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From cyber-libertarianism to national-populism (The many faces of fascism, part 1)

At this year’s Transmediale in Berlin, I did not only give a brief talk about how money is failing, but also was part of a panel titled The many faces of fascism” together with Ewa Majewska and Alex Foti, moderated by Diana McCarthy, at February 1. It was very well attended and some asked me to publish my introductory talk, which I will now do, in two parts.
The second part will go straight at the question of how to understand contemporary fascism. This first part is more of a reflection connecting the topic to the political situation in Sweden, and to the media activist scene to which Transmediale has a long-standing connection.


Part 1

Ten years ago, exactly on this day – the 1st of February, 2008 – I sat on this same stage. It was my first time at Transmediale, and I talked about The Pirate Bay: the famous bittorrent tracker and symbol of file-sharing culture, that had just been indicted by the Swedish state for assisting copyright infringement. I guess that I did somehow represent The Pirate Bay, although I was not directly involved in it. Rather I was part of the group that had started it, and we cooperated in internet activism, sometimes using the frontpage of The Pirate Bay to draw attention to campaigns and pranks. Our identity was that of radical leftists, and we kept a distance to the Pirate Party with its mixture of left-libertarians and right-libertarians. When it came to defending a free and open internet, however, we certainly saw a natural alliance between all kinds of libertarian forces. (Call it cyber-libertarian if you wish.)
We were all opposed to the authoritarians, those who wanted to take control also over flow of information, and to stifle alternative media. We could clearly see this authoritarianism represented by George W Bush and his neoconservatives, by Vladimir Putin and his friend Silvio Berlusconi, by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to just mention a few.
We resisted the attempts of these authoritarian leaders to shut down the digital infrastructure for free and decentralized communications. In that particular context of internet politics, issues rarely had an obvious relation to nationalism or fascism. As it appeared, the national-populists and the fascists did just represent a more extreme version of authoritarianism. And they had not yet entered the Swedish parliament.

That was 10 years ago. Things have changed, for sure.

Last month I visited the website of The Pirate Bay as I wanted to download some tv series episode. I don’t go there very often nowadays, and I must be careful to close the tab immediately; otherwise a javascript will hijack the processing power of my computer to mine some cryptocurrency. Let me add that I don’t know who runs The Pirate Bay anymore. I guess it has fewer visitors than before, but its frontpage has still a significant outreach. So this time I stopped to look at it. Just like in the pranks we used to do, the ordinary logo was exchanged for another image.
It sure looked like a prank, featuring the image of a guy surrounded by a pentagram plus some Hebrew letters. I clicked on it and was filled with disgust as I arrived at a Youtube video. Then guy had his own talkshow centered on national-populist and anti-feminist propaganda, featuring some of the usual alt-right codes. Apparently that is also how to read the Hebrew letters, serving no purpose except that of being open to interpretation as either antisemitic or filosemitic.
The young youtuber, who also declared himself to be a nihilist, looked like the stereotypical hacker guy, precisely the kind that you would previously find in the Pirate Party. He turns out to be a minor star in Sweden’s national-populist counter-culture, using his own immigrant background to accentuate an outsider perspective on a country supposedly taken over by a crazy elite of feminists, who are somehow using immigration to further their own economic interest, at the expense of ordinary working-class Swedes. Paradoxically, he poses as a warrior, talking about class and speaking out for social justice, while at the same time preaching resistance to the so-called “social justice warriors”. Another part of his message is a fierce critique of social media companies like Google and Facebook for, as he claims, designing algorithms that systematically downrate those who dare telling the truth. He finally puts his hope to another youtuber, namely Pewdiepie who have many more followers and who has supposedly been “redpilled”. (This may allude to his antisemitic jokes, his anti-feminist rants, or to something else.) If only Pewdiepie will speak out for the Sweden Democrats before the elections in September, there will be a chance to save Sweden. This was the final point made in the video officially endorsed by The Pirate Bay.

Seeing how The Pirate Bay has now transformed into a propaganda outlet for the Sweden Democrats was a bit shocking in itself, but maybe more noteworthy was how nobody in Sweden really seemed to note it. So many things are moving to the right at the moment. The Pirate Bay, while still used, is not longer considered to be politically interesting. It is associated with the politics of the left/right libertarian alliance of the 00s, which disbanded in the 10s.
After all, there has already been examples of high-profile cyberlibertarians, in Sweden and elsewhere, turning towards the populist right. The list includes the founder of the Pirate Party who was right-wing all along, but at some point decided for a change of alliance. Instead of a libertarian alliance between left and right, a new right-wing alliance was formed between libertarians and national-conservatives.

