Exploding Media `98
by Robin Hamman

The Exploding Media `98 symposium, hosted by the University of Salford, brought together over 70 theorists, community activists, digital artisans, and multimedia self publishers from the UK, Europe, and North America to discuss the radically changing mediascape.

According to the organisers of Exploding Media `98, traditional ideas about media are exploding all around us due to developments such as Internet and desktop publishing. These changes are occurring at all stages of media production and consumption, from the "sender" to the "signal" to the final "receiver".

Traditionally, it has been necessary for information and news to flow from the grassroots level through intermediaries such as news reporters, producers, editors, and publishers. Such intermediaries are often referred to as gatekeepers since they have the power to decide what is "newsworthy". Increasingly, individuals and grassroots organisations are using desktop publishing skills or Internet publication to send directly to their audiences without relying upon the traditional media gatekeepers.

Exploding Media panel participant, Ricardo Dominguez (http://www.thing.net/~rdom), is a leading member of The Thing, a New York based multimedia workshop and computer network for artists and activists. Through The Thing, artists and activists in New York are able to find an audience for their work which many times is anything but mainstream. Dominguez is also a member of the Zapatismo network, an Internet based activist group assisting the indigenous Mayan people of Chiapas, Mexico in their fight for a self-governed homeland. Members of the Zapatismo network use the Internet to publish articles, communiqués, and reports of military actions against the Zapatistas.

Not only has the sender changed in this example, but so has the signal being sent by them. Members of the Zapatismo network occasionally co-ordinate non-violent direct actions against the Mexican government and their supporters in the finance and defence industries. These actions usually take place in the shape of "swarm", a loosely co-ordinated attack in which millions of simultaneous requests are sent to government web and email servers, causing them to crash. Without recent developments in self publishing, and people like Dominquez, the Zapatista struggle would probably have been forgotten long ago like the dozens of other similar struggles for indigenous homelands which do not have a net presence.

Traditional concepts of media "receivers" are also being exploded by developments in new media. Exploding Media co-organiser Micz Flor uses an ageing Macintosh computer in a small shared office at the University of Salford to design and publish Crashmedia, a small publication which investigates the current state of independent publication. Although Crashmedia is printed periodically, it actually is born and comes to life on the Internet. Flor invites readers to become contributors by posting messages and articles directly to the Crashmedia website (http://www.yourserver.co.uk/crash). Flor then selects an interesting mix of material from these posts and republishes them in a tabloid style newspaper.

Unlike the participants at most conferences on the topic of media, many participants at this year's Exploding Media are media outsiders. An Afro-Caribbean delegate to the symposium argued that if her local community were to begin publishing online, it could actually divide the community between those who have access and those who do not. Others were similarly concerned that, by bypassing traditional gatekeepers of information, we would lower the quality and reliability of information being published. Several argued the other side, stating that by allowing a multiplicity of voices in media, the viewpoints of oppressed could finally be heard as Walter Benjamin theorised in his work.

While remaining critical, most of the panel participants and delegates at Exploding Media `98 are excited that the boundaries between the sender, signal, and receiver of media are increasingly blurred by technological developments in media. The falling cost of desktop publishing, printing services, and the development of the Internet have all played a part in the ease with which individuals and groups are now able to co-ordinate themselves and spread their message. However, we are also concerned that rather than helping us to create a more responsive direct democracy, these developments could also lead to the development of an unstructured chaos within media which would be detrimental to us all.


Exploding Media `98 was organised by Josephine Berry, Micz Flor, Robin Hamman, and Simon Robertshaw. It was hosted by the Department of Design and Creative Technology at the University of Salford on 29 August, 1998. Texts, audio, and video of the symposium will be available at
http://www.yourserver.co.uk/em

This account by Robin Hamman - robin@cybersoc.com