Mediamatic Magazine vol. 6 #1 Bilwet 1 Jan 1991

Actuele Media

Adilkno Topical Media

Imagine that there's a war... and no one is watching television.


Bilwet- Actuele Media -

Total information radiates such availability that it evokes only pure revulsion. As Dasein in optima forma, it is just a bit more than life can bear. Data can never be accepted for what it is. It has to be made to resonate by means of sophisticated equipment, in order to then be processed. Player technology has to be continually updated, otherwise data succeeds in escaping and, already vegetating, sinks once again into its hardheaded silence. Wear and resilience are big issues in the world of the player and recording equipment industry. Data recorded on a magnetic tape or CD can duck behind a layer of peaceful static with lightning swiftness, and cease to be readable for the assignment of significance, listening pleasure or other forms of smoothing. Data can amuse only after life has been breathed into it by smooth generators. No recreation without creation.Watching the telephone or listening to film cans ceases to be entertainment; it evidences true obsession.

In the period in which bulletins were still sent by sailing ship, they were granted the opportunity to ripen into reports. Data was transformed into news by allowing it to become old. Only when accompanied by opinions and commentary could the message escape the crushing remark: What business is it of mine? By consolidating and concentrating the mix of bulletins which came in, the editors were able to daily evoke the image of a coherent world. The substantial clothing in which ephemeral sensation was offered made it possible for the citizenry to absorb the news as a program segment of daily life. It could provoke general interest because it appeared in the guise of a regulated encroachment on the ritual of one's own existence. The news came from outside and, once inside, provided the necessary reactions, which then spread throughout the community as the stuff of conversation and there acquired the coherence needed.

The acceleration of transport brought with it the 'currency principle'. More and more, absolute lime determines the significance of the event. The time segment within which a message can be paraded as the theme of the day is becoming smaller and smaller. An example: on the 23rd of January 1766, the Amsterdamsche Courant reported that the King of Denmark was seriously ill. On the 28th of January, it reported that Copenhagen is sunk into bitter Mourning, because /heir beloved monarch has been torn from among them by Death, while, in fact, he died on January the 14th. Thus, the moment of the monarch's death tasted two weeks.

Telematics has won a crushing victory over this regime of the interval and relating what is happening elsewhere has become a never-ending story. The reports are no longer delivered in portions; they form a constant stream which is oriented to local time. News no longer reaches you: it's permanently present. It no longer occupies a fixed place among life day's duties; rather, it can be brought
in whenever desired.

Previously, the programmed media restricted the idiosyncratic scheduling of
one's day. They could make a 'news aura' rise up around information by selecting it, saving it up and clothing it in such a way that the ritual digestion of world wide titbits re-acquired its collective character. The television news programs became platforms for local nationalities. The dictates of time which the programmers imposed on the people via their tv guides left one with the pleasant feeling of having made the choice one's self, when one switched on the news. Programmatic media presumed that the consumer was a subject, and thus collaborated with the makers in giving the broadcast a meaning. When data escaped these dictates and the tv became a piece of furniture, comparable with the dresser upon which the family photographs were displayed, the topical media made their entrance. They appeared as an interruption to the program. The fatal currency of the traffic (traffic report, ghost riders), was employed as a means of pulling pressure on one to stay tuned- even while one is sitting at home. Life itself then came to be conceived of as a kind of traffic which had to be continued, uninterrupted.

In the beginning, the news interrupted the programming; then the interruption acquired a channel of its own. Currency's capacity to suggest a hierarchy of importance, in which shoving to the front is allowed, had an unforeseen consequence: the fragmentation of the media user as subject. Their capacity to choose succumbed, as far as the topical media were concerned. The equality of news and entertainment was restored when the topical media were settled on a wavelength of their own. But, at the same lime, the claim that media had a universal claim to the all those between the ages of 8 and 88 was relinquished. Each minority got its own message. The idea of the market sector to be conquered thus became an integral part of the medial, and the unrestrained proliferation of channels could begin.

The secret of topical media is to profile itself as a separate media in such a way that all programmatic media are temporarily tuned out. Currency's now-or-never doesn't allow itself to be combined with a lasting bond with the viewer. After a day or two of watching, to everyone's astonishment, the inflammatory character of the spontaneous news burst turns out to have a staged 'show character' par excellence. Anyone in search ofbackground information is better off reading a book or chatting with the neighbours. Currency and news are mutually exclusive. As soon as the topical media start broadcasting live press conferences, which journalists must make news of later, the interval in which something can still become news has been destroyed: we see the journalists leaving the room in order to call through what we've just finished watching.

When we're able to follow the work of world-renowned writers on bulletin boards, as they write their prizewinning novels, to watch the shooting of a Hollywood film which will be broadcast as an evening-tong show many months later, when telephone conversations between world leaders are plugged directly into the transmitters, when we can follow the studio takes of a world-famous musician's co live on the radio and when the only reports we see are about the way in which reports are pieced together, then the end product will appear so much tater than the actual item that it can be shoved aside as refuse. Who will take the trouble to buy a disk if we've all just spent months listening to the recording of the new numbers and have discussed the various versions in detail? When the public has been placed permanently in the position of the journalist, the viewer will have to continually switch channels in order to finish up their report on lime. In this way, viewing lime is actively made use of.

Refuse was always purely an object. One of the promising consequences of the nonsensical urge to consolidate the data which has been gathered into an end product (like this nicely designed quarterly) is the continual creation of refuse. Nobody needs to read those quarter lies, because everyone knows which programs they've been made with. But what loses its meaning, regains its secret. Superfluous media have restored their silence. It's the nature of data that it evokes the suspicion that it is manifold. It's always found in groups. Data can operate by itself, but can 't be received. Every piece of data counts and retains its idiosyncratic character. Data can't just be addressed: first, one must know which language it speaks. Looking at data means making it into objects: refuse.

Topical media are media in progress. They're no longer capable of producing ready-made features; they wander about in the raw material. Now, the avant-garde of hard information is reconnoitering the next phase, in which it's accepted that end products are superfluous. They are busy, obsessively testing out the data-vacuum cleaners which they've developed in their labs. The collection, attraction, picking up, tapping, clipping out, copying, categorising, storage, regrouping and especially the saving of data is their calling in life. Completely in line with the sovereign media, they no longer need an audience in order to work over their subjects. They're amazed at the inexhaustibility of their data sources. Just as in the traditional computer societies, they carry out the ritual in which the surplus of data which the society produces is extinguished. But this anthropological view of archaic mechanisms of reconciliation overlooks the fact that the whole of society is saddled up with this refuse problem: there is a great danger that the quantity of data will exceed its critical mass and explode. And handful of priests with their data vacuum cleaners can do little to combat the danger of crucial data-carriers going up in flames.

Miniaturisation of data storage is not the solution to the overload which menaces; it contributes to its amplification. Compressed micro-data continue to be objects which can strike back. Just like material refuse, data can't be destroyed, but only relocated. The ecological answer, data prevention (prevention is better than storage) leads inexorably to the creation of media-free zones a la Gulag archipelago and a pedagogical form of censorship which may erase data-intensive periods from history, for example. All of these solutions are conceivable, therefore outdated. Only the strategy of data recycling, the rerouting of information into events and phenomena before it can once again be turned through the wheels of the mythical view of history, offers some prospect of an effective aversion of the data-growth which is immanent. Maybe we should have let data go its own way, and entrusted it to itself without any guidance or signification from outside.

translation Jim Boekbinder