‘Mapping E-Culture’ book review
“Mapping E-Culture”, compiled by editor Cathy Brickwood, published by Virtueel Platform, 159 pages, 2009
The book features interviews with prominent Dutch web culture thinkers such as Richard Rogers and Anne Helmond. There are also texts by Caroline Nevejan, Eric Kluitenberg, Nat Muller etc. which tackle the challenges of new media education in the Netherlands.
There are questions about the business models that should fund new media culture in the future and should the Dutch government step in and subsidize the artists.
One of the unique advantages of the book is the perspective towards new media arts in Brazil, China, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.
Moreover it identifies influential web experts, events and institutions in the Netherlands and abroad – Waag society, V2_, STEIM, DEAF, Virtueel Platform and so on.
Some parts of the book did not age well. There are terms like ‘e-culture’, ‘culture 2.0’ and ‘e-participation’ which sound retro in 2011, only two years after the book was published.
This becomes explicitly visible in the interviews where five researchers answer to the same set of questions. One of them is ‘What does the term ‘e-culture’ mean to you”?
One of the interviewees, Guido van Nispen, replies: “Well, first try and explain what it is; the term has no real connotation or meaning for me”.
In short, ‘e-culture’ describes such a ubiquotous phenomenon that the ‘e’ prefix is already аbundant.
This just goes on to prove that because of the dynamics of the new media landscape, researchers and students should not get attached to web terms.
Most of them lose relevancy in a very short time, anyway.
There are statements in the book which sound contoversial:
Traditional broadcasting companies and media producers give new media little priority.
By 2011 this has probably changed dramatically.
In contrast to photography or film, new media culture does not have its ’own’ production, distribution and financing structure that makes the structural development of a professional new media culture feasible.
Really? Each day it is becoming cheaper and easier to produce online content. Think Tumblr, YouTube, etc.
It’s definitely harder to monetize it, but business model innovation depends on the people inolved, not governments.
Market should be let to decide what is viable. After all there has not been a single period in history when artists had not had financial difficulties, right? Still, art always survives.
This explicitly does not mean that cultural and social organisations have to adjust their working method and ‘product’ to an abstract market logic or a (corporate) economic model borrowed from the commercial sector.
The book implies that the government should fund new media culture, but from its 159 pages it does not become clear how could that happen in a transparent way.
The articles on the emerging ‘e-culture’ in Brazil and Egypt for example show that artists thrive despite the lack of help from local governments.
Nevertheless I would like to point out two paragraphs from the book that summarize very well some of the current new media trends:
The word amateur is derived directly from the Latin amator ‘lover’, from the Latin amare ‘to love’. Professional comes from the Latin for profession professio(n-), which comes from the Latin profiteri (‘declare publicly’). The difference between amateur and professional therefore appears historically to lie in the different domains in which people act: the amateur in the private domain and the professional in the public. With the arrival of large Internet platforms and the many Web 2.0 applications it would seem that the realms of action for both professionals and the amateurs are shifting. While amateurs now publish in public en masse, professional life is increasingly being played out within protected intranet environments.
The secret of publicity is that there is no public (see Publicity’s Secret by Jodi Dean). Noortje Marres, says in her dissertation: “no issues – no publics”. Often times the question a lot of people work on is: how do publics form? Are there free-floating ones, or do they form around something? Noortje’s answer is that they form around issues, and that they are not just there.
As a whole the book is recommended for people who start their new media education and/or want to get introduced to the pioneering web artists in the aforementioned countries.