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Information nomads and community surfing

Information and freedom of speech on the internet. New social structures and forms of communication. Day-to-day fight for on-line existence.

information pursuit

In the early phases of the development of internet - a period of developing connectivity - the information banks were the ftp archives of mostly academic institutions and the key to their resources was anonymous ftp and a command line of text terminal. It can´t be said, that there was some ultimate freedom of information those days. An abundance of texts existed about drugs, underground zines, postmodern texts, one could find the Anarchist cookbook, Phrack. However, only a relatively limited group of people had access to those information. The address of the FTP server could sometimes be found in printed magazines or a randomly obtained electronic text, and knowledge of control commands was necessary for its use. After a short episode with the hypertext system Gopher, a www boom followed in 1995-96. The number of private or theme sites begun to grow, although they could only be placed at the predominantly academic or the emerging freehosting servers. One could easily envisage that on the academic website a CV-type information was expected - photographs, information about professional interests, projects. The administrators didn´t cherish other types of info. According to the graphical nature of the www all was suddenly uncovered, the login and password disappeared, information so far hidden in the net were at once made outright public. Info on the www had to fulfill certain rules of a server or institution, where it was located.
Provider of freehosting censored the web for two main reasons - bandwith and complaints about indecent content from companies and individuals hardened by threats of legal prosecution. Areas of insuitable information rapidly profiled - porn, drugs, warez, hacking, cracks, guides on how to produce chemicals, spreading racism, fascism but also "different opinion". The scenario was simple. The author created his website, uploaded it onto the server, let everyone know about it. On other websites links to this site would emerge, thus more and more people would find out about it. Because all were public, sooner or later someone who found some information unacceptable would come across. Someone whose perception of the world was scattered or the administrator himself detected from the statistics an increased data transfer and a problem would arise. After hackers, information liberators of late 80´s, information nomads emerged, authors of websites incessantly driven from server to server because they could nowhere stay long.

Liu Di a twenty-two-year old student of psychology from Beijing wrote contributions in discussion groups under her nickname "stainless-steel mouse". When police closed her favourite chatroom, she set up her own. She published various articles on the on-line bulletin board and criticized the government restrictions of the Internet. Further, she expressed symphathy with the webmaster, who had been imprisoned for publishing articles dealing with forbidden topics, such as the demonstration at the Tian'anmen Square in 1989. The police arrested her for threatening the state security, searched her house, seized her computer, notes and floppy disks. Her parents don´t know where she is.


Last year Amnesty International organisation publicly accused top US producers and distributors of computer technologies. Microsoft, Sun microsystems, Cisco systems and others were among those who supplied Chinese government with technology enabling restrictions on freedom of speech on the internet. Up to now, the side effect of various restrictions of the Internet access and information content filtering that are delivered to the users, is the 33 people arrested for transmission of subversive information. Some of them are already dead. Although the censorhip of the Internet is most severe in China and Burma a number of other countries where their size and state-controlled information infrastructure enables, the Internet access is censored on a national level. The protocols on the abroad connectivity lines are restricted and filtered. Internet is only accessible in the state-controlled cafés, the e-mail communication is monitored.
In 2000 the founder and editor of the online daily Ukrainian Truth Georgij Gongadze was murdered. He had been monitored by the state police for a couple of months prior to his disappearance. In Yugoslavia and Britain several people who published information on military and secret service had problems. Censorship appears in most countries of the world. Even in the countries generally considered democratic, such as the USA or the UK, sites and servers are classified according to their suitability or danger. You can´t browse through Helmut Newton´s web which is classified as sex/nudity or read about fascism. Proxy servers and search engines contain lists of unacceptable words and filter unsuitable sites. The decision is upon the provider, employer, and is often arbitrary and hidden. Isn´t the situation in Malaysia better in the fact, that things are censored simply if they're breaking the laws? Reporters Without Borders have a record of tens of imprisoned cyber dissidents. The demonstration (in Paris!) for their release was suppressed by the police.

etoy.com - one of the first art projects on internet fell into trouble with its domain, when it turned into interest of an online toy sale company which succeded to acquire the domain by tough court trials. Interestingly, after the burst of the .com bubble, the company bankrupted and the domain came back to the hands of the activists.

