The book "Docuverse" by Frankfurt media scholar Hartmut Winkler brings a breath of fresh air to media theory in general and German in particular. Net critic Geert Lovink has had an extensive conversation with Winkler via email. Preliminary versions of the following text circulating in insider circles have led to fierce counter-reactions. What’s the big deal about Winkler’s "Docuverse"?
For discussion see also the commentary by Rudolf Maresch Blind Flight of the Mind Further contributions by Hartmut Winkler in Telepolis: Search Engines and From Pull to Push?
Frankfurt theorist Hartmut Winkler has presented a comprehensive critique of the new German media theory. ‘Docuverse’ is the title of his Habitationsschrift, and the 420-page manuscript is subtitled ‘Zur Medientheorie der Computer’.
The background theme is the Internet and the current shift in the media landscape from visual media to computers and the question of the social motives for this shift. At the center is the notion of ‘desires’ that can be "Reconstruction of desires to which the data universe is an answer". The title ‘Docuverse’ was taken from Ted Nelson and is an important term for Winkler because it forces us to think of the data universe as a text-based, technical/social whole and at the same time makes it possible to criticize this idea as a theoretical fiction.
Hartmut Winkler is a media scientist at the Institute for Theater, Film and Media Studies at the University of Frankfurt. In 1991 his book was published ‘Switching – Zapping’ The book is a successful mixture of film and media theory, in which concepts like montage and dream suddenly appear in a new context (see also my review in Mediamatic 8#1). His second book on film and. Media theory heightens "The cinematic space and the spectator" (Heidelberg, 1992) and deals with the so-called ‘Apparatus’-theories, a new approach to the technical theory of film, which started in France in the 70s and was later further discussed in the USA.
‘Docuverse’ is for now a normal habitation writing: zah, academic, sometimes boring and always responsible. But the interesting thing about it are the questions that are asked and that go far beyond the small academic circle. Winkler’s thesis is that the computer is fundamentally different from the image media, since it is not based on images but on text and will therefore develop differently than the prophets of the new media tell us. So no synergy of internet and television? And is the whole multi-media industry really a one-way street??
So Winkler wonders what drives media history, writes about the net metaphor in language theory, computers as memory machines, Leroi-Gourhan and his evolutionary history of technology, mnemepathy, forgetting and condensation (Freud and, what was its name?… Lacan), the ‘crisis of images’, the counter concept ‘context’ and at the end the computer as the ‘medium of isolation’.
Yes, Frankfurt, many will say, here comes the left-wing cultural pessimist, we have been waiting for this. But these labels are far too simple. First of all, Winkler knows the literature on new media very well, has programmed for years himself, does not complain about ‘the culture industry’, but comes up with very fresh theses and counter-arguments. German media theory should take up this challenge and take the debate about the nature of computers and networks beyond academic circles into the (virtual) public sphere.
Can you briefly indicate what ‘Docuverse’ is about?? HARTMUT WINKLER: Two interests have come together in the project of writing the book: first, anger at the huge computer-as-medium hype that has erupted with the Internet and the fashionable, rash way in which the debate is currently conducted; and second, the opportunity to recycle my programming past in this way. It appealed to me to confront the medium of the computer with certain theories that have been developed on classical media, and then to see what becomes of those categories that are currently on everyone’s lips. What has been completely missing in the debate so far are considerations of the theory of language. The WWW explodes as a medium of texts and writing; and no one ponders why media history apparently abandons technical images (photography, film and TV) after 100 years and returns, it seems, to writing and language. Instead, the ‘end of the Gutenberg galaxy’ is proclaimed – completely silly – which, if at all, already occurred around 1900. Your critique of ‘media theory’ is mainly directed at a certain group of authors who have published a lot since the end of the eighties. on the one hand the ‘Kassler School’ around Kittler, Bolz and Tholen and on the other hand the Ars Electronica circle around Weibel and Rotzer. It is possible to define this ‘discourse’ a little bit more precisely? From my point of view, there are very clear regional and cultural, even historical conditions under which this lively text production came about. The year 1989 always comes to my mind: High point of the eighties, of yuppieism and postmodernism, fall of the wall, birth of techno and the first announcement of VR and networks. Now, this theoretical circle can neither be classified as left-progressive, in the sense of a sweeping critique of technology, nor as right-conservative, in the sense of cultural pessimism. Of course there is always this spirit of Heidegger in the background. And Lacan could also be mentioned as a common basis, even for you. For a very long time in West Germany it was the case that everyone who dealt with the media was considered to be in conformity with society. But I always found that to be a disease of ideology critique. The media sphere is very real and material (and becomes more and more so). Do these authors still represent something, or should one no longer even ask about sociological and ideological positions?? HARTMUT WINKLER: It is true that my book refers mainly to the German theory and to the authors mentioned above, and develops its own proposals for interpretation from the critique. This is the project. But I see the historical place of this debate differently. First of all, I do not think that ideology critique was simply and generally hostile to media and technology. If the authors mentioned more than clearly distance themselves from ideology critique (and in your presentation this gesture resonates a bit), I see a whole bundle of motives for this: a justified need to come to a more differentiated interpretation of technology and to overcome certain aporias in the field of ideology critique. In addition, however, the distancing seems to me to be a direct result of political exchanges. Technology offers itself as a refuge from the complex demands of the social, and those who see technology as the ‘apriori’ of social development no longer have to worry about much. And above all, one has freed oneself from the question, what in turn gives the development of technology its thrust and direction. And here I became to distinguish clearly Kittler and Bolz: While Kittler is actually doing technology hermeneutics and wants to recover what the social process has written into technology, Bolz turns into an open affirmative, with political reactionary implications. I think, like you, that the debate has an exact point in time. But for me ‘1989’ does not stand for a new beginning, but for a doughy chancellor and the potential perpetuation/globalization of bourgeois rule. And if technology is the only sphere in which ‘progress’ can still be recorded, it is no wonder that it finds enthusiastic supporters. In fact, in my opinion, the 1970s ideology critique did gross damage by first grossly neglecting the media sphere and secondly refusing to understand what attracts people to mass culture, a question that English cultural studies then took up. You can still see this fatal attitude in the magazines Spex and Beute, which dismiss the media sweepingly as ideology and, like