We were certainly naive, but such a transformation we could not have imagined ten years ago. But in between came Wikileaks and the whole disaster around the person of Julian Assange, who accused Sweden of being “the Saudi Arabia of feminism”. At this point, some male cyber-libertarians were drewn towards a more explicit anti-feminism.

There are numerous parallels outside of Sweden. I could mention the Netherlands, where the whole leadership of the Pirate Party quit to join Thierry Baudet’s new fascist party.
Here in Germany, the leader of AfD’s parliamentary group is invited as a keynote speaker at a large business convention for the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. At the same time, identitarian fascists are reenacting the rhetoric about Stasi 2.0 that used to be a signature of the Pirate Party. Today it seems to be the right-wing that talks most loudly about about “internet freedom”, as they protest new laws that promise protection against hate speech on social media.

To be continued in part 2.

How money is failing

A short talk given by me at the opening of Transmediale 2018 in Berlin this week

Let me talk about how money is failing.

With this, I don’t mean we have too little of it, nor that we have too much of it (although both things might be true).
The failure is not in the lack of one common currency, nor in the lack of a thousand alternative currencies.
No, the failure of money is a failure to establish a stable line of connection between the past, the present and the future.

Here and now, money works perfectly well. It works as a medium of capitalist coercion. Every single day, we all have to get and to spend money. That means work. That means capitalism.

We now celebrate 10 years since the last financial breakdown. So how did it all work out? Did capitalism recover or not? Is the economy growing or shrinking? And do workers today earn more or less, compared to workers one generation before?

The answers are not given. They all depend on how we measure the mysterious substance of money: the purchasing power. This measuring is done with a special device, called a price index.
The price index is that very timeline which makes it possible to read the economy through time. This statistic stands at the centre of all kinds of accounting, of policymaking, and of history writing.

The indexing of prices was never without complications. But only today, it is becoming apparent how profoundly metaphysical it is – that leap from nominal value to real value.

Why is it metaphysical? Because it is never enough to just measure the price of stuff, when the stuff itself is not the same from year to year.
So for every new model of a smartphone, for every new digital service disrupting this or that, the statistics office must try to measure also the change in quality.
They must quantify in monetary terms if the new product represents an improvement or a deterioration, compared to what was available before.
This is done from the standpoint of a fictitious consumer, who does not only have no class and no gender, but who is also able to travel in time with unchanged preferences.
I am not kidding. This is how national accounts are made. When those small “quality adjustments” add up, they determine in what colours we will see the economy at large.

So far, it seems like this fictitious consumer has been in love with new technology. No attempts are made to adjust for the downsides. No statistics office, as far as I know, has tried to calculate the effect of advertising, distraction or surveillance as negative qualities.
Yet, every new feature added to smartphones, every acceleration of computing power, has been reflected in the price index as increases in the purchasing power of money.

Today, even mainstream economists are questioning the official price index. But they question it on the grounds that it should be even more optimistic. They think that the digital revolution brings so much more utility to us, that is not yet captured in numbers.
So may it be. But you could just as well adjust the numbers in the opposite direction.

Right now, we see how the critique of social media is becoming mainstream.
If this critique reaches all the way into the statistics office, they would have to adjust the whole price index, affecting all statistics that rely on it. That could actually throw the world economy in a much darker light.

My point is not that one picture is more right than the other.
Rather, that money itself is moving beyond measure.
It is failing as a medium to compare economic conditions over time.
Personalized pricing is certainly not making it easier.
Let’s face it – no kind of alternative money will solve that puzzle.
There is not one true way to account for economic change.
So let us draw the consequences.

Let’s expose economics as the most relativist of sciences.

Let’s forget the idea of a basic income given in money, as there can never be a guarantee for what a given sum of money can buy.

Let’s learn together how to talk about inequality in terms that are not monetary, just like we have learned how to talk about justice without reference to a god.

Money does exist. It is a medium of power. But it is not a suitable medium for redistribution, and not for envisioning a common future.

Writing the early history of Spotify (excerpt from a forthcoming book)

As mentioned in my previous post, and by my colleague Pelle, we just delivered the manuscript to MIT Press for our academic book focusing on Spotify. The book is co-written by five researchers; I have been mainly in charge of writing a history of Spotify (which includes not only a chronological narrative, but also a whole lot of theoretical and methodological considerations that may have a broader relevance for those writing digital history).

