De-constructing the Digital Revolution
Analysis of the Usage of the Term “Digital Revolution” in Relation with the New Technology & Social Change Right at the Turn of the Second Millennium
Genco Gulan, Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009
Review by Nancy Atakan, Phd.
At the end of the 1990s, when researching and writing his book, De-constructing the Digital Revolution, Genco Gulan pinpointed issues that have only now become obvious and relevant. Early on, he realized that innovation in technology does not necessarily bring a significant change to society and he questioned whether or not new technology has presented a challenge to the modus operandi of the contemporary materialist society.
Having grown up in Turkey, he brings a non-western perspective and insight to his de-construction of the term "digital revolution". In 1980 he lived through the military coup in Turkey that overthrew the government and closed political parties. Later as he witnessed the new government prohibit the use of the word, devrim, meaning revolution, and substitute the older term, inkilap, having a slightly different connotation, he concretely understood the power of word usage in political agendas. In this book, he shows how the erosion of meaning of a term can contribute to the process of global capitalization.
As an artist writing about new technology, he looks at the situation from a cultural as well as an economical perspective. He emphasizes that the term "digital revolution", first used in the artistic realm was only later co-opted by the corporate world. . His literature review shows that the corporate world took the term from avant-garde artists and used it in their public relations strategy aimed at attracting the attention of a new generation to motivate them to consume and invest in new technology. By the turn of the century, the use of the term "digital revolution" was ubiquitous in business magazines, popular media, and academic texts.
Throughout the book, Gulan identifies paradoxical situations. Revolution, as experienced in the French Revolution, brought about the overthrow of the ruling class. Now, a word designating disruption and destruction of established systems and institutions has been rendered harmless. The people in power, the businesses and corporations, use the term to become further entrenched, to gain more power, and to attain stronger profits rather than initiate real social change.
As Gulan dissects the word "digital" it becomes obvious that, although a possibility for real social change emerges with digital innovations, now digital technology, with its hardware, software, and media servers, is just another product. While digital technology sets the stage for de-materialization and interactive communication, Gulan believes its full potential has not been achieved. Sharing and relocation of storage information are other possibilities brought with Internet, but he points out that successful use of Internet depends on the quality of connection and speed of access, services that must be bought, services not equally available around the globe. At the moment, changes in technology have affected society to a degree, but radical change in social consciousness has not occurred.
By interviewing Barbara London at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and studying their website, Gulan investigates the process of de-materialization. Since digital coding of information in the form of text, image, sound, and motion still needs to be stored, he asks what has really changed? In his opinion, when MOMA’s art collection is digitised and stored in their website, a representation of the original is presented but nothing important changes. When art projects designed specifically for Internet (net-art), work that cannot be copied, work allowing a relationship between artist and audience, are shown on-line, then de-materialization occurs. For artists living in countries outside the mainstream, people who need visas to travel to most countries, net-art can bring significant change to the international art scene. With a shift of importance from material to information, Gulan also argues that de-materialization affects copyright and property laws as well as processes of production and consumption.
Towards the end of his research, Gulan concludes that the term "digital revolution" is used to imply a utopia, a corporate model, a new life style, and another example of western progressivism. The corporate model says that everyone, everywhere, can buy a "digital utopia" now. Is this all? Gulan proposes that by understanding the present situation and questioning its possibilities, an alternative to the corporate model may be found. First, it is important to view interactive communication on the Internet as something more than consumption and propaganda. In his opinion, when people communicate and share information globally, they become aware of the inadequacy of the one-way exchanges that the contemporary political, media, and economic systems are based on. Gulan proposes two-way communication between cultures to bring about two-way contribution. Furthermore, he believes that only global interactive, free networks aiming to share knowledge with everyone will challenge the nature of today’s media society and bring about real change.
By chance in November of 2009, while in San Francisco, I passed in front of a conference center where Dreamforce Global Gathering 2009 was taking place. Over 16,000 people met to hear the latest news about salesforce.com, a company that promised de-materialization by eliminating the need to buy expensive hardware and software. By logging onto a server in a "cloud", companies can build their own applications, use Twitter for real-time conversations and integrate Google, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. One of Salesforce.com’s customers is the US government. I listened to a video on the Change.gov Web site. Valerie Jarret, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Team, urged Americans to "log onto Change.gov and give us your idea. It can be about energy, healthcare, or reduction of our dependence on foreign oil. You decide what is important to you. Other citizens will then be able to read your ideas and make comments and suggestions. You may even hear from the transition team." The corporate world has found a way to turn de-materialization and two-way communication potential into a consumer good, a development that makes research such as Genco Gulan’s even more important as a counter-balance, as an alternative way of thinking, as an awareness, as a stop sign in the midst of an avalanche of consumerism. Everyone including the academician, student, business person, consumer and artist will find this book accessible and thought-provoking.
Dr. Nancy Atakan co-founder of the Istanbul off-space, 5533, lives, teaches and works as an artist in Istanbul. Dealing with the relationship between image and word, she has exhibited her video work and digital prints in the USA, Europe, and Middle East.