Mark Terkessides, still locate the culture war in the feuilleton area. Those who deal with culture within the pop-left even have to (re)read Carl Schmitt. HARTMUT WINKLER: When you speak of the 70s, you are already speaking of the young, and I agree with you that they have often undercut the prophets. For the classics of critical theory, however, what you say does not apply; neither for Kracauer, who placed very rough hopes in mass culture, nor for Benjamin; in Brecht there is the utopia of taking away the monological character of the mass media, a utopia taken up by Enzensberger in the sixties and which has become the basis of a multitude of practical-democratic media initiatives, the communal cinemas were founded in the sixties/seventies, and so on. But above all, I think that the opposition: criticism versus sympathy/understanding/affirmation is much too crude. If the ‘culture industry chapter’ of the Dialectic of Enlightenment did not exist, it should be written as soon as possible as a contribution to a debate and as a very radical perspective that makes a certain side of the media visible. And Adorno’s ‘asthetic theory’, although it rejects media, jazz and mass culture, contains a lot of criteria which the media actually fulfill better and more self-understandingly than the autonomous art he favors. ‘Media’ theory, in my opinion, is no longer wedded to the old, instrumental, rational technocratic thinking of the Federal Republic of the time (the prosperity-NATO-police-nuclear state). Neither positivistic nor working out of the negative, it seems to be mainly on the trail of the inner voice of technology. The disembodied machines, worn out by their commodity character, are to be made to sing (again)?) be made to sing. These are mainly people from the fields of German studies, philosophy and art. Such a constellation exists, or existed, only in West Germany around this time (1989). Elsewhere, one has to look for media theory mainly in the fields of sociology, communication sciences and in the hard history of technology. Why is ‘the German media ideology’ and its ‘virtual class’ (if one could call it that at all) so sublimely poetic?? Elsewhere, media specialists do not invent such beautiful and complicated terms to describe the gray everyday life of the media. In the international division of labor, Germany is increasingly becoming the country of data poets and data thinkers? HARTMUT WINKLER: Oh dear, now I am in the position to defend a German special slogan. As absurd as I find many efforts, many terms and intermediate results of the debate, so decidedly I think that the more pragmatically attuned approaches ("Sociology, communication studies, and hard history of technology") miss their object – the media. We do not know explicitly what media actually are. We know that a relatively blind practice brings them into the world, but we don’t know what it means that ‘communication’ demands ever more complicated technical gadgets, and that the world of symbols merges ever more with that of technology; and as long as we don’t know that, I think it makes sense to work on the terms. Communication’ is a good example; you very naturally ame that living people (bilaterally) communicate with each other, as opposed to the ‘dead’ universe of writing. But is this plausible? Is not the technology itself in this sense ‘dead’ like the writing?? And isn’t that reason enough for the need to make them ‘sing’ again?? And here begins my plea also for the "academic thought processes", which you mentioned in your accompanying letter. Surely there are "university writing rituals"but at the same time scientific writing is a chance to distance oneself from the self-understandings and to speak differently from what is possible and necessary under practical conditions. I am always surprised how fast and hard certain things establish themselves as consensus. Multimedia is the natural goal of computer development, the computer is a universal machine, and so on… If you want to go against such a consensus, you need either good nerves or good arguments (and probably both). In any case, terms that do not come from the immediate debate itself, but from other contexts, even if they are Lacan or Heidegger. And if the international division of labor assigns this part of theory building to the Germans, so be it; they (we) have done worse jobs before. Let’s hope that universities (and their rituals) are places for criticism and reflection. I have experienced it differently and I don’t see that your (in itself correct) basic attitude is demanded there. The question here is where and how a media theory emerges that produces its own terms and breaks through the consensus. The danger of the position of media artists and free-floating intelligentsia (like me) is indeed that we work too close to the dirty reality. One must always take care of one’s own alienation from the world, otherwise we will disappear completely into the hypernormality. So, around 1989, in a time of rapid technological developments, a speculative movement emerged in the field of theory, which is characterized by the fact that it does not say goodbye to the Gutenberg galaxy, but takes all the knowledge of the last centuries into cyberspace, retraces the traces of the history of technology and establishes connections between chip architecture and modern literature, which others, without this book knowledge, would never come up with. Anyway, technology can do without Nietzsche and the humanities? It’s only us, the intellectuals, who need the life help of Kittler u.a. to come to terms with the technology? Media theory, invented for a certain stratum of the educated bourgeoisie, who have a hard time with the titanic forces of ‘techne’? Or collective bonds to give more weight to the shares of AEG, Mercedes-Benz, Siemens and Deutsche Bank? For power, the metaphysical knowledge of the German media theory is, in my opinion, not very useful. HARTMUT WINKLER: …I very much hope. And of course technology gets along without Nietzsche. In general, however, it is not simply a matter of coming to terms with technology as it is. If this society has decided to inscribe more and more content not in texts, but in technology, then the point is that the content there is no longer visible or recognizable as such. They appear as natural properties of things, as the result of a linear (and necessarily one-sided) technical progress, as irreversible. It is the same as with the codes. What is once coded is the invisible ‘precondition’ of communication. And whoever argues that a critique of technology is no longer possible and that the age of critique in general is over, is ultimately adopting a strategy of naturalization. Accordingly, the task of theory and technology hermeneutics would be to recover the content that is encoded in technology "forgotten" have been. The decisions and value-settings, the social structures and power configurations, the practice that has become structure in technology. To show this transformation of practice/discourse into structure (and structure into practice/discourse) is the main theoretical project of my book. Your ‘net critique’ wants exactly the same thing. Nor does the evolved structure of the network depend on criticism to continue to grow. And if you don’t just build with it, but think about the net in a different medium (writing and printing), then it’s not far to Nietzsche anyway. During the Bonn Republic (and perhaps even now) there was a strict distinction between culture and media (education, entertainment) and the hard field of work and technology. That’s why there was no demand for a ‘philosophy of the computer’ and why the hermeneutics of technology led a shadowy existence. But this has changed in recent years. Many media have been released and are no longer under state control. Computers and networks have become almost ubiquitous, and with them media