Just like Pelle has previously posted a snippet at his blog, I will here post a short section cut out from the historical chapter. (Remember, this is just the first manuscript and will of course be edited on the way to the final product. Also, this snippet is lacking the footnotes and references that are in the manuscript.)

/ / / / /

The Beta Period (2007–2008)
On the first of May 2007, Spotify released its initial beta version to a smaller circle of acquaintances. Among those were some of Sweden’s leading technology bloggers. This immediately resulted in a number of enthusiastic blog posts, and the comment fields were flooded with invite requests. Being invited to use Spotify was a sign of exclusivity, and Spotify controlled the growth of the circle by rationing the number of invites that existing users could pass on. If one would look at the early user demographics it would probably be rather affluent, dominated by men in the age between 25 to 40 years, living in inner-city Stockholm, working with technology or media. Many of these saw themselves as passionated fans of new pop music, but their enthusiasm for digital technology was probably even stronger.

One of the first beta testers was Eric Wahlforss, a part-time musician and entrepreneur who at this time was just about to found SoundCloud—another kind of music streaming service (that Spotify years later would consider for acquisition). Wahlforss immediately recognized Spotify as “a preview of the future.” It may be noted, however, that his enthusiastic blog post had little, if anything, to do with music:

The thing that wows me the most is that the app is faster than iTunes on my local machine. Repeat, faster than iTunes. And now we’re talking fancy peer-to-peer architectures, special audio codecs, custom databases, etc, etc. […] If this thing scales it will be bigger than Skype. Big, big ups to the Spotify team.

Spotify’s first interface did indeed look very similar to iTunes: the user could search for music and add tracks to personal playlists. In addition, it also offered a radio-like mode of listening in which the user was asked to select one of 18 predefined music genres (and one or several decades). Compared to today’s personalized radio stations, this seems primitive indeed—but in fact, this was how Spotify Radio worked until late 2011.


Illustration 7. The possible options for the user in Spotify’s early radio interface—present already in the beta version. Screenshot taken during the summer of 2010.

Spotify, during its Beta Period, consolidated a kind of on-demand doctrine as a service centered around the search box, giving access to “whatever you want.” The user was effectively conceived as a sovereign individual who already knew exactly what he or she wanted to listen to, and did not need help with music recommendations. Indeed, this doctrine was probably reinforced by the sample of beta testers.

The buzz over Spotify intensified in early 2008, essentially focusing on two aspects. First, that the new service would actually ‘make music free’ by relying entirely on advertising. Secondly, buzzmakers affirmed the move ‘from ownership to access’ and presented the personal archiving of MP3’s as a practice soon to be outdated. If commentators saw anything lacking in the beta version, it was that users still could not easily upload their self-made music to Spotify—as a web 2.0 service was supposed to function. However, it was a feature that many expected to see implemented soon.

Period A (2008–2009)
The first public version of Spotify was launched in October 2008. But what exactly did it mean to ‘launch’ a music service that was already up and running, serving thousands of users each day? Maybe it is better to say that Spotify was legalized. For a year and a half, Spotify’s beta had in effect been run as a pirate service, distributing music without any license to do so—to users that had come across an invite. As stated, in many cases the music files had originated from The Pirate Bay and other file-sharing networks, but this changed when Spotify signed its first deal with the big record companies and collecting societies—in essence, moving itself into legal territory.

To many of the existing users at the time—and some of us researchers living in Stockholm were initial listeners—what really happened in October 2008, however, was that parts of their playlists suddenly became unavailable. Spotify simply had to remove unlicensed music from its service, and in early 2009, even more music disappeared on request of record companies that enforced country-specific listening restrictions. In addition, only users with a special invite could access Spotify Free; this did not change with the official launch. The only real addition was the addition of paid version, Spotify Premium. Now being legal, the company could now also begin to really sell advertisement—which gradually became ever more present for users of Spotify Free.

Spotify’s ‘launch,’ in other words, was not the launch of a new service, but the launch of new efforts to monetize an existing service.

/ / / / /

And so the chapter goes on, structuring the history of Spotify according to the successive rounds of financing which has let the company survive, despite making ever larger losses.

Oh no, now I said it again: “the history of…”. According to a newly published article in Rethinking History this is a “bizarre notion”, because history is not the same as the past. I do agree that it would be more correct to say that our book provides a history of Spotify, because it could certainly be written otherwise. But so far, I dare to say that our forthcoming book provides the only academic attempt to write Spotify’s history at any length. Yet, the history told in chapter one is only a part of the book.

