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News ::
’Anti-Globals’ Use Internet As Collective Intelligence
11 Sep 2001
The G-8 summit in Genoa, both before and after last month’s event, was marked in large part by a huge and unbalanced media extravaganza. It’s probably where the journalists of tomorrow are learning the trade.
The G-8 summit in Genoa, both before and after last month’s event, was marked in large part by a huge and unbalanced media extravaganza. The ruling class, both political and corporate in Italy, acted in the quasi-monopoly regime that characterizes the news business in Italy. State broadcast RAI is controlled by Parliament, Mediaset is owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. So how can protesters make themselves heard? The Internet, obviously. In the chaos of Genoa, one outfit in particular took the lead role as the main press organ of the demonstrators. Www.indymedia.org, born in Seattle in late 1999, is playing the part of the “big cousin,” reconstructing events, broadcasting direct accounts, publishing images and now providing information - in Italian and English - on how to seek legal redress for physical injuries suffered at the hands of the police.
Indymedia, short for Independent Media Center, quickly cabled Genoa’s Giovanni Pascoli school building, turning it into an information logistics center. All computers tied in to this network could exchange files and coordinate groups through chat forums and SMS message services. More than 500 digital reporters, technicians and coordinators obtained press credentials through their affiliation with Indymedia. Some of them were professional journalists, others amateurs, some eager volunteers. Indymedia bears witness to the progressive growth of digital technologies, and the way they are profoundly changing the meaning of journalism and of reading itself. The Internet takes up all the characteristics of previous media forms and adds the interactive element.
Indymedia’s site adds hypertext to simple text columns, and every piece posted offers users to send a response.
Hypertext is a systematic organization in a constant state of evolution that embeds potentially infinite number of documents into its own process of production, making them available for consultation in an essentially random way by users. This protocol makes the consequent “readings” a bevy of fluctuatng itineraries that can in no way be traced, made linear, or even plausibly copied.
Obviously online news outfits redefine the game by presenting constantly updated information, creating a virtually limitless, insatiable horizon that is a paradise for chronicleers.
The weak point is that it is not as easy to read as a typical newspaper, nor is it as easy to follow as a television news cast from the couch. One has to turn on a computer, know how to use the Internet and put up with the time it takes to upload pages, which even if minimal still drastically reduces one’s attention span.
Today, for anyone interested in news on the G-8, the virtual news world is more concrete and complete than the real one. Moreover, Indymedia’s listing of its local sites highlights its international and “strategic” nature, and in a sense is an incipient form of “collective intelligence.”
The absence of any editorial line - the site hosts screeds written by anarchist members of the Black Block, for instance - makes it a full-fledged forum where anyone can publish what they want and anyone can respond, contribute, opine or choose to ignore and move on. There doesn’t seem to be any need for a site pilot, no famous byline or anchor man. The site describes its mission as being “a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate and passionate tellings of the truth.”
Indeed, what we understand by news changes with the Internet, an intrinsically unstable medium that produces meaning only through the possibility of combining a multiplicity of heterogeneous bits. “Reading” online relies fundamentally on the link, which defies traditional narrative notions of sequence.
In some ways, Indymedia is a massive example of what semiologists like Roland Barthes meant when they proposed that authors and readers were interchangeable, and that making sense can’t help but be the result of taking responsibility.
In the context of globalization, both those who protest its corporate inflection and those who forward its technological implementation, Indymedia is extremely interesting. Jaded cynics are unwise to write it off: It’s probably where the journalists of tomorrow are learning the trade.
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