theory takes on a different status. However, the enthusiastic spirit of optimism around 1989 no longer exists. It has left the realm of theory and art and is floating around as hype in the old mass media. Nevertheless, the ‘poets of the technical’ can now get good positions as advisors to power. For this to happen, however, philosophers must transform themselves into market prophets and go through life as trend researchers. Is this the fate of your counterparts? And what comes after the ‘theory fiction’?? Probably not a science fiction… Or rather a new wave of criticism (net criticism as the latest fashion…)? HARTMUT WINKLER: The thing, I think, will divide: some will make TV spots for the German Telekom and lectures in front of marketing people (that’s not fiction but fact), the others will switch to the camp of the critical critics and say, they always knew it would happen. The wave of scepticism has already passed, I agree. Again, however, I would say that the ‘positions’ are less interesting than the models and interpretations associated with those positions. And if the critics have nothing to offer but the old ‘humanistic’ certainties (example Clifford Stoll), they won’t get that far either. There is no media theory of computers yet, not in Germany and not elsewhere, as you state in your introduction. Is not this mainly because the theorists themselves are not yet in the networks and move to settle there? By choosing the term ‘docuverse’ (by Ted Nelson) I think you indicate that for you cyberspace is primarily a space of texts and documents. Nowhere in your book does it appear that there are actually people (and their artificial agents) in the networks. You talk about a ‘remote universe’ and that ‘communication’ as a term is too short. Isn’t that mainly because the net is a collection of ‘dead’ information for you anyway?? Your main sources are Derrida, Lacan, Freud, Nietzsche, etc., combined with the new professional literature. Why is your media theory of computers so firmly anchored in the book knowledge of the age before the nets?? What consensus is there with the people you criticize?? Can it be that there is no paradigm shift at all and the newness of the media only culminates in the return of the old?? Then the old familiar theory framework can remain standing! HARTMUT WINKLER: To put it bluntly: there are no people on the networks. If I estimate roughly, there are currently 60% natural language texts in written form, 20% programs and algorithms, 10% numerical data, 10% images and 10% digitized sounds – all in all 110%, ten more than a hundred, as it is appropriate for hyperspace. And some of the written texts, you are right, are intended for immediate consumption and are exchanged live and in real time. All in all, it’s a type universe, the mouse won’t leave a single thread behind. And if you ask what is new about all this, it seems to me that it is not the bilateral communication of two partners (as a new edition of the telephone or the internet) that is new. (e.g., teleprinter logic), and not the individual documents, but rather their arrangement in an n-dimensional space, their material interconnectedness through links, and the utopia of universal accessibility associated with this arrangement. The Nelson term ‘docuverse’ seems to me to sum this up well, and a brilliant anticipation; and that is why I made it the title. Indeed, I believe it is a resurgence of the Gutenberg galaxy rather than its end. After 100 years of the reign of images, there is an explosion of written authored texts, and in my book I ask why this is happening. From this thesis I separated the methodological problem, with the help of which theories the new medium should be described. Talking about something new always means applying ‘old categories’, and in case of doubt: book knowledge, to the new object; simply because language is fundamentally the language of the past. Much more suspicious to me is the currently widespread ‘rhetoric of the new’, which does not recognize in the concept of simulation the venerable problem of similarity, in the concept of virtual reality the assertion of realism, and in the concept of data the ontological implications. The old theory can by no means stand still. The people who claim to have torn it down, however, will be surprised to find out how much of it they carry along without knowing it. What is not new is the cynical capitalist logic that prevails in this industry. There is still little economic awareness there. But the communication thing is not true according to my experience. When 50.000 people participate in the Digital City of Amsterdam and hundreds are online at the same time, meeting, playing games, discussing, emailing, etc., For me, this is a fact and not a collection of documents. There may be multiple personalities, avatars, gender hobbyists, and perhaps some artificial agents in between. Norbert Bolz is the one you deal with the most. Is it above all the ‘totalizing’ in his prophecies what bothers you the most (‘the untrue’)?…)? Z.B. the firm conviction about the end of the Gutenberg universe, the victory of hypermedia and nonlinearity? Bolz is a student of Jacob Taubes, knows German philosophy and political theology (Hobbes/Schmitt) very well and is also a Walter Benjamin specialist. There lies also his approach towards a theory of new media. Does he use the classical sources in your opinion?? Or are they of no use at all when it comes to predicting technological developments?? It could be said that Norbert Bolz in particular misses the intellectual continuity and the dialogue between the old and the new media that you desire. Or does the criticism go back to Bolz’s rejection of the Enlightenment and his other postmodern statements?? HARTMUT WINKLER: Almost everything yes. Bolz is said to have written a really good book on Benjamin (which, to my shame, I don’t know). But when he uses Benjamin today, he shortens away three-quarters of the really difficult dimensions (the ‘left’ Benjamin, the metaphysician, the mystic, the philosopher of language, and the Judaic tradition of thought) until he retains that simple affirmation of technology that he can use. Bolz coldly calculated at some point that this republic needs a media fuzzi to tell it in sufficiently educated words what it wants to hear, and it worked. In the book I use it as a kind of punching bag, and that is of course also a stylization. By the way, there are also really nice passages in Bolz’s work. When he writes that this society has decided, "to construct purely with facts", so this is very inspiring, even if you don’t accept his affirmative conclusions. Again and again you come back to your thesis that the new media are based on language. According to Sherry Turkle’s classification, you must be an old-style IBM-PC modernist who has not yet experienced the blessings of the symbolic-iconographic Apple-Windows 95 postmodernism. In other words: the old computer, which had to be operated as a computer, versus the new image machine with the accessible, democratic user interface. Umberto Eco makes the distinction between imageless, abstract, Protestant PCs and pictorial screens for the Catholic Apple community. So, admit it, you are a Protestant modernist (like me) who belongs to the Luther-Gutenberg pact! Officially, then, you profess to belong to the Book Guild, but as a hobby you like to go to the movies… (Hartmut Winkler: this distinction is super!). Seriously, you even write, that you are good at the discipline of thinking, which is necessary for reading linear texts (books). You intend to ‘think all technology along the lines of language.And in general you want to question the usual connection between thinking and computers. Thinking is not ‘netformed’ and is not associative, as the proponents of WWW and hypertext like to claim. Nevertheless, I believe that the younger generation no longer accepts ‘writing’ as a ‘guarded restriction’ and ‘restrictive system’. The academic book culture of the 68 generation and the text based discussions are slowly disappearing and so is the influence of the ‘text based intellectuals’. The number of both old and new media vying for our attention (discipline as you will…) is constantly increasing, and the book is not so fashionable among the writing systems. Your warnings may be correct, but society is developing in a different direction. Writing thus also becomes less and less the internalized voice of power. For the first time in its history, it loses part of its authority as the voice of God, the Law and the Teacher. HARTMUT WINKLER: Last things first. That writing loses the voice of God does not mean that it falls silent and that God had resignedly given up. The first task, then, would be to show this voice in action even where it does not seem to speak. Kittler z.B. does so when he points to the imperatives inscribed in technology itself, which are expressed haptically-directly or via manual (Schrift!) to the ‘user. In short: I also believe that alternative systems of writing have taken the place of linear writing. This, however, is not happening now, but happened already around 1900, with the rise to power of technical images. You have read it: first and foremost, I criticize the habit of media historiography to directly confront the computer and the writing, and to simply skip the long phase of the visual media. The phenomenon is that the nonsensical computers (and even the few icons do not make them sensual) take the place of an overwhelmingly sensual image universe, the frustration with the bugs takes the place of the ‘uses and gratifications’ (these are the categories in which the image media have always been thought of)!) and a, as the semioticians say: again arbitrary system in the place of a motivated one. And that, I think, is the framework to ask overall about the relationship between the images and the computers. You are right: I don’t think that the writing has been discarded because, too poor and too little complex, it has been ‘outbid’ by the other media. But this does not mean that I preach, as you write, a return to the linear discipline of Scripture. One must distinguish at least three levels: 1.) the historical fate of writing, 2.) the question of images, and 3.) my thesis that one must understand the n-dimensional net from language. We will talk about the images and the language in a moment. But already here it is important for me to note that I do not keep coming back to language because I value language highly and images lowly, or because there are so many written texts on the WWW. What seems important to me is that there is a structural parallel between the data network and the language – as two semiotic arrangements. The structure of the network itself, this is my central thesis, imitates the structure of language. Namely, the linguistic structure that is stored in our heads. Language itself, as linguistics teaches us, is an n-dimensional network of references. Meanings are created by abstracting in an n-dimensional space. This parallel between network and language is what I am concerned with, and the new perspective that arises from it. And as a fourth point there is the thesis that basically all technology must be thought of from language. I share this view with Tholen, who goes back to Lacan and Derrida, and I would name Leroi-Gourhan as a more tangible and accessible witness. It opens the possibility to think the two sides of the media together: as symbolic machines they are not on the one hand symbolic and on the other hand technical, but both have to do with each other, and the task of theory is to describe this connection exactly. This discussion is still in its infancy; but terms like ‘inscription’ already overprint the difference, and for this very reason they are exciting. What I noticed is the absence of Paul Virilio, his history of media as acceleration, and his current critique of networks, which you might share. The data universe may lead to unification, the basic digital alphabet may be dismissed as the ‘fantasy of one’ and the ‘global village’ may not exist anyway, but the acceleration in the exchange of information and in communication seems to me to be quite real. Beyond the hype and the quirks of the machines, it is the effect of the networking of the buromachines. The relationship between the emergence of public computer networks and the globalization of the economy has not been thought about yet either. Always only: language, mathematics, philosophy. Everything formulated in a very narrow, abstract and safe terminology. Isn’t that a sign of the ‘isolation’ of thinking, an aspect you so reproach the computer and its visionaries with? HARTMUT WINKLER: I find Virilio’s early stuff great, the later ones, as far as I know them, less and less relevant. It would be worthwhile to think of the network in terms of time and speed. I think, however, that the results would be quite amazing. The grossest acceleration is when I simultaneously (!) reach millions of addressees (as the mass media do), and not if I save a day in bilateral communication compared to the letter or a few milliseconds compared to telex or fax. And relevant, I think, would be the whole time structure, including the real search and access times, which are anything but short. The logic of writing always seems to me to involve a time shift, because it fundamentally separates the time of inscription and the time of reception. And this also in the data network. What is really changing, however, is the access time to archived materials. When Bush says that our problem is "our ineptitude in getting at the record", the volume of accessible material changes (with the access time). And this, in turn, is not a temporal coarse… Your arger, dab the theory z.B. I fully agree that the globalization of the economy is currently being ignored. I think this is also a consequence of depoliticization and will have to be corrected with it. At a conference, I made a shrewd attempt to at least name the connection that exists between the global division of labor and the need for communication and thus the development of the media. For this, however, I have been horribly flogged, because one was of the opinion that such Marxist residues are unacceptable, since one knows in the meantime that the economy is not the engine of all things (- but this is still the case)! Geert Lovink -). Those who do not accept every paradigm shift without complaint have not yet understood what it is all about. But maybe you are right, and it would be worth to learn from the light highs of "language, mathematics and philosophy" to descend now and then… I believe, like you, that it would be much better for computers and their development to consider ‘Project Docuverse’ as a ‘particular medium’ and to abandon the utopian dreams of the universal medium, of the total work of art in data, and so on. as necessary rituals of the initiation phase. So it’s a matter of polluting the clean, totalitarian notions and forging temporary, hybrid media compounds. You already give an example of how dramatically the digitization of films could end, when one day it will be found out that bytes also decay. But it is not only digitized for archival purposes, but also to make the distribution of ideas, texts, images, faster and cheaper. You have to say something about networks as distribution systems, or doesn’t the eternal back and forth play a decisive role for you?? Networks can even be seen as a metaphor for this and are not even ‘real’ in that sense, but refer to something else. HARTMUT WINKLER: I do not see the archive and the back and forth as two separate modes of operation, but as the necessary entanglement of speech and language (discourse and structure) that I mentioned above as a central problem of theorizing. All and any