Spotify Teardown. Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music is to be published by MIT Press in 2018.

A strong message from the European Union: don’t block websites!

Today the European Commissioner Štefan Füle issued a strong statement on the blocking of The Pirate Bay in Denmark:

The ban on the social platform The Pirate Bay in Denmark raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Denmark’s stated commitment to European values and standards.

Freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any democratic society, includes the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. Citizens must be free to communicate and choose freely the means to do it. This obviously includes access to the internet.

Open debate promotes transparency and accountability and ultimately reinforces democracy; such debate needs to be strengthened everywhere, including in Denmark.

Just kidding! The statement was actually not about The Pirate Bay. It was about the recent blocking of another website in another European country. Maybe the statement would seem a bit stronger if it was consequently applied also to cases within the European Union.

thx for the tip, Geraldine!

Some thoughts about the idea of “internet freedom” in times of counter-revolution

A few days ago at Transmediale in Berlin, I took part in a panel discussion under the fuzzy title “After the revolution(s): Internet freedoms and the post-digital twilight“.
What follows is an attempt to summarize my input to that panel. It has already been posted at Nettime.

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The revolution is over“, stands as a motto for this year’s Transmediale. I guess that I share the feeling, but I think the statement is wrong. Instead of talking about some revolution in the past, I think we should talk about the ongoing counter-revolution and situate that in history.

When thinking about the direction in which the internet is developing, we must go beyond the simplified opposition of “old times” versus “new times”. In order to do that, we must periodize the history of the internet.
When trying to do that, I have come to regard year 2007 as a turning-point. That was when the counter-revolution took over. And on its flags, the counter-revolutionary forces had written words like: social, share, mobile, stream, access, open…

For now, we don’t need to name these counter-revolutionary forces. Although it is obvious that the counter-revolution on the internet is largely about centralization and monopolization, it would be wrong to reduce this process with a few giant corporations.
The monopolizing tendency has been a much broader thing and has also ruined the potential in projects like The Pirate Bay and Wikileaks. If such projects initially had the ambition to set examples, to be copied and multiplied, they were caught in a dynamic where they seemed to have no alternative but to stage a new riot every week, or to fade away. Or take the Pirate Parties, which have tended to monopolize internet-related issues which are then re-encoded in the language of rights, endlessy re-enacting the immanent contradictions of liberal ideology: copyright vs. privacy, privacy vs. transparency, etc. etc.
Nowadays, I feel that the very concept of “internet freedom” is caught in the same kind of double-bind, making it increasingly hard to use. And this feeling of mine is probably just another aspect of the counter-revolution.

Hito Steyrl is to the point: “The internet is not dead. It’s undead and it’s everywhere.” It feels awkward, she writes, “obviously completely surveilled, monopolized, and sanitized by common sense, copyright, control and conformism.”

But there was never any digital revolution in the past. If we could ever talk about a digital revolution, it could only mean the third industrial revolution, which has been going on for decades and which is definitely not about to end. But as an industrial revolution, that is simply an acceleration in the continuous process of minimizing the need for human labour in the production of commodities. That process is driven by the competition over profits on the market, and the current crisis is only intensifying that competition, pushing all kinds of corporations towards Big Data and threatening to eliminate those who fail to live up to the new standards of data mining.

But during this long process, during the third industrial revolution, there has been times when the uses of digital technologies has tended to break away from this industrial logic.
There were a few interesting years in the 1990s, before the dotcom bubble.
And there were a few interesting years after the dotcom crash, in the beginning of our century.
These two episodes in the history of the internet were indeed no revolution. But these times saw the multiplication of autonomous innovation, and of new forms of collective practice which where not easily integrated in any economy, and not very suited for data mining.

I think it makes more sense to talk about a digital counter-revolution than to talk about a digital revolution. But the current counter-revolution did indeed react against something, against a subversive or revolutionary potential which were building up in the years following the dotcom crash.