DMCA and corporate culture

Free sites are facing problems and die. Police and corporations have learnt to monitor the web and terminate uncomfortable sites by threats to ISP and the hosting of providers usually without any legal backing. The weapons the corporations use against freedom of speech on internet are WIPO and DMCA - the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the infamous US autorship law the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. These acts basically work for large corporations, because an individual cannot register a trademark valid world-wide. Thanks to DMCA hundreds of internet radios have been closed down. The copyright organisations together with distribution companies - or rather under their pressure - prosecute the spread of music and films, despite the fact that the change of their business model after the arrival of the internet is inevitable. The Napster trial was the beginning of the witch hunts. New systems for file sharing have developed, such as Gnutella, which surpassed the centralized and easily assailable model by distributed network. RIAA has placed spys in these systems, trace down downloads, sends out accusatory mails which report downloaders to providers and litigates with under-age children the same as elders. The only thing RIAA thus achieves, is a new generation of file-sharing which protect anonymity of it's users through a sophisticated network with it's own routing mechanisms. This could be Muse or any other software.
The fight is reverted from the internet back to the ordinary world. There are restrictions imposed upon parties and public appearances, efforts exist to enforce built-in protection against unauthorized use of author creation directly in the technology (players, projectors, memory cards).


Publishing certain information, but also it's browsing poses a risk. As a precaution against hackers or viruses, the ISPs in the USA were forced to bug their system logs by secret service and police, which are thus able to track down from which telephone number or place did the user connect to the searched IP address. Through this they can trace the visitors of websites, the origin of emails, etc. Interestingly, an important producer of log data mining technologies is Microsoft, which OS and office software is a heaven for viruses. The security holes of its internet tools are often hard to grasp. It surely might be intentional, the Microsoft management called the computer underground Darknet and organizes seminars about cyberterrorism as a PR to their products and services.
A defense against surveillance, filtering and firewalls was created in anonymous proxies, mailers and their interconnection for hindrance of tracking. However, the outcomes were questionable. One could suspect, that among the services offering the protection there are services operated by those who are especially interested in communication which should be concealed. It also can be assumed, that the encrypting software, which used to be strongly restricted by the US government in the early nineties, is nowadays a snake-oil using lame ciphers and including lots of backdoors.
Eventually, the weapons against prosecution of information have developed naturally. It is something that could be called non-linear ways of communication - stepping out of the mainstream, closed and multi-layered communication. Dialog boxes in discussion forums requiring login and password at first started to appear for identification reasons - to make the contributions more coherent and identifiable. Usually most important was the nickname, the other fields weren´t viewed by anyone. Nevertheless, at some places one had to fulfill certain criteria in order to register. The discussion manners of some people (hate, flame) instigated functions such as ban or the formulation of ethical rules. Closed content started to increase. Nowadays, most of the quality information is behind the closed door which is difficult to pass. Robots cannot scan the content; for accessing personal contacts are required. We can speak about community sites, which have their entry games and rituals (typically, a new member must write something about himself and has to be recommended by an existing member). In open systems, forums with a restricted access only for acquianted emerged. To enable free communication, an unwritten rule exists, which forbids publishing contributions that appeared on the closed discussion system anywhere else without the author's consent. A similar etiquette of links and citations has been created by the bloggers.

thing.net - a New York based group of artists and activists hosted a parody site dow-chemical.com. The creators of the Web sent out a false press release, in which Dow admitted the responsibility over the Bhopal catastrophy in India, where the leak of chemicals killed 5.000 people and 150.000 have died in the following years as a consequence of the contamination of the environment. The press release stated that Dow would like to compensate the victims and face the environmental damage, however, the interests of the shareholders do not allow that and it would be a dangerous precedent for other corporations in the field, such as Exxon, Amoco, BP or Shell.The company Dow consequently filed a DMCA complaint on Verio, the Internet provider of the whole network thing.net, achieving a momentary disconnection for 15 hours. Thing.net had its 7-year contract terminated and got 60 days to relocate to a different provider. The domain dow-chemical.com was redirected to Dow company´s own Site.

