Social media before the internet
In its 2017 Theme programme the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen looks at the history of utopian hope universally pronounced to be dead in our present day and age
“Why we’re losing the Internet to the culture of hate”, the cover of the August 2016 issue of Time magazine read. Ever since Donald Trump won the US elections, the prevalent topic of discussion is whether the internet is a failed utopia. But exactly what kind of utopia is this and what types of participatory media existed before the internet? In its Theme programme Social media before the internet, curated by Tilman Baumgärtel, Oberhausen will look at pre-digital forms of media by everyone for everyone and ask whether current developments were already foreshadowed in the early media experiments and what these can contribute to a re-assessment of our current situation.
Left-wing media theorists dreamed for decades of transforming media consumers into media producers. The hope was for a media future in which the power of publishers and broadcasters would be supplanted by democratic and participatory media. The programme Social media before the internet exhibits the various and in some cases little-known forms of alternative media work prior to the advent of the worldwide digital web
Starting in the mid-1960s, the emergence of video provided fresh impetus for such hopes. The first video collectives, such as the Videofreex and the Raindance Corporation, were formed in the USA in the late 1960s with the aim of building an alternative public media sphere. Similar concepts did not approach realisation in Europe until the 1970s and 80s, through the work of alternative video groups as well as a number of public television projects. From the mid-1980s onward, online networking via mailboxes provided new fuel for the hope for more democratic forms of media. This led to alternative online networks such as the CL-Netz, the first infrastructure for digital networking by alternative groupings in the German-speaking countries, but also to hybrid media formats combining online media and television, for example the documenta project Piazza Virtuale by the artist collective Van Gogh TV. The programme will feature numerous examples from television and art history, including works by Nam June Paik, Paper Tiger Television or Harun Farocki.
In recent years, the downsides of media communication between anyone and everyone are becoming increasingly evident. Political smear campaigns, racism, conspiracy theories and an unforgiving social media discussion culture that disdains any diversity of opinion are shedding new light on the utopian hopes of the past and raising the question of whether this development was perhaps already presaged by the early media experiments.
Dr. Tilman Baumgärtel is a professor of media theory at the University of Applied Sciences in Mainz. He has taught at the University of Paderborn, the University of the Philippines in Manila and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, among others. His work focuses on areas including net art and culture, media art, alternative forms of cinema, and computer games. He lives in Berlin. Publications (selected): Vom Guerilla-Kino zum Essayfilm: Harun Farocki. Monographie eines deutschen Autorenfilmers, Berlin 1998; net.art. Materialien zur Netzkunst, Nuremberg 1999; Pirate Essays. A Reader in International Media Piracy, Amsterdam 2016.
Oberhausen, 19 January 2017
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