If the internet tended towards a decentralized or even revolutionary direction between 2001 and 2007, this must somehow be related to the financial dynamics in global capitalism. The afterglow of the dotcom bubble began in one crisis, but ended with the onset of the next crisis. How come?
In the very beginning of this century, capital fled from the dotcom sector. For capitalism as a system, the dotcom crash revealed a serious threat of deflation, but central banks injected enormous amounts of stimulative liquidity, credits which rushed towards other sectors, most notably housing, building up a new and even larger bubble. However, on the internet of 2001–2007 there was a relative lack of venture capital.
The dotcom crash had revealed a surplus of bandwidth, of hardware and of highly skilled hackers. Many of these hackers which had been working in the dotcom sector were no longer employed (or working as consultants effectively on part-time), meaning that they had free time to experiment with available resources.
Out of the early 00’s recession grew a boom for free software and file-sharing. Innovation tended to be about new protocols (from RSS to bittorrent) rather than new platforms. The new standards for sociality on the www – the blog, the wiki, the threaded forum – could all be run DIY on simple servers with open-source software.

The afterglow of the dotcom bubble, in other words, allowed for a certain degree of autonomous innovation on the internet. It resulted in a net characterized with a plurality of interfaces: the older duality of horizontal hypertext (HTTP) and hierarchical folders (FTP) was complemented by various kinds of feeds and flows, not to forget the tag clouds and the virtual realities, as well as the search engines.

This amounted to a plurality of speeds: many degrees of fast and slow communication could co-exist in the everyday use of the net. We don’t have that plurality anymore. Since 2007, time on the internet is being homogenized.

The counter-revolution is slowly abolishing hypertext as well as folder hierarchies, in favour of a new monoculture. Today’s undead internet has a universal interface based on only two functions: the search and the feed.

The search is there for you when you already know what you’re looking for. When you don’t know, you can always get fed by your feed, the singular and personalized home feed, whose function is to homogenize time, synchronizing our attention at one singular speed. What could a concept like “internet freedom” posibly mean in such an environment?

Of course I agree that decentralization is the way to go. But by now it should be obvious, that they way to go is not to build decentralized copies of Facebook or Twitter. We need something else, and we can’t say what it is without lots of more experimentation. But who will do all this experimentation? The hacker surplus do not exist any more. The skilled hackers are now employd to develop platforms and apps which conform to the new monoculture and with the new standards of data mining. Some years ago, young programmers in Sweden were swarming to promote P2P file-sharing in solidarity with the Pirate Bay – soon after, they were all employed by Spotify.

I don’t know if we are now entering a second dotcom bubble to be followed by a second dotcom crash. But to me, it’s clear that the counter-revolution began when venture capital once again began to rush towards the internet.

Art Hack Day at Transmediale: how to present austerity as spontaneity

It was six years since I last visited Transmediale, the annual festival for Medienkunst (new media art) in Berlin. Already last time, in 2008, it was obvious that the concept of new media art is in a crisis, simply because the artistic interest in new media is no longer limited to a distinct current within the art world. Instead of using the label “new media art”, Transmediale now has a much looser self-definition.

The revolution is over. Welcome to the afterglow.” That was the motto for this year’s Transmediale, with lots of discussion about the “post-digital”, a concept which now has a myriad of definitions. More specifically, many participants talked about the post-Snowden depression and whether artistic practice is able to provide relevant reflections on the arcane levels of surveillance on today’s internet.
Compared to earlier years, it is clear that futurity and optimism is out in this scene. Instead, the attempts to reflect over the state of the net and the state of the world are now permeated by a sense of crisis.

In other words: a crisis of the form, and crisis as a main content. These are two aspects of crisis which are explicitly and thoroughly discussed at an event like Transmediale.

But there is a third aspect of crisis which you don’t hear much about. That is the much more boring fact that the economic crisis is resulting in budget cuts also for events like this. Last time I was at Transmediale, in early 2008, that global crisis was just about to break out. When comparing that year’s festival and this year’s, I can sense the shrinking economy.

In 2008, the exhibition at Transmediale was not exactly great. But it did feature artworks from a lot of the big names in the new media art scene, selected by a curator. Most of these artworks were based on thorough research and it was clear that the artists had been working on their projects for a long time. I take for granted that the featured artists was paid by Transmediale.

In 2014, Transmediale has abolished that kind of curated exhibition in favour of a so-called Art Hack Day. This was presented as a collaborative “grassroots event”, intented to “make transparent the production process of art”. I don’t buy that talk about transparency, as long as they aren’t explicit about the economy behind the exhibition. As far as I understand (from talking with several participating artists) the concept of Art Hack Day boils down to this: artists work for free.

More than 80 artist/hackers have been invited to create an exhibit from scratch during 48 hours

And they get paid zero. It’s actually the artists who pay to participate in the exhibition at Transmediale, as they have to finance their materials themselves.