technological communities

It all begins with one´s own server or with personal computers and at least partially freely accessible small company, graphic or recording studio. Larger communities create strong information portals, they dispose of their own hosting capacities, or Internet connection. Having control over the medium enables to set one´s own rules, create a space which differs from the rigid and aimless conservatism, harsh economic conditions that are blocking alternative projects, from license arrangements or terms of service. Everything has to be paid for in the commercial sphere - information, patents, technologies, smallest piece of software, standards or for using certain formats. The high technological level of the communities provides them with some financial freedom. However, it can't be said, that the financial issue would be the growth factor of the communities. They do not grow on money, they gwow with people.
We can think further. Own wireless connection, telephone connection, open source software, special operation systems, encrypted short messages, cryptographic authorities, stream radio and video, multi-user virtual worlds and games.
Even strong technological communities from impulsive demorgroups to the metropolitan WAN are rarely at the forefront of the development. Their equipment, a mixture of commercially sold parts (for example no community disposes of tools for the production of processors and other hardware components) and other self-produced independent technologies, while the role of the independent ones keeps increasing. Simply said - they cannot develop a new algorithm, but they know how to implement and use it. The central principle intertwined with this process is hacking of high-tech high-price equipment or programms, developing similar lo-tech devices from cheap DIY components, replacing commercial programms and formats with open source alternatives, utilization of the technology other ways than had been intended, removal of protection mechanisms, reverse engineering, ripping, cracking. At the beginning, there was a revolutionary idea of technology for everyone, which is implicit now and simply - daily fights for technologies that can still make some money for it's owners has arisen. This fight in the electronic space has no rules and changes quickly, co the classical legislature can hardly affect it.

czfree.net - a large WiFi network without an official administration structure, which is composed of tens of access points with a possibility of a free broadband connection and limited free internet access. Parts of the backbone are carried out by DIY 10mbit/s laser links, home-made at a fraction of price of the commercial products. A license dispute arose between Clock, the author of the original opensource design and a small company Alphawave belonging to one of the founders of czfree. Alphawave didn´t provide all the documentation with the product, according to licence. The accusation of the author ended up in developing the proprietary model of the laser.


Developers of the open source software do create a certain community around the idea expressed by the GPL license, which apart from the economic aspect, has strong social impact regarding the rules of copying. However, the open source is also supported by companies, corporations, totalitarian governments or military subjects, which realized, that it might bring them profit. It is absurdly symptomatic, that the most wide-spread distribution of Linux is the Chinese Red flag. Is open source a community then? It has turned into more of a corporation now, which stems from the simplicity of it's idea and structure. Post-industrial, post-modern and post-cybernetic community has multi-layered relationships, more social aims - something which hippies called vibrations.
Communities are always somehow closed. They have their mantras and sound informations that typically unite them. In communities around graphic style it is a more complex network of ties, however, there is a greater independence, or sometimes hostility. The feature of information communities is the acquisition of new information, discussion, creation of opinion systems, spreading of alternative information, that is pushed out from the mainstream media or disinterpreted, information liberation, creation of information bases and sources with an open licence. Naturally developing community sites often contain a public layer of articles at a level generally accepted by other media, and under various systems of access rights a strong discussion core, a system of private messaging, user journals or blogs, tools for expressing relationships between users (karma, friends), tools for expressing identity (icon, nickname, avatar, etc). The type of communication according to V. Flusser´s ideas has generally got a tree type structure, in contrast to the pyramidal schema of corpartions and governments. The discussion ramifies at all levels, everyone can reply, create new threads and forums. Corporate discussion can have the same features, however, the result is different. Discussion acts as an illusion of openess, where those, who posses power, don´t generally respect the results, to say the least. They misuse them for their own aims and interpretations, or follow the discussion only to identify the potential opponents.
Within the community, the process and results of a discussion are integral and the arguments approach consensus. The deeper, the more specific is the communication of the community. As Flusser notes, modern national languages are more or less artificially created from many local ones in the era of letterpress from economical reasons - because they enable a higher impression. Thanks to the Internet, where the cost of text publishing is zero, we are returning to the pre-literary period of oral communication with many varied communication codes and slangs of a mythical-ritual origin. Furthermore, they develop rapidly and change, which is another element of the protection of communication except the fact that information are strongly contextual. Thus, a discussion has to be watched for a longer period.

