underground 2.0

Continuing a run of posts on digital theorist Geert Lovink, his post Underground Networks in the Age of Web 2.0 merits a read. I disagree with parts of this statement, however:

The actual use of Web 2.0 is what counts here, not how op-eds and columnists frame the topics of the day. What we think is ‘happening’ is an outcome of the reconfiguration of the social, in favor of informal spheres, a media ecology in which we constantly check what’s going on. The erosion of official media will only make it harder to define what a true ‘underground’ looks like. Hiding in the abandoned normalcy is, and always has been an option, but with the decline of Pop, it is becoming less and less sexy to survive in suburbia. Mashups and reappropriation techniques have exhausted themselves. The ruins of the industrial age have been recolonized and turned into valuable real estate. Squatting empty office spaces, symbols of the post-industrial era, has yet to take off—and may never happen because of harsh legal and surveillance regimes. Nothing is left behind. Abandoned space itself has become scarce—except the desert.

It's unclear where the line is drawn in this paragraph between urban space as a metaphor and actual urban space. In any case, mashups and reappropriation techniques haven't exhausted themselves, even if Lovink is bored with them. In fact it's interesting that they continue below the level of copyright cop surveillance. Discussing cell phone activists knowing when to turn off their phones, Lovink talks about the "seventh sense one has to develop to locate the present surveillance video cameras." It may be that the remixer/masher/datamosher has developed the same radar for avoiding copyright harassment (which often disguises political motives).

more on those relational hacktivists

Peter Ludlow, writing in The Nation:

WikiLeaks is not the one-off creation of a solitary genius; it is the product of decades of collaborative work by people engaged in applying computer hacking to political causes, in particular, to the principle that information-hoarding is evil—and, as Stewart Brand said in 1984, "Information wants to be free." Today there is a broad spectrum of people engaged in this cause, so that were Assange to be eliminated today, WikiLeaks would doubtless continue, and even if WikiLeaks were somehow to be eliminated, new sites would emerge to replace it.

"Doubtless" is a fudge word, possibly because strong differing opinions are out there. Geert Lovink, in his Ten Theses on Wikileaks, says:

Wikileaks is a typical SPO (Single Person Organization). This means that initiative-taking, decision making, and the execution process is largely centralized in the hands of one single person. Much like small and medium-size businesses the founder cannot be voted out and unlike many collectives leadership is not rotating.

Lovink also says this about Wikileaks, reminding us of the type of mentality a certain academic-style essay recently, oddly tried to pair with late-'90s "relational aesthetics":

Wikileaks is also an organization deeply shaped by 1980s hacker culture combined with the political values of techno-libertarianism which emerged in the 1990s. The fact that Wikileaks has been founded, and is still to a large extent run by hard core geeks, forms an essential frame of reference to understand its values and moves. This, unfortunately, comes together with a good dose of the somewhat less savory aspects of hacker culture. Not that idealism, the desire to contribute to making the world a better place, could be denied to Wikileaks, quite on the contrary. But this idealism is paired with a preference for conspiracies, an elitist attitude and a cult of secrecy (never mind condescending manners) which is not conducive to collaboration with like minded people and groups – reduced to the position of simple consumers of Wikileaks outcomes.