That the artworks were produced in 48 hours is obviously a myth. Some of the best installations were made with e-waste that the artists had made considerable efforts to collect. Nigerian dumps provided material for “Data retention – the resurrection” (by Bengt Sjölén & Nicklas Marelius), in which flashes from the web cache of a found hard disk are presented on a screen, as well as for the installation “Back to sender” (by Dani Ploeger & Jelili Atiku). Neo-colonialism was also thematized in relation to the mining boom in northern Sweden in “Mobile mining” (by Kristina, Lindström, Åsa Ståhl & Nicklas Marelius), yet another work which involved the process of collecting e-waste on another place.

These and other examples makes it obvious that the “Art Hack Day” was not the spontaneous creation of art during two days. Rather, it was an exhibition of artworks which were already finished before the start of the “hack”. Many of these works took lots of time for the artists and also involved significant costs for materials and travels. If the aim is to “make transparent the production process of art”, this should have been made clear. The glossy talk about art as a spontaneous “hack” is rather concealing the real process.

So let’s be honest: “Art Hack Day” is a way for art institutions to get artist to work for free.

I am not saying this to condemn neither the Transmediale arrangers, nor the participating artists. But if an art festival which talks about transparency on the one hand, and crisis on the other hand, it should first of all be transparent about its own austerities.

And what happened with those big names of new media art, formerly featured in exhibitions like Transmediale’s? My impression is that many of these have been moving from art to academia during the years of crisis. They are probably spending more time teaching and researching at universities, less with presenting stuff at exhibitions. They still participate at festivals like Transmediale, but not in the exhibition part but the conference part. While their art students are the ones who are expected to work for free to produce artworks that fill the exhibition.

Update: I have now changed the subtitle of this post. “How to get artists to work without pay” is not only a boring title, but also misleading. My aim was not to scandalize the fact that artists and others are working without pay for art institutions; that is routine, after all. I may add that I myself accepted to give a small talk at Transmediale for no pay (and only some expenses covered).
The reason that I bothered to write this post was rather how this administration of austerity is rationalized. The language of “hacking” is used to present the art production as way more spontaneous than it really is, which adds another level of hypocrisy in the talk about transparency. For these reasons, I instead choosed to subtitle this post “how to present austerity as spontaneity”.

More about the problem with The Pirate Bay and the future of file-sharing

Shortly after I wrote a blog post about the future of P2P after The Pirate Bay, I was contacted by a journalist at Forbes. She asked my to expand my thoughts about why The Pirate Bay has become a problem. Here is my answer:

Already one year ago, I wrote a blog post in Swedish saying that it should be clear that The Pirate Bay is in a process of decay, and that process seems to be irreversible. The most obvious symptom is how The Pirate Bay has begun to lend out its good reputation to distributors of adware or malware. In recent years, The Pirate Bay has regularly offered various kinds of privacy services which require users to install a program in .exe format without the source code being open – which should in itself be a warning sign – and as it has turned out, these programs have installed adware. But there is also a general tendency of stagnation, covered in empty gestures.

The thing is that we don’t know who is running The Pirate Bay these days, which is indeed a result of the civil lawsuits against it – if you run The Pirate Bay you have to keep quiet about it or be sued to hell. It has now also become impossible for “legitimate” companies to buy advertising space there, because they would also be threatened with legal action. The result is that The Pirate Bay is pushed towards a rather ugly kind of commercialization – towards that corner of the internet where pornography meets spamming and malware. I don’t think that the people who now run The Pirate Bay has chosen this way because they’re evil or greedy, but they are obviously very opportunistic and don’t hesitate to sell out the site’s reputation slowly. It’s a sad story and I don’t believe The Pirate Bay could or should be saved, because I don’t think the bittorrent protocol is the end of P2P history.

Parts of that answer was then quoted in Forbes’ piece, “As Pirate Bay launches anti-censorship browser, has it lost its way?

I was also asked to explain my idea of “sharing not only a file but a context”. My answer:

I already tried to sketch out my idea in my blog post. But to put it very simple, I still love Soulseek and use it a lot for exploring music. It is a technologically stagnant project, but it still works and you can still browse other people’s music folders and find stuff that you didn’t know that you wanted in the first place. It’s beautiful and it works because people on Soulseek are not afraid of anti-piracy agencies, because they are not there to share the latest blockbuster – they are there because they love music. That’s the spirit of file-sharing I think we should revive.

