The World-Information Institute concludes that we are facing rather profound changes in our social, economic, and cultural base that are driven by technologies. In our work we try to address these issues from different points of view.Today we will focus on the question, what actual realm of possibilities is left for cultural practice and activism? With the decline of Postmodern theory and possibly the weakening of neo-liberal hegemony as indicated by the collapse of the financial systems, it might be time to reassess the field in art and media. For a start I would like to read a quote by Guy Debord, who says:
All aware people of our time agree that art can no longer be justified as a superior activity, or even as an activity of compensation to which one could honorably devote oneself. (Guy-Ernest Debord,“Methods of Detournement,” 1956)
And I would like to add that, fifty years later, things have become considerably worse if you look at all the indicators. To probe the perception of this we recently sent out a call to a large mailing list of a couple of thousand cultural practitioners of culture, called Nettime, and we proposed that not only is art completely dead but also activism has not moved for a while and starts to smell funny. As it were, there was no objection to that.
Media attention is in some ways what we are today concerned with. Last night Konrad and I went to a new documentary film called American Casino, about the collapse of the financial economy, and I had the good fortune of overhearing some gossip in the row behind us. Two people of a certain age, but who appeared to be on a first date, were talking about the Travelocity website, and the woman told the man that one of her colleagues was in charge of “non-transactional revenue” on Travelocity, the well-known electronic travel agency. She explained that in fact the very important function of this “non-transactional” revenue was not from selling plane tickets, hotel reservations or car rentals, but from “selling eyeballs.” Travelocity’s revenue stream dependsnot so very much on production, but on attention it has to deliver. Konrad has recently written a book called Strategic Reality Dictionary: Deep Infopolitics and Cultural Intelligence, which has a nice, short entry on attention: “Attention, the most strategic resource in the value chain, becomes a costly article of trade that is convertible to status and access to business results. This reshapes the economics of industries to invest in attention rather than production.” I think that attention is also very central to our event today.