... Just recently, I realized once again that the power of Nettime, the reason for their breakthrough in Europe at a certain time, was that it was run by three or four people who were talking about the internet. There was a time when Geert Lovink and Pit Schultz were talking to each other. And in relation to the others around them, that was already sufficient, because they were expressing themselves and felt the need to express themselves, because they felt the need to collaboratively transcend an illusion. And this illusion was the internet, not the book. Otherwise, you wouldn't use the internet.
(14) Net critics should do websites, rather than criticize. Or else engage in net criticism as if they were doing websites. Their strength - as long as they were engaged in net criticism - was that it was not a critique. They discussed other programmers' websites as programmers themselves, and often they didn't really know what to say about a given website, because they simply didn't like it. All they could do - for they couldn't just claim that the links were broken - was to name the person responsible for the website, as a physical and moral person, and then attempt to blame this physical and moral person for just about anything, in order to make the person aware of the fact that they didn't like the website. When they were doing Nettime, they were talking about websites because they didn't get any websites done themselves. That didn't make them sad, as they were still at the beginning. At least I think that's how it was. I have never seen myself as a net critic, but rather as someone who talks about websites because he likes to do one himself. It was a way of getting involved in the internet.
(15) Let us imagine that, if you were engaged to a woman, you would put a picture of her on the web in order to remember her. Things only start to get expensive once you start trying to say more. A whole portal about your loved one or yourself, that's costly. The server is not what is expensive. A server that costs twenty or hundred thousand dollars, that's not the expensive bit. The technical part of a website is relatively cheap. In the case of a four million dollar website, server space and traffic don't cost that much. What is expensive is the way all this is done. The boo.com episode was expensive. They sent e-mails to Los Angeles or San Francisco with the following content. The budget was fixed at ten million dollars, and then - they hadn't even begun programming - they said: We have already spent ten million dollars. So an e-mail was sent to New York, asking: Boss, can we overdraw the budget and spent up to twenty million dollars? It took one week for the reply to arrive, stating that they were indeed allowed to spend up to twenty million. In the meantime, the website had already reached the twenty million anyhow, with all the people around and the telephone bills. So they sent the next mail: We have now reached twenty million dollars, can we go up to thirty? And so on, up to 250 million dollars. Today, setting up a website in Silicon Valley will have cost at least twenty million dollars by the time you sign the contract, and that's the absolute minimum, even for a medium website.
(16) It took me a long time to understand that on the internet there is no desire to make money. The world economy as a whole is structured to the ends of making profit. But on the internet, people want to spend money. Some people are making money, a company's CEO or web designer, they earn a lot. But if some people are making money, like in the U.S. or in Europe, where income is generally high, then that's because people in the Philippines, in India or Mozambique are losing money and don't have enough to eat. We are dealing with interconnected systems, the Earth is not an unlimited entity. And today, in a time in which communication has become so rapid, people eat better in the U.S. the worse people eat elsewhere, because things happen so much faster. The poor are poorer than in the Middle Ages, and the rich are getting richer. The interesting thing about the internet is that it is a zone of excess, otherwise people wouldn't be paying fifty or one hundred dollars a month for it.
(17) But today I think that... I rather try to think and say to myself: There must be a whole lot of people who have similar problems as I do, in their own way, wherever they are. I know that from reading the newspaper, from watching television, and from the stories I'm being told. When you listen to the news, or when you're being told what people are up to, strikes, murders... when I read the news and try to make sense of them for me or for you, that some people fought over some property or that someone killed his child, whatever, even business news, then I say to myself: There must be people who aren't that much different from me. Two years ago, I wouldn't have said that. It's a result of working on the internet. You are a kind of communication vehicle, you're neither the one struck by the arrow nor the one shooting, you are the arrow. Writing, programming, thinking, talking may all mean being the arrow. Love is a different matter. Love is the instant when the arrow either is shot or hits its target. In this case you don't have to think about the arrow. But sometimes the arrow doesn't go straight and is just traveling through the air. This may take hundreds of years or just three seconds.
(18) The world has changed, but then I think, maybe not that much. People dress up in medieval clothes, in an overly perfected environment. A lot of things change, but then again not that many. The websites, the ones I see... the users can't have changed so much, since the websites are still the same. Or maybe the websites have changed and the users have remained the same. This would have to be demonstrated. A website doesn't exist on its own, it's necessarily part of a family. Homepages only exist as a part of a family. If there were no families... Let us imagine what would happen if there were only lovers, and they wouldn't get married and create families. Then there wouldn't be any homepages. Yahoo would collapse immediately if there were less marriages.
(19) If one would do websites, and if one would take a close look, rather than just babbling about it, one would most certainly see something. One would be able to discern which elements to preserve and which to discard. But then everything would change to such an extent... That would imply a colossal amount of work. Genuine work. I think that all the websites I have done are critical websites, in a more or less successful way. That's why it is so difficult to perceive if they are working, precisely because they are critical websites. A critical website, as I understand it... It's like justice. It's a critique. It's a website that makes visible specific elements of something else and promotes critical reflection. The term "critical" has different meanings: a critical moment is a juncture at which a change of direction occurs, the boiling point of water or the turning point in a dramatic situation. "Critical" refers to a critical situation: you fall off your bicycle, war is beginning, or you're abandoned by your wife.