It would not be too hard to update that kind of file-sharing networks so that they use the more efficient torrent technology for file transfers. It would not require many months of programming, I believe, but the result that I hope for would also not be very commercial.

Even since 2007, I think that the general development of the web is going in a boring direction. The general tendency is not only massive centralization to a few “cloud” services, but also a standardization of interfaces: the empty search box, the personal news feed, the automatic recommendation – that is what we are offered. We are now at a point when I think that good old hypertext and good old folder browsing may even be a radical thing. Decentralization is also a radical thing, but it can mean many things and when I envision a better future of file-sharing the aim is not about privacy but curiousity, solidarity and autonomy.

Why the future of file-sharing must include the sinking of The Pirate Bay

Torrentfreak interviewed four former members of Piratbyrån, including me, on the past and future of The Pirate Bay. As for the looking backwards, we gave somewhat different answers about its positive accomplishments and our favourite anectodes from its earlier history. But when asked what the future should look like, at least three of us expressed the view that The Pirate Bay should better be sunk.

Marcin De Kaminski:

Besides still being an infrastructure for exchanging files between internet users, most of the ideas and ideals of the early TPB have been lost.
I would have hoped that the internet community at this time would have replaced TPB with something new and more innovative instead of stagnating in some kind of passive mode where progress is hard to see.

Sara Sajjad:

If I could decide, the site would be shut down in all ways possible. It should never belong to someone or something else than itself, and I don’t want it to belong to the wrong people.

Rasmus Fleischer (that’s me):

I think that The Pirate Bay is in a process of slow decay, which has been obvious for the last three years. Its basic failure was that it become such an icon that people began to celebrate The Pirate Bay rather than to copy it, although being copied was the real goal – not to be the biggest, but to spawn a hydra.
Today the best thing would be to get rid of The Pirate Bay and start over with new solutions for free and decentralized file-sharing, not too dependent on web search engines. To me, such a quest would be in the spirit of the Bay.

Brokep has been saying the same thing for a while now.

As for myself, I am not envisioning the “next level” of file-sharing to be super anonymized and/or encrypted. Of course there will (and should) be darknets, but in order to promote curiousness rather than consumerism, we should rather go in the opposite direction. Which would be the direction of “openness”, if that term would not have become almost meaningless.

I don’t mean open as in open data, not open as in indexed, and definitely not open as in “upload a torrent and watch the metadata being used by a hundred hoax sites”. I don’t mean open as in public, but rather a kind of openness which emerges from the overlapping of online communities, both smaller and bigger. I mean open as in sharing not only a file, but a context.

Talking about innovation can be sneaky. We should just not be narrowly looking forward, because much of what we seek is right behind us in the history of file-sharing, in the days before bittorrent. I would like to see a new standard for file-sharing which could combine the technical features of the bittorrent protocol with the kind of interface we know from certain “older” networks, like Soulseek and Audiogalaxy.

That would include the possibility to browse each other’s folders in search for musical discoveries – a mode of navigation which today seems to be becoming as untimely as hypertext. But since we still seem to need some kind of search, the big question might be how to enable a searching which is not only decentralized, but can also resist spammers and scrapers. It might be technically impossible if you think search as in “one big search engine”, but that might not be necessary. And even today you can easily search for music on Soulseek, find it and download it – without interacting with the world wide web.

There are several reasons to reduce the dependence on web search. Censorship might not be the biggest one. If we want file-sharing to promote independent culture – whatever those words might mean – then there must be alternatives to the emptiness of the search box and to the narrowness of the personal newsfeed.

Let’s invent new shades of openness. First step is to get rid of the imbeciles, like commenter #1 on Torrentfreak, who never misses an opportunity to shout “long live TPB!”

Excerpts from “The post-digital manifesto” are finally published in English

My first book was Det postdigitala manifestet, an essay consisting of 47 sections (first very short, then gradually longer with the 23rd section in the middle being the longest, then again gradually shorter). In a sense, it is a book about music, but I think every single section deviates from that topic in various ways, and it might well be called a book about politics as well.

It was published in 2009 and subsequently translated to Finnish and Esperanto, but no other language. There is still no English translation of the book in its entirety, but maybe something better: a translated excerpt, comprising five of the longest sections (§§ 15, 21, 22, 23, 29).

Thanks to the art journal E-flux, the aptest of translators could be put on the task: Mikael Kopimi Altemark, who himself was very much part of the process (or rather the bus) from which large parts of the text emerged. Now when I see the result, it almost feels like a new text. I think this feeling depends equally on the selection, the translation and the presentation.