communication operates in interrelation with an archive, whether this is stored as ‘language’ in people’s heads or as a video library on a wooden shelf. So if the distribution becomes faster and cheaper, this will first influence this interrelation, and thus the structure of the archive. Knowledge stocks, which were separated until then (z.B. Yours and mine), are brought into contact and moved toward each other at 0.3% or not. In addition one must consider whether the distribution was slow and expensive up to now, and what this is due to. Many ‘slowdowns’ of communication, such as.B. The habit of publishers to print only certain manuscripts and not others has a precise function in the economy of discourse, and when such barriers fall, one has to ask what new structures (and exclusions) will take their place. I do not believe that communication per se is a good thing and I wish some ethnic groups to be cut off from it (and from globalization) for some time to come. I do not believe, as Habermas does, that communication necessarily produces consensus, or if it does, it is necessarily in the literal sense of coercion, and I do not believe that ideas have had problems of speed. But in any case the structures will change. And this is indeed interesting. At the moment 100.000 hours of Betacam-SP video recorded with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. The ‘Spielberg Project’ aims to store this material in five places, digitize it, link it and make it available on as many platforms as possible (CD-Roms, video, television, etc.).). The goal: to develop a collective memory under the conditions of the new media. Here the computer and the networks are clearly used as an archive, as a library and reference system, exactly in the sense you mean, or? On the other hand, the net as an encyclopedia will be a gross failure to assimilate all the knowledge in the world. But the search options already work relatively well at the moment, as a tool for searching through rough knowledge inventories, such as on the subject of the Holocaust. For me, collective memory means making sure that such knowledge is stored outside the machines and archives in the living people and social rituals and manners. This memory could be constantly reproduced, kept alive, in ever new standards, technical as well as social. Why do you use the term ‘memory machine’ not in reference to archive and history, but only in a dialectic between individual and machine as a cognitive process?? HARTMUT WINKLER: I don’t understand the last question, because I don’t think I constructed my text with the individual in mind, but with the collective memory and the intersubjective space of technology and discourse in mind. In general, however, there seem to me to be two possibilities. Either I think of the data network from the point of view of the people who use it, then basically everything stays the same. There is a new system of writing down, but ‘actually’ it is still about what people learn from this system of writing down, i.e. whether they internalize that the Holocaust, which you probably do not choose by chance as an example, is something terrible. And if, forgive the cynicism, 100.000 hours of Betacam-SP video are not enough, then it has to be 1.000.000 hours of Betacam. (I put little hope in such quantitative feats of strength). The second possibility is the opinion of the technical faction, that it is really a matter of thinking about the ‘dead’, the written and technical side of the media. When absolutized, it leads to that fetishism of technology, which, as I have said, is itself of a repressive nature. But there is something in this position. The media are by no means only means for fixed purposes, but a structure of their own, and a structure that not only supports the inscription in the heads, but also competes with it. And this is another reason for me to think about the matter from the point of view of language. In the case of language, one can describe relatively clearly the way in which discourse (speaking) and system (the archive/language) are related. But the more technical the media become, the more complicated and indirect this interrelation becomes; the relation between the collective memory and the individual one becomes more and more precarious, the collective memory (laid down in the writing systems, in the structure of technology and institutions) becomes more and more clever, the second, individual one not in the same way. What Gunther Anders calls the ‘Promethean shame’ is the real experience of the painful gap between the two. The individual is really up to date with the debate only in the tiny subarea that the division of labor has assigned to him (and even that only in the best case); the rest of the world eludes him, and he has to make do with gross simplifications, such as those brought to the people by the traditional mass media. I can now try to define certain central pieces of knowledge that must be present in all heads (example Holocaust), but this does not change the actual problem. This is the structural frustration that, according to my catch, drives the evolution of the media. Language relied on the generality of concepts, the traditional mass media took back the claim of flatness and relied on anchoring certain very reduced but central bodies of knowledge (love, morality, crime, ‘politics’) in the heads; and the computers, finally, rely on the net as an extensive text universe that is supposed to represent the infinitely branched society based on the division of labor on a unified ‘tableau. To each his own homepage and in between the uniform architecture of the links… From there, and now your argument and mine meet again, one can then ask about the interrelation between the media and the heads. One can ask whether the 100.000 hours of Betacam are an attempt to actually impose knowledge on the heads, or whether they are a kind of monument, a surrogate structure in the eavesdropping space that just saves the heads from reception. No human being will actually be able to take note of more than 100 hours of such interview material. The remaining 99.900 hours will be understood as a kind of exclamation mark behind the 100 hours, as a sign that the creators of the project really and truly mean it, or as a flat from which to select according to criteria. But can it be about choice? And imagine the terrible buzzword machine that will tap into this video material. One part of the book I like is the description of Leroi-Gourhan’s ‘hand and word’ and the ‘machines of collective memory’, their connection to evolution, and to a theory of technology ‘that re-locates technology in a triangle between natural history, practices and language’.With Leroi-Gourhan ‘the social memory (closely linked with the techniques and the language) takes the place of the instinctive bond.Do you see there connections with the theory of ‘memes’ later developed by Richard Dawkins?? How does the ‘future of evolution’ look like for you in this respect?? Does it make sense to use a biological metaphor like ‘evolution’ for the further development of technology and the machines of collective memory?? HARTMUT WINKLER: You are stumbling into another of my knowledge gaps: I do not know Dawkins. The difficulty seems to me to be that in the talk of evolution, and even more in the case of the ever-popular ’emergence’, a very correct argument and an idiotic one are mixed together. It seems to me very correct to draw attention to the fact that the development of technology is a huge macro-process, which – this is the main characteristic of evolution – largely escapes conscious control and transcends all human purposes. It seems idiotic to me to draw from this the conclusion that any guiding intervention is senseless and any distance (by consciousness or whatever), however small, is doomed to failure. Here it seems to me that an originally skeptical argument -absoluted- turns into an affirmative one, with catastrophic consequences for the theory. Every naive ecological consideration teaches us that perhaps batteries should not be made of cadmium, and agriculture should not be a subdivision of the chemical industry. One thus stumbles again on those complicated and unattractive questions of politics, which one thought one had just adopted. In any case, it seems important to me to start not from one technique, but from competing techniques (in the plural). And then it becomes difficult with the concept of evolution. And here we can learn from Leroi-Gourhan what is the problem with Teilhard de Chardin. Both start from the notion of evolution, but while the second one must steer towards a unifying and then consequently: religious apotheosis, Leroi-Gourhan is oriented towards the collective memory, as a plastic structure. On the one hand sedimented and of considerable persistence, but on the other hand dependent on the course of concrete practices. So again it is about the interrelation between discourse and system. Saving as a term is too technical, too neutral and not complex enough for you. You prefer the ‘system of language’, in which condensation and forgetting play an important role. These terms or processes have not played such a rough role in German media theory so far. In practical terms, the implementation of these concepts could mean that much of what happens and is stored on the networks should be given an expiration date, and that it is not ‘content’ but ‘context’ or ‘point of view’ that will be the most valuable commodities. But it is a question of power: who decides what is data trash and what should not be given an expiry date, or rather, who decides what is not. who filters out the ‘essential’ information for me. You say that the net should realize that a discourse is produced. But this can only be done by a violent act of eliminating today’s diversity and installing the unique filters that will later make up the discourse? Or was there never the famous/fancied chaos of ‘many-to-many’ on the Internet?? HARTMUT WINKLER: It won’t work without expiration dates, but that doesn’t seem to me to be the central point. My prognosis is that hierarchization processes will prevail in an absolutely natural way, partly because individual powerful providers will succeed in establishing important locations on the net (completely parallel to the occupation of the inner cities), partly because a constant coordination with the users (i.e., with the Internet) will be necessary. with the mouse) takes place, which regions of the network are central and which are peripheral. Even information that is not deleted can be marginalized if no one takes note of it anymore. And accordingly, it will increasingly no longer be a matter of being represented – i.e. ‘there’ – on the web at all, but of attracting user movements, and above all links pointing to my offer. Both processes run naturally, and that means naturally power-driven. Nobody reflects at present, which power concentration takes place in the search engines. (No human being, except the borse, which is Yahoo! immediately at the entry unbelievably highly valued). And when you say above that the search options work relatively well at the moment, you are abstracting from the fact that no one knows which part of the web the search engines evaluate and love, and which infinite parts they don’t, what strategies there are to be represented as well as possible within the engines, and what long-term plans are underway here. We think that the engines search ‘the net’ as a whole, but this is certainly not the case. And – super exciting: – the question of ‘context’ and ‘point of view’. As far as I know, there are, at least at the moment, no algorithms that could reasonably realize context and point of view on the web. And this seems to me to be anything but a coincidence. The notion of context presupposes relatively stable relations of adjacency (contiguity); in linear texts the juxtaposition, and in 3-dimensional reality the concrete juxtaposition in space. It is striking that this type of adjacency is diametrically opposed to the n-dimensional network logic and the ideal of immediate changeability. If I take the structure of the links as a basis, then context is what is directly accessible via links. If the links are changed, the context collapses. The second possibility is to start from the notion of a semantic context. Then it is ultimately the system of language, z.B. in the formulation of search terms, which opens up a certain textual environment. And for the point of view the same applies: a point of view also seems to me to be given only through the semantic system of language. Even very simple aquivalents like geographic or regional limitations are not allowed by search engines at present. And if they did, this would also be only a relatively arbitrary criterion. How do you see the possibilities to make context and point of view stronger in the net?? The main thing for me remains the access policy and the democratization of these media, secondly there should be many more editors in the net and only in third place comes the most valuable of all knowledge within the nets, the context. It has something private, almost intimate, to let oneself be controlled without being manipulated. It can’t just be a matter of rational criteria. You mention the ‘language crisis of 1900’ and say that in the meantime a comparable ‘crisis of images’ has occurred.. But isn’t it above all the (German?) the authoritarian bourgeoisie, which cannot stand the flood of images and, as you say, is deeply irritated that ‘television’ no longer speaks with one voice; an older class of teachers, the readers of ‘Die Zeit’, who already could not enjoy zapping and long for calm, order and overview in the media landscape. In Eastern Europe, people see things from a completely different perspective and are happy to put up with the meaningless pulp info-entertainment of private broadcasters. Just not The One Voice of the Party! Don’t you bury the fact that the power of the images, through their distribution, tends to decrease?? The ‘horror of arbitrariness’ has to do with the spread of these media, with their ‘dispersion’. You rightly write: ‘All media history is an attempt to escape from this more than uncomfortable situation’, and then you describe the cyclic character from the euphoria about the dispersion to the de-exchange. HARTMUT WINKLER: So now we have arrived at the role of images. If one wants to analyze the current situation in media history, one must first ask whether the computer is a new image medium that follows the tradition of technical images (photography, film, TV), or whether it breaks with this tradition due to its specific characteristics. And my opinion is very clear, that it is possible to produce images with computers, but that they are rather a feat of strength (the exorbitant demand for resources shows that), and by no means their strength. My programming past tells me that the computer is a medium of abstract structures, of program architectures and algorithms, which are ultimately also behind digital images. The computer does not care if the images appear on the surface of the output screen. It itself cannot do anything with the pictorial character of the images (so there are no meaningful algorithms of shape recognition or automatic management of image content), the 2-dimensional output aims only at the user’s visual habits. I therefore say that the current hype about digital images and multimedia is a transitional phenomenon, a historical compromise between the image universe, which is in crisis, and the new abstract and structure-oriented system of computers. And if this is the case, I think we have to ask what could have happened to the images?. The usual answer is that they have lost the trust of the audience because they