From Tactical Media to the Neo-pragmatists of the Web
AbstractIn this essay I argue that despite the powerful forces seeking to domesticate the internet, transforming it from the bio-diversity of a ”˜creative commons’ into a network of carefully managed ”˜walled gardens,’ the drive to expand and intensify the ideal of democracy remains the ”˜true north’ of the internet revolution.
I further argue that an expansion of the ideal of democracy based on widening the circle of participation and collaborative expression is linked to the emergence of the ”˜user’ as the lead player and primary agent for change replacing both the worker and the more static concept of the consumer. I suggest that the emergence of a ”˜user language’ is best understood through the theories developed by the cultural theorist de Certeau whose work became influential in the cultural studies milieu of the 1980s. I show how a decade later a media orientated interpretation of de Certeau’s ideas inspired the ”˜tactical media’ movement; a distinctive combination of art, technological experimentation, and political activism that arose in the early 1990s and successfully exploited the cracks already appearing in the edifice of traditional broadcast media as the internet began to take hold.
Finally I examine the possibility that unlike the failure of utopian ideals associated with 20th century broadcast media the equivalent ideals associated with the Internet are proving far more resilient. I conclude by suggesting reasons for the persistence of these emancipatory narratives and examine various experimental platforms suggesting that the utopian avant-garde perspective of the early Internet, though continually under threat, remains a potent force whose energies are far from exhausted.