Read it here: How Music Takes Place: Excerpts From “The Post-digital Manifesto”.

Looking forward to follow the response. I note the annotation of the Tumblr: “One of the founders of The Pirate Bay has some pretty sophisticated ideas about music, politics, and protest. Not what you might expect, either. Worth reading.” (Not that I was really personally involved in the founding of The Pirate Bay, but still a very timely connection, considering the release of the documentary film TPB AFK, in which I briefly appear.)
I also note that different people on the Twitter has been quoting different parts of the text. That indicates that some people has actually read it. Do you know how cool that is? So cool that I will now produce a condensed version of the text using only these quotations:

Why assume that preferences come firmly lodged in the individual? Music unfolds in the charged field separating the opposing poles of responsibility and irresponsibility.
Presence serves selection. A post-digital sensibility of music comes with a questioning of the ownership of the spaces where music takes place.

Some things I’m currently around talking about

In the recent weeks, I have been lecturing at various places in Sweden: Landskrona, Västerås, Mölnlycke. I’ve been talking about the changing status of the book and the library, but this theme has also been situated within a general critique of so-called “social media” and the transformation of the www that has taken place over the last five years, in parallell with the economic crisis. This was also the main theme for my lecture at OCA in Oslo last month – a lecture whose point of departure, just like last time in Belgrade, was structured by the experiences of Piratbyrån.

Before lecturing in Oslo, I was interviewed by the Nordic art magazine Kunstkritikk. The interview has been published online in Norwegian as well as in English translation. Here follows some clips from the latter version:

On the “counter-revolution of the digital smorgasbord”:

A kind of shift occurred in Sweden in 2007-2008. Up until that point the record companies had clung desperately to their traditional ways of making money, but then they began to investigate new business models. Suddenly the commercial interests also began to exploit this idea of unlimited access, supplying a variety of streaming services that can be said to satisfy the same needs as file sharing – provided that you regard file sharing as simply another consumption technology. At that point it became important for us to emphasise that the potential we see in these file sharing networks is not as a means for maximising consumption. Rather, they represent an infrastructure that can be used to build selective, curatorial structures where users join up to make specific selections from this overabundance of options – instead of simply being met with a search field where you type in what you want and get it.

On “social media”, speed and disctraction:

The current commercial centralisation of the Internet – which gathered momentum by usurping a kind of enthusiasm previously mainly found among radical, anti-commercial forces – has caused much online social interaction to segue into social media such as Twitter and Facebook. It has become almost impossible to trace collective interaction backwards in time, for these media have been systematically built in a manner that does not allow access to the back history. Instead, you are prompted to click ahead, to see what is happening now, in this instant. That is why there is such a need for connecting the fast media to slower media. As long as they cannot be connected to collective memory devices they do not allow collective phenomena to emerge, leaving us with a mere culture of distraction. What we need to do is to build more alternative settings where such conversations can be had. They can be based online, but they can also be based in physical space.

And this is the post-digital scenario?

– What you might call “post-digital” is a trend that is evident in radical web politics in several ways. Many web activists have helped build hackspaces, i.e. physical spaces for experimenting with technology and for teaching encryption and anonymisation and ways of using the Internet other than those envisioned by Facebook and Apple. It certainly says something about a shift towards the post-digital world when hackers begin to see a need for meeting physically, in real life. If we are to infer any political conclusions from the post-digital manifesto I suppose that it suggests that the challenges we face in relation to Internet won’t be resolved online; they will depend on control of the physical public space. The post-digital manifesto points in this direction – from the web to the city space.

On the crisis of copyright:

– I think that the permanent crisis of copyright is inextricably linked to the permanent crisis of capitalism; a crisis we are facing right now. This is about constructs and structures that cannot be repaired. Constructs that are about to break down. The legal grey areas will multiply rather than fade away. This situation is not handled by asking what should replace our current laws. Rather, we should take our starting point in specific art forms and forms of culture, ask what we really want to protect, and then try to find solutions that safeguard those values. We are facing a long process of coming up with new alternatives. We cannot sit down and draw up a plan for a post-capitalist society. Nor can we make a plan for post-copyright culture. These are difficult processes that can fail and founder in many ways. But we must try as best we can to develop something that works.

These are some of the themes I tend to touch in my lectures these days, even though I approach them from very different angles, depending on the context.