(20) It is not possible to judge a situation my means of adjectives. We are living in an age where adjectives are used as a means of definition. But definitions require verbs. Nouns and adjectives serve a different purpose than to define. Today, adjectives are used to define websites. That's why today I would like to start again - and if we find the time, we are going to do it, if I find two or three people who would like to collaborate - I would like to start again, and I hope this will uncoil like a spiral rather than turning around in a vicious circle, to start again with criticism, talking about the internet or doing internet by the means of a magazine. To do something else than programming for a while, writing and publishing, a mixture of screenshots and texts, especially net criticism, the way I think it should be done today, maybe different from before. To criticize a website the way you criticize a meal or a car engine that has been badly installed. Maybe one would end up stating something else than just: That's great, that looks like Jodi, that's more beautiful than Jodi...
(21) We went to Ars Electronica, that's true, but we really felt uncomfortable there. We didn't want to go to Berlin Beta, and that's why we felt obliged to go to Ars Electronica, and we simply didn't dare to tell them that they were just as stupid as we were, because we had come along. And then, we also wanted to show our website. All this is really very complicated. It's just like going to an event and then realizing how lousy it actually is, and that you can't stand all this crap anymore. But that's something you only realize once you've been there. Media festivals are like a law. Anyway, media festivals are the only places where noone talks about websites. It's important to exchange ideas about your work, but that happens to take place in this form. It's really the same in all areas of activity. There are all sorts of congresses, dentistry congresses... The internet is an industry like any other. Of course, dentists would not dare to announce: Festival of the Tooth.
(22) On the other hand... The internet is not a regular industry, it's an industry of expenses. It is not profit-oriented, such as the car industry, the electrical appliances industry and the stamp industry. It is not an industry dealing with physical objects. A website is a moment of stored energy, held in motion, beginning to flow and then to disappear. New technologies are being developed to replace the internet, because internet and phone lines, by the fact that they are durable, are said to be endangering entire industries and, by extension, mankind's industrial subconscious. Paper is sufficient as a means of storing information. Signs and symbols on paper, that's enough to write down the commandments, that's still the best. Phone lines and websites are full of potential danger. They transcend the law. Of course the law could be written on websites, but that would mean to establish links, and that would imply a judgment. Once there is a law it is written on paper so that there is no need to judge. We are talking about a decree, not a law. We are talking about a decree, an order. Websites are not orders. Websites are put in a certain order, and thus they create a certain way of life.
(23) Telephone wires are quite resistant. After about one hundred years, nobody knows exactly, they begin to corrode. And yet people believe that this is still a bit too long, there are too many websites that will remain, and that could become problematic in the end. Decrees can still be printed on paper, there is no need to use a different method that might possibly induce change. Today there are new means of recording, but rather than perfecting the traditional ones, new methods were invented which are much less durable, like the CD-ROM. Hewlett-Packard is no longer producing printer paper, much to the disappointment of their genuine community that still prefers paper, and the prospect of being able to keep it for 60, 100 or even 200 years. Now people are using DVDs, with the manufacturers' explicit intention of limiting their life span to 10 years. It is understandable that this is the way things are. And who knows, maybe it's just alright.
(24) In one sense, Geert Lovink helped me a lot. He had been expelled from the internet, and, rather than lamenting, went to all the media festivals at a time when all the internet people hated media festivals. He was very clever, he knew how to make the most of the situation. He managed to squeeze more money out of institutions than he would ever been able to get through the internet. Later, precisely this was the reason why he had to quit the media festivals. He was unusual in any respect. Then he got funding from all sorts of foundations, from the Vatican, the Red Cross, wherever he could. I don't think I have ever given much support. Once I've given something. I met XXXXX, she had no money, and I had 2000 dollars, and I gave them to her, that's not that much. That is my capital, made up of a variety of other things, far bigger than me because I am too small to be able to absorb it all. Sometimes that makes me mad and angry and bad-tempered, or just a bit stupid, because I am six foot tall and about ten inches wide, and I have ideas that can walk twenty or thirty yards. You can't absorb the whole world, not even in your imagination. I would prefer to have different ideas, that's why I like talking, either to people in extreme situations or, in the case of the internet, with those who have limited success and unlimited problems.
(25) Someone like Pit Schultz was quite an outsider, a genuine outsider and probably far more unhappy than the average citizen of Mozambique who doesn't have enough to eat. This is also Geert Lovink's influence, to consider places beside the norm, to go elsewhere, and not to be afraid of doing websites for just a few. I am always happy, except in overcrowded buses, in overcrowded airplanes, or when I am stuck in a room with twelve others. Actually, I've always preferred being alone, but with someone else in the same situation. Most people like to be in a crowd. This reveals class difference. Poorer people prefer communal spaces, even if that means some discomfort. But they like it there, for they are surrounded by others who also can't stand being alone. But on the internet, there are really too many people these days. I quite liked it when there were only five or six. Back then, you could at least ask: What extraordinary coincidence brings you here?
An earlier, shorter version of this text first surfaced on www.textz.com.
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