Months before my recent trip to Amsterdam, I received an e-mail request from Geke van Dyke, a student of media, based in Amsterdam. She wanted to find out more about Digital Reiko, another person from la vie virtuelle I've encountered on the cyberculture circuit. When I showed up on her turf, we walked along the canal on a sunny day in April. It had been a long wet winter. People were on the streets again, crowding the squares and cafes and the Vondelpark. Amsterdam is one of the great remaining sites of convivial street life. The citizens inhabit their city. It reminded me of San Francisco twenty five years ago, before the skyscraper forest was built. Something about the swampy foundations of the old city makes it difficult to build skyscrapers, yet one has managed to go up in Amsterdam. Citizens of Amsterdam, you still have a living city. Don't let the developers of megastructures drive a concrete stake through its heart! Keep your bicycles and your infinitesmal parking spaces and your narrow canal roads and crowded squares. Here in America at the apex of the silicon/symbolic economy, real public life is hard to find, so the Nets are not just a valuable resource, but a replacement, perhaps inadequate, for something we lost when we embraced the democratic benefits of steam engines, automobiles, newspapers, radios, mass-manufacturing, mass-media, mass-mindedness.
Geke (pronounced something like "hake,") introduced me to her colleagues at ACS-i. People of all kinds seem to be more conscious of the social impact of media in the Netherlands than we do in the US. It is actually possible for a group of young social scientists in Amsterdam to make a living by conducting media-related studies for governments and private industries. Holland, like much of Europe, is emerging into the age of deregulation from an era in which the mass-media were seen as part of the civil commons, and a portion was reserved for citizens through regulation. In Netherlands, public television has been supported by a tax that citizens are supposed to pay for owning a television or radio. "Sometimes they check,' Geke told me, "But you can refuse entry." The taxes pay for public broadcasting, and resources are allocated every five years. "If 30,000 people petition, they can get a channel." But commercial radio and television are in the early years of deregulation. "The satellite forced the change," claims Deke. Another thing I remember her saying was "You compose your identity from hour to hour." ACS-i was producing a CD-ROM about Amsterdam subcultures (such as "Pinkos" - young Dutch rastafarians) and "Vanillas" - young Dutch devotees of American white rapster Vanilla Ice.). Later, we walked along the canal and took digital snapshots of handwriting on the wall.
You can find out more about ACS-i's "media research and projects" by contacting geke@ACSi.nl. Check back here in coming months for further reports on the cultural impact of the Internet as it grows a local-global culture with a distinctive Dutch flavor.
Return to Howard Rheingold's home page.
Return to Rheingoldian Roadshows