Institute of Network Cultures
The Institute of Network Cultures (INC), based in Amsterdam, analyzes and shapes the terrain of network cultures through events, publications, and online dialogue. Its projects evolve around digital publishing, alternative revenue models, online video and design, digital counter culture and much more.
The INC was founded in 2004 by Geert Lovink, following his appointment within the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. A key focus is the establishment of sustainable research networks. Emerging critical topics are identified and shaped in a practical sense. Interdisciplinary in character, the INC brings together researchers, artists, activists, programmers, designers, and students and teachers.
The field of network cultures revolves around the interaction between new forms of media, and the users of such new forms. With a strong focus on the transdisciplinary nature of new media and its DIY and open source components, the INC gives equal attention to the artistic, political and technical aspects of the internet and other emergent media. As such, the INC’s area of research extends to design, activism, art, philosophy, political theory, and urban studies and is not confined to the internet alone. Indeed, the INC maintains that the internet can only be understood at the conjuncture of these various fields and lines of inquiry. ‘Network cultures’ is seen as a strategic instrument to diagnose political and aesthetic developments in user-driven communication. Network cultures rapidly assemble, and can just as quickly disappear, creating a sense of spontaneity, transience, even uncertainty. Yet these forms are here to stay. However self-evident it is, collaboration is a foundation of network cultures.
The aim of the INC is to create sustainable research networks around emerging topics in which a critical contribution can be made. The formation of a small group of international people, both inside and outside of the academy, may result in a larger online discussion. Together with the researchers and a group of students, interns and volunteers, an event is organized to gather key questions and thinkers. Many of these events, such as a conference, seminar or workshop, culminate in a publication. Formats of publication may include a printed reader, a book, video interviews, wikis, blogs and special online magazine issues, along with conference documentation (photos, video files and podcasts). The publication functions as an important vehicle for the sustainability of the research network.
Events and networks
Incommunicado (ICT for development, *2005) , Urban Screens (the city as interface, *2005) , MyCreativity (culture industries, *2006) , Video Vortex (web 2.0 and online video, *2007) , New Network Theory (*2007) , Bricolabs , Society of the Query (web search and search engines, *2009) , Unlike Us (social monopolies and their alternatives, *2011) , Digital Publishing Toolkit (*2013), MoneyLab (digital experiments with revenue models, payment systems and currencies, *2014).
- Image culture
These days images form part and parcel of every message when surfing, searching and interacting. On dedicated platforms like YouTube and Pinterest images are gathered, annotated and shared. Images are more than just illustration: they have retained an autonomous status, digitalization notwithstanding. Online video has to observe its own rules with respect to editing, light, framing, use of sound, and so on. How has this been changed under the influence of digitalization and the ubiquity of digital cameras? What relationship should visual education have to this? And the key question: is the image taking over from the written word? Alongside the technical, economic and social aspects of the network, its aesthetic component is becoming increasingly important. To understand this better we need to engage in an open, critical dialogue with visual artists, designers and film-makers at all levels of the network culture.
- Hybrid publishing
The publishing world is perhaps one of the last big media organizations to be making the transition to the digital domain. So it is now going through a sea-change moment in which new relationships will emerge between writer, publisher, designer and distributor. Many of its older mechanisms may soon no longer work, but in their place new possibilities will arise with regard to formats, reading experiences, social reading, do-it-yourself, business models, and so on. Is the book business – like other media industries – headed towards an iTunes model in which content is cut up into parts? What about e-reading and the digital library?
- Revenue models in the arts
More and more young professionals are entering the market and it is getting harder to find a solid job. Remuneration for web design and app development is falling all the time, while content itself has been more or less written off and is made available for free. A freelancer’s life is an insecure one. In a moribund economy, finding new income sources is a matter of urgency. IT is getting ever more important, but outsourcing continues to expand. Online funding of the creative sector is still in its infancy and badly needs more research and development. What will future YouTube earnings models look like? Will crowdfunding and Bitcoins supply enough ‘supplementary income’? And where will the basic income come from?
- Multidisciplinary engagement
Political action and social involvement are no longer isolated, underground activities, or limited to a small group of activists. People are experimenting with new media and digital technologies everywhere and all the time. Post-2000 a new relationship has arisen between politics and aesthetics, and the technical knowledge needed to effectively deploy new media has spread quickly. Today, ‘compassion fatigue’ and nihilism are the greatest problems; where do we draw the line between ‘clicktivism’ and real involvement? Is going offline the only option? How can social movements organize themselves, beyond social media? We are in the middle of a quest to find the right balance between virtuality and the street, between networks and squares, as public spaces used to be called in the old days. What do the newest tactics look like to today’s social mix of artists, programmers, researchers and designers?
Design is more than just the optimization of business processes and information streams. For INC, design is above all an aesthetic expression that asks questions. Design is a skill and an applied art that is essential to anyone building systems for the media and information industries. Without a solid knowledge of visual language, and a critical attitude towards form and functionality, designers end up simply copying standard protocols: the filling in of empty templates. A world without aesthetic practice is a bleak and barren environment, dominated by a pure functionality in which the spirits of both the maker and the user are absent. In design education it is essential that links are forged between functional informatics and interaction design, not just for students but for everyone who goes online. How do we break out of this ‘urge to optimize’?
- Knowledge production
Internet platforms like Google, Wikipedia, and online university modules such as MOOCs are increasingly determining what we mean by ‘knowledge’. In education, digital databases are replacing not only the old-fashioned library but also the teacher’s role as the dispenser of knowledge to the student. If something isn’t on Google then it might as well not exist. What does this mean for a student’s view on the world? Who gets to decide what is important and what is not? It is vital to know what websites like Wikipedia and search engines like Google look like on the inside, and to understand how they work, while the process of knowledge production is being increasingly left to software algorithms. What are the real-world politics behind these algorithms, editing bots and online courses?
- Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)
The Institute of Network Cultures is part the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA), domain Media, Creation and Information. Within this domain the INC is part of knowledge centre CREATE-IT applied research. Within the context of CREATE-IT, the responsibilities of the INC include the provision of internships, lectures, BA thesis supervision and courses on media and design theory. Geert Lovink’s appointment was one of 300 ‘lector’ positions across national Applied Universities assigned to formulate the research agenda for Dutch vocational education.