A Brief Report from the Nettime Listening Post

Monday 19th February, 2024 - Bruce Sterling

*Today’s version of the California Ideology, etc.

Time Passed and Something Happened
A Brief Report from the Nettime Listening Post-

This is an informal report from the nettime meeting in Berlin of two weeks ago. As it turns out I reluctantly found myself organising and moderating the final stages of the meeting. So this report will miss a great deal out and get some stuff wrong. Anyone who knows better please don’t hesitate to chip in.

1. The idea of Nettime Listening Post (NLP) is to begin re-visiting ‘real-life’ gatherings as a way of re-vitalising the list. Inspired by how such meetings were the basis from which Nettime (and other related mailing lists) sprung up as a means of keeping discussions moving once participants had gone their separate ways. One could even imagine key concepts such as ‘collaborative text filtering’ as serendipitous by-products of shuttling between these different communicative modalities. For many of us nettime was the moment the internet suddenly made the right kind of sense. Like those early meetings NLP sought to benefit from partnering with a larger public event, in this case we were an independently ticketed ‘partner event’ of Transmediale, Berlin’s annual Media Art festival.

2. There is no way of not talking about the Gaza war and its effect- Like the rest of Transmediale the meeting took place against this dark backdrop. As it should The war overshadowed the festival. It was sobering to witness Transmediale itself undergoing a kind of collective “nervous breakdown” as scheduled artists withdrew as part of the “strike” against state funded cultural institutions, leaving a number of empty spaces whilst festival organisers and even panellists were being subjected to pressure from all sides. On one side there were what can only be described as McCarthyite tactics to force the festival to refrain from criticising Israel whilst from the other side the pressure was on organisers to simply cancel, sacrificing its power as a progressive platform. Its hard for those of us who don’t live in Germany to imagine the extent to which the post-war German state perceives itself as existentially defined by its support for the state of Israel. As a non-German speaker, I have probably already said too much. Hopefully others on the list far better qualified than I can speak to the local situation. The horror of Gaza changes everything in ways we are still struggling to understand.

3. The workshop venue was Panke Gallery and the event was listed as ‘sold out’, but perhaps owing to the distance of the Gallery from the main venue and its obscure location and minimal signage we had far fewer participants than expected. The late change of date was also part of the problem. But those who made it were highly engaged. Panke Gallery and the space’s director Sarkowski (who joined the discussion) represent the best of Berlin’s alternative cultural scene. A graffiti festooned and somewhat punk space, intimate without being cramped, informal but also professional when it needed to be. Paradise lost!

4. It was reassuring that as well as men “of a certain age” there were a clearly active bunch of lurkers some of them quite young and all of whom were well versed in classic nettime tropes and questions, but who only very occasionally intervened on the list. Fortunately, this gathering was not all male or all white.

5. Its surprising just how many people present declared themselves too intimidated to join the on-line discussions but were articulate and insightful in the meeting. One important proposal was to invite and support a number of guest editors from different demographics who might introduce new threads and different voices. One woman volunteered and took my details… She has not yet got back to me. I hope she is reading this. I should have taken her details but as I said I was a ‘sole trader’ so you know.

6. A number of the women present got stuck in to addressing the question of limited inclusivity head on and events took a humorous turn by suggesting that the old boys (some of whom they were quite fond of) might be quietly shuffled off to some nettime equivalent of ‘sheltered accommodation’.

7. It was great that one of Nettime’s founder members Pit Schultz was present and made characteristically vivid and passionate interventions. He was also very positive about the meeting (not always a given). Pit’s main point was that nettime had been as much in the thrall of a kind of “complacent fin de siècle globalisation” as any branch of the neo-liberal consensus and was still struggling to transcend its starting point of critical media culture’s resistance to whatever is today’s version is of the Californian Ideology. And that this transatlantic dialectic has long ago unravelled and a spent force. He is currently working with a group of activists in Vietnam.. watch this space

8. Researcher Alexandra Barancova was present as one of the organisers of the Tactical Archives conference in Rotterdam (with Eric Kluitenberg) and she suggested that a follow up to the ‘nettime listening post’ meeting could be hosted in Amsterdam in September this year as the concluding symposium for the exhibition ‘Knowledge Wars’ at the Framer/Framed gallery.

9. Sarkowski was also positive about another nettime meeting at Panke same time next year

10. Speaking of ‘Tactical Archives’ we were keen to discuss how better use could be made of the extensive and rich nettime archive. And in that regard we were joined on-line by Michael Dieter, Mark Tuters and David Gauthier all three researchers had written a significant journal article on the importance of mailing lists based on dialogues with list editors at the time including Melinda Rackham for empyre and Andreas Broeckmann for Spectre… Their declared aim is “ to both introduce these lists to the emerging field of internet history and scope out medium-specific methods that take the measure of concepts, discourses, cohorts, and events that have taken place through them over time. “ (quote from the abstract)

11. In the meantime here is a link to the pre-publication version in the Warwick archive: https://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/133705/

12. The zoom link to all three worked very well. They gave a great tour of the data-base application that David developed some years ago to make nettime and a number of other text based list archives more ‘legible’ and able to reveal historical patterns and shifting trends and generally make list archives more usable. I don’t feel competent to represent the discussion that followed but it became clear that there is a landscape of new tools for transforming list archives into more accessible forms of database and it would be great if the current moderators could connect with David, Marc and Michael and take this to the next level.

13. I was worried that in setting aside 3 hours for the meeting we were biting off more that we could chew. I needn’t have worried the conversation never flagged. And like all the best meetings “time passed and something happened.” See you in Amsterdam.

David Garcia

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