have become digitally manipulable. This may be a factor. My opinion, however, is that they have lost confidence mainly because they have become so many, that they are piled up and increasingly the scheme, the pattern, emerges. Thus the images lose the concreteness that was constitutive for their functioning. Everyone who zaps knows the phenomenon: no matter how many channels there are, television appears as a uniform flat of relatively few, very often repeated schemes, and under the concretistic surface the linguistic character of the images emerges. A second question is to whom this experience is currently accessible. The cultural conservatives you mention have always said it, but they meant something else. They are actually stuck with linear writing – at least with their ego ideal – or with that unappetizing complementary construction of ‘serious work’ (writing/theory) and recreation (opera/cinema/TV). I can say little about the second experimental group, the people in Eastern Europe, due to lack of experience. I think it takes a while to get through the TV pulp, and the question is simply what happens there?. The phenomenon here in the West is that many people are turning to computers. And for that they have only exactly the free time available, which they have spent so far in front of the TV. So, in fact, there is a detachment, despite the huge differences in the structure of both ‘media’ and the respective ‘uses and gratifications’. And this change must be explained. But then you make an unexpected move: instead of progress or cycle you see in the computer an almost regressive element. You say: ‘The character of the image is completely inaccessible to the computer.The digital images are rather a gateway, an access, a surface, an illustration, and not an image, like a photo or a film. Now, when the whole world is working feverishly on the synthesis of the Internet and television, you say that the computer has quite different characteristics. The computer is necessarily isolationist, attuned to language, abstract and ‘always suspected of cutting off the essential’, while contextual and mimetic media such as photography and film are concrete and complex. Can you perhaps tell the option traders of the media industry what is going on?? Is multimedia a dead end? Why are so many millions of people wrong?? That may well be the case… I don’t think much of ‘multimedia’ either. But what I like is the hobbyist and tinkerer character of the computer. Producing movies is something for the very, very few. In film you are by definition a spectator. You don’t mention the video and camcorder revolution anywhere. For you, film is a classic, closed discourse of theorists and critics. media in general produce for you only ‘discourse’ and never ‘publicity’ (in which many participate). After 100 years of film history, it is very easy to claim that film and all the visual media have a ‘context’ and that computers, on the other hand, are ‘isolationist’, especially when you only find data in the networks and no other users… And if the computer lacks context, then one could simply invent and create it? Or is it in the ‘nature’ of this object?? Why e.g.B. you say, ‘as metamedium the computer is alone’? (Hartmut Winkler: this is meant differently at the corresponding place). I just see more and more edge devices coming (like scanners and microphones, little camera eyes, etc.).) and a gradual incorporation (read: networking) into the everyday world, its media, archives and behaviors, away from the lab (and the buro…). HARTMUT WINKLER: Your thesis has some implications. Nevertheless I would like to insist (evangelical-phobic, as you have exposed me) that the different ‘applications’ (an unbelievable word! This is usually only found in the medical and bathing fields!) have differently much to do with the medium itself. To put it in a nutshell, you can hammer a nail into the wall with a portable radio. And if many people start to tinker, it seems to me that the basic problem is in what relation the tinkering is to the structuring specifications of the user.B. of the software used stands. Similar to the coloring book and the pre-printed foliage template, it seems to me that the software used is fifty times more intelligent than any user activity, the hardware a hundred times more intelligent, and if this discrepancy does not come to light, it is only because both pretend to be universal, and deny the power with which they pre-structure the user’s activities. Moreover, the moviegoer is by no means passive, just because he does not run around and (in the best case) does not say anything. Cinema theory has shown that he encounters what is shown with a constant stream of fantasies, which at least confuses the difference between interactive and non-interactive media. Windows and Word seem to me to be mass media because they show the same ‘world’ to millions of users. What texts the individual users then write is almost peripheral to this. But I don’t just want to disagree: I also think that computers are increasingly merging with everyday life, and that the plethora of peripheral devices means that they are interconnected with practices and everyday life. But how do we bring this into a media theory of computers?? Can we think of this change purely in terms of people, users instead of texts/machines and publicity instead of discourse?? Shift in the level of contact between the two spheres? And do you think that the cold sphere of texts/machines is slowly warming up this way?? No, not about the picture rail. The computer networks at the moment have mobilized the collective imagination as never before (despite hype and business). The warming will come from the people you meet there, not from the images and products offered for sale there. Wetware is looking for its conspecifics, despite all theses about the end of the subject, the social is not so easy to eradicate, it is old and cozy, even in cyberspace. One will not want to float alone through these eternally long tunnels all the time. HARTMUT WINKLER: The problem of ‘isolation’ versus ‘context’ is probably too complicated to be made clear here in the short form. But the idea was to go beyond the usual distinction between analog and digital and to develop a more general, if you will, semiotic criterion. Isolation and context are the two necessary determinations of the sign process, its two poles, because signs are always more or less delimitable/movable and in combination they always form contexts. If I now assign film (in its analog gliding) to the pole ‘context’ and the computer to the pole ‘isolation’, then I recognize that in each case it is a matter of specialization or ‘isolation’. Simplifications are concerned. Film, that is the idea you cite, is always already context, because I can’t break it down into final units or elements at all. I can always do that with the models in the computer; and that seems to me to be a point of the two media respectively. In your opinion, what is the historical project of the computer?? Film, you say, is directed against the diseases of the symbolic. It is clear that computers create clean spaces, generate paranoia, demand defense and repression (of others and of society anyway), threaten the classical forms of publicity, etc. All these are for me real objections to the exaggerated expectations of the euphorics. But do you really think that the old media have an answer to all these problems?? Film can tell stories (like no other medium), but it can’t save the world! Why do you still think in such categories of polarity and rivalry between different platforms?? Sure, it leads to polemics, and that’s what German media theory needs, I agree. HARTMUT WINKLER: If you agree with the cleanliness and paranoia thesis, we’re pretty much in agreement; and in fact it’s the other way around, because it was the Bilwet agency’s wetware text that made the connection