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A Companion to Digital Art by Christiane Paul

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17 The Silver Age of Social Media: Nettime.org and the Avant-Garde of the ’90s

McKenzie Wark

On October 31, 1995, an e-mail message went out to a small group of people, mostly in Europe. “Welcome to the nettime mailing list,” it said. Nettime described itself as:

the official channel for the *ZK proceedings,* a series of meetings bound to the need of a cultural politics of the nets, of non/electronic, internal and international coordinated action, an open and generous definition/exchange of desired information. This list tries to bridge the gap between two meetings, it is no place, table or city.1

For those who don’t remember such announcements, this message was launching a listserv. On a listserv, an e-mail sent to the list went to all the people subscribed to it. Listservs were a sort of intermediate stage in the evolution of social media. To give you some idea of how different they were from today’s social media: when it started, Nettime.org was not moderated.2 Spam was too rare an occurrence to worry about.

I would like to start the discussion of the avant-garde of the 1990s with Nettime because it was a place that had a fairly rare flavor in the digital media art and culture of the time. It grew out of a series of meetings at the margins of art festivals in Venice, Budapest, Amsterdam, and Ljubljana. It was transnational from the start. It brought together people working at the intersection of digital media art, theory, and activism. And it was from the beginning ...

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