Sam de Silva

I wish I had some tactical media strategy to communicate with the flies and mosquitoes buzzing around me. Do they check email? What would I say to them? "Please go away - I am trying to write something important". I don't think they would understand and even if they did, would they respect my request? I should probably spray the room with poison or close all the doors and turn on the half-broken noisy air conditioner that draws way too much electricity and pumps out dangerous gases. What about an online campaign against the pests? Maybe an advertising campaign? No - now I am being silly. Maybe I should go some place else where there are no flies or mosquitoes!

I really liked the idea of 'tactical media' - but now, for me, it seems to have become one of those big net-like (as in big fishing net-like) terms that catches almost everything, mixing it up. And it seems that the term is a persistent spam that elevates and celebrates the tactical media men and women as possessing some kind of magic needed to solve the ills of their local and/or global world.

I began thinking about 'tactical media' after receiving an email from Sarai to join its 'tactical media list' which was established after the 3 day South Asian Tactical Media Lab. I don't mean to be a bad sport about these tactical media lab events that have, in the recent months been occurring at various locations on our planet. I've done my share of running to conferences and workshops and organising events that deal with subjects that are part of the 'tactical media', and I benefited a lot from doing so. But now I feel kind of uncomfortable about it all.

Does anyone else feel uncomfortable about it?

You must be getting frustrated by my messy going-no-where writing style so let me go somewhere and say something a bit more definite.

'Tactical media' is sexy and it speaks out as if it is the way forward - yet - I am left questioning where that 'forward' is. Maybe the opposite direction to where the IMF and the World Bank are taking (some of) us?

Here's my issue: Most of what 'tactical media' includes is a distraction to my current reality. So, this problem I have is with 'tactical media' is purely a personal one! It is like some drug. When I hear about a problem around me, my instinct says to confront it with some 'tactical media'. It's a reflex action. Should I set up a website or a mailing list? Maybe I should get my friends together and engage in some DIY poster making. What about making some fast radio or video about the problem? Upload everything to IndyMedia? Maybe if people used Linux, the problem would go away.

'Tactical media' and its aliases (probably without intention) have produced a formula that fashions a lot of todays activism. I want to know about the history of the problem. Chomsky, nettime and Z-Net aren't useful to me. The local library probably is! I want to have conversations with people who really understand the problem. They probably won't have access to email. I want to have conversations with so-called ordinary people - like you and I - about the problem. I want to work with a small group of committed people to address the problem. I don't think we need a discussion list. And I want to have the right attitude (head space) to be able to sense whether the time and conditions are right to work on the problem, or more importantly, whether I really understand the problem itself and whether I honestly have the capacity to be working on addressing it.

To me, 'tactical media' stresses urgency; embraces technology and those who are highly capable and articulate, and rewards media actions that breaks in to the newswires. Sure, 'tactical media' is just a term - but it is one of those
terms I feel has constructed containment. The term has escaped the page and become a Pied Piper.

'Tactical media' wants to talk to subjects, just like CNN. Sure, some times it enables good discussions, panels and meetings - but often the ideas generated hover above the ground, trickling down now and then.

If the problems around me were precise, 'tactical media' and the discoveries from 'tactical media' laboratories might be useful. I would be a surgeon with access to all sorts of forceps and scalpels. The problem will be neatly cut out. But I live in a messy environment with complicated and confusing issues. I am not sure how useful 'tactical media' is for my reality.

The flies and mosquitoes are still here. Should I get one of those hats with corks hanging from its brim? Maybe there is some local oil or fragrance that keeps them away.

This text was originally posted on December 16, 2002 to the tml-list (this is a closed mailinglist hosted by Sarai for discussing the "tactical media lab" in Delhi, but there is a text file of the December archive available online) and forwarded on January 2, 2003 to the n5m4 mailinglist for international editors (another closed list) , where it sparked some heated debates.

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