to Theweleit and the feminist questions clear to me in the first place. But then we are in a rather small minority. Most of the people involved obviously enjoy their paranoia more, or they have settled into it relatively comfortably for a while. And of course the film can’t save the world. (Maybe people would wub it otherwise and wouldn’t treat it so badly, grating it into laughable 540 lines and taking kicking multimedia stamps for the cause). But the competition is real, and it also exists outside the German media theory: in the competition for people’s free time, for their money, their attention, their affection, and for social infrastructures. Paradigm shifts in the history of media are only dramatic when they actually involve replacements. Whether such a campaign is currently taking place is disputed and part of the debate. But I think it is possible to speak of a change. So far I take the hype seriously. Men think in an isolationist way, while women think in a contextual way, which is also my observation. Now this is fixed in the culture and is not part of the nature of the sexes (according to the gender debate)…). In other words: Men love MS-DOS and UNIX, women love Apple and Windows 95. But I find the approach of Kittler and Theweleit more plausible, where they write about man-woman pairs that enter into productive (and sometimes deadly) relationships with each other via the discourse machines. This is repeated in the example of computers. Or are we still not wiser?? What an educational dictatorship and architecture of machines we needed to finally free ourselves from these simple divisions and obvious facts? HARTMUT WINKLER: The Wetware text, I have to come back to it, also has a clear gender connotation, with the punchline, however, that it also puts the male user in a female-wetware position. The machines outdo him in his masculinity and shame him once more, only this time no longer promethean, but genital (or gender-constructed-genital). Otherwise, however, I am unsure. With Kittler, the complementarity thesis never made sense to me; if the men dictate and the women type, I don’t see what would be a productive relationship mediated via discourse machines (unless one fabulates ‘productive’ in a cynical-oconomic sense). In Theweleit’s Orpheus book, of which I know only the first volume, the women come into consideration anyway only as aids to the male poet’s productivity. But above all, in the case of computers, I do not see a comparable disorder. What I see is a separation of media along gender lines: a correlation of mentalities (women: contextual thinking/picture media and men: isolationist-reifying thinking/computer). And I wanted to write about this because the correlation seemed to me to say something about the media themselves as well. (And about myself as a male computer user). Where does a productive-complete relationship emerge for you in the case of computers?? Never only within the computer, but always in the strange mergers of old and new media, pirate radio with local television and abundant websites, a manifesto, a little gossip and nice pictures, with many people, in a real space, so with as few monocausal, self-referential machines as possible. But a gender thing is never simply given in our lifetimes, simply there, the topic mub always on the table. One task of net criticism, in our opinion, is to understand the fascination for the nets, and, as you say, to explore the ‘realm of desire’. Media theory’ has not yet done this, mainly for the reason that it has not been interested in the real existing media and their tactics. It has tried to classify these media historically for the time being, and has given us a barrel-load of concepts that only the fewest on earth know anything about. German media theory is not discourse and has never been in fashion, at least not from an international perspective. Maybe this is only true for the West German feuilleton. HARTMUT WINKLER: My dream is of course to become not only fashion but cult, with or without the German media theory, first in the German feuilleton (which so far actually produces only deadly sad things about the computer), and immediately afterwards internationally. And I find it scandalous that people on this earth still have to get along without the blessing of my insights. I want to swallow the world, and I want to do it right. Spab (?) aside. I wouldn’t be involved in the construction of this huge conceptual apparatus if I didn’t think that a very basic clarification was necessary. And you yourself, I think, it is no different. The language in which you theorize may be more agile and light, but it is at least as radical and as deep into what is common knowledge for 99% of the users, and it has to compete with the talk that Sony and Wired put out into the world. Be honest, is it not so? Aren’t we ultimately in the same boat, even though you travel a lot more and know a lot more people?? Absolutely. But I think it has to do with the increasing isolation of intellectuals. Fortunately, this sociological category has less and less influence. More and more people come without text and discourse and… without sacularized preaching and morality. What is needed is help for life and visions, not virtues for bourgeoisie. And that also applies to media theory, whether autonomous or academic. At the end of the book you call for a ‘realistic examination’ of the net and its workings. Can you perhaps give some concrete examples of what is pending and what you think should be worked on in the next few years?? HARTMUT WINKLER: I have already mentioned a few things that I found interesting. There are e.g.B. the search engines, whose role I see completely unclear. Since they have by far the highest number of hits on the net, all the links they manage and suggest to their users are of central importance for the basic architecture of the net. How to trace such structures I do not know, but I will first try to trace the explicit or implicit relevance criteria these institutions use to update their directories. A second task was to log the real movements of real users on the net. Surfing’ seems to me a crass euphemism, measured by the actual stumbling around, by the discrepancy between the expected information and what the researches concretely reveal. I know only a few people who told me: I found this and this on the net, and only there. However, I myself have also made this experience. It would be very interesting to know which jumps are classified as misses and which search results as definite mulls. At present it is the flood of commercial entries that threatens to make the result lists insignificant; similar to magazines, except that there it is usually possible to distinguish where the editorial part ends and where the advertisements begin. zapping would be an alternative model of understanding, because it is not about information in the first place, but about a kind of daydream, which uses the material on the screen only as a draw. And thirdly, I would be interested in thinking about the developmental dimension of the web. At present this seems to me to take place in thrusts: the WWW logic has devalued the Gopher entries, and there will surely come a WWW generation, which is not any more abwartskompatibel. And besides, the natural decay of links, when the pages to which the links point are changed. If these development thrusts always mean the devaluation of whole data bases, then this is a certain (and very complex) dialectic between preserving and forgetting. And I am interested in how people will deal with this matter. This concerns the whole basic logic according to which the net organizes itself as a historical discourse. And to collect here relatively early empirical indications, would be really a task.
Hartmut Winkler, Docuverse, Zur Medientheorie der Computer Klaus Boer Verlag, Munchen 1997 For more information: email@example.com