Indymedia.org - during demonstrations against the WTO in Seattle in 1999 CNN broadcasted news, which said that the police didn ´t use rubber projectiles against the demonstrators. The Independent Media Center (IMC) gave another story. While the CNN reporters interviewed the police spokesman and recorded their official version, IMC and their reporters who are real people living in the actual places of conflict, had over a hundred cameras in the streets. On its website, the IMC published proofs about rubber shots and provided a video, which documented the use of police guns. CNN was pushed to correct its news and inform about the violent conflict.

creative communities

Except of the transfer speed and personalities the growth factors of communities are dreams as well. To have one´s own living space, autonomous zone for different opinions and ideas, own club, own network. The internet isn´t about a physical space, but about people´s thinking. Communities arise around certain kind of music, soundsystem or visual style. It can be seen vice versa, too. The style arises as a charasteristic feature of a community. Thanks to the control over the (mass) medium, they can spread information about events, or creative results such as music tracks and records, comics, videos and texts without financial costs. Thus, an autonomous group of autors as well as an audience comes into being. In every case, encounters, communication possibilities and removing barriers constitutes a strong acceleration. Sub-cultural potential of interconnected communities is immense.

As Lev Manovich notes, traditional division into genres according to a medium (photography, film, video) is pointless in cyberspace. Through transmitting onto the Internet, everything is sampled into a digital version, which accentuates some (new) attributes and other (traditional) lose significance. Hypertext, net-art and new forms of art, the process of cut, paste, rip, remix are natural information pattern of behaviour. Freedom of interconnection of anything crashes linear ways of expression and thinking. Interactivity wipes out and reverses the roles of author/audience. It is interesting to note, that even DJ and party culture was based on deposing the musician from the stage star into crowd, where he was one of the present, peer to peer. Nowadays, anyone can choose what he or she wants to play on an Internet radio. Anyone can stream his or hers own music mixes. The ratio of those who broadcast to those who listen keeps increasing. As opposed to the classic media with one transmitter and masses of thoroughly passive recipients of social programming, we are talking about a post-media and post-net culture. On the net stands who isn´t creative, doesn´t exist.

imminent future of the semantic universe

Net is a textual and visual semantic space, in which various (mutually incompatible) opinion maps meet. These maps are relationship networks of related notions. Each map is based on an idea - open semantic maps, understandable, forced (state systém), maps with a concealed or supplementary idea (commerce), community maps. Each of these basically originates from a certain spiritual system, often in a postmodern mix (buddhist ideas with traces of christianity), enriched with political-cultural-social influence (students, punks, sharps, nazi, slackers) or a professional field (programmers, artists, dealers). The struggle arises as a result of the expansion of semantic systems with an imperative (imperialistic, often portrayed as democratic) structure, which are not able to coexist in an information organism in an ecological way. The frontier between thought territories is based on individual attacks, counterattacks and defence. It can be said, that it a kind of blade, dividing a realized future from hopeless dreams. The border or the frontier induces the idea of a line. Here, it is perhaps the suface of a multidimensional structure, which keeps changing, growing and withdrawing. The struggle doesn´t happen at one place, but at all network nodes simultaneously. The response in a global electronic organism is immediate, information pursues disinformation. The attitude of a community is discredited in the media by the designed-community that advocates corporate PR slogans, thought viruses represented for example by a piece of code are spreading avalanchelike, everything is happening on-line. Some people call it infowar, another say that the cyberspace is burning...

Time implodes. We're facing epoch, in which the development of technologies, media and transmission of information will be uninterupted and uniteruptible. Information technology will soon be ready to generate our reality realtime. Whoever will not be ready to react - be it through the technological level or structural complexity - will be sucked into an elaborate addiction pyramids of corporations. Many people decide to pursue this way voluntarily. The others don´t, they are susceptible and aren´t afraid to act.



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