Radical media, politics and culture.

Harv Stanic, "ASCII: Amsterdam Subversive Code for Information Interchange"

ASCII .- ... -.-. .. .. Amsterdam Subversive Code for Information Interchange --- Internetworkspace --- 1998 - 2..? Harv Stanic


Internetworkspace - A free and open place with free internet access, aggregating point for all people interested in hacking together, or simply hanging around or on the net while learning Free and OSS, creating and mixing chaos for all people interested in free flow of information across any new or old medium.


The idea of ASCII was conceived in late 1998 as there was the need for a non-profit 'internetworkspace' running on free and open source software, and spreading the word of it's necessity to enable, educate and prepare people for the upcoming internet age, on-line privacy, as well as need for people to meet and exchange ideas and information face to face.

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Early 1999 in its first incarnation cloaked as a cafe ASCII emerged in a squatted house with big shopping windows in a ground floor on the Herengracht, in the historic center of Amsterdam, by installing Linux on few older machines and opening our door to everybody who needed free internet access, email address, general tech help or just wanted to work together with other people, engage in a collective, not sit alone at home, drink fair trade coffee, cheap bio-beer and so forth.

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Our main goal at that time was to spread the word of the Free Software and Open Source {(F/OSS)} movement and provide free and open access to the internet and give our support to EVERYBODY who walked in, covering everything from setting up an email address to free education in Linux and F/OSS. All that at the time when the internet was gaining momentum for most of the common people who had interest in it, but were unable or afraid to participate and join. Microsoft with its Windows OS were gaining momentum too, so we tried to show that there's more than just MS Windows. We tried to convince people interested in free flow of information that using software made by the biggest multi-national corporation in the world could not be a good idea. Also Hotmail was popular and we tried to recommend and help set up other more private and secure mail addresses for our visitors. That was only the beginning.


theory.. practice - phase O.I:


In those days many people were still only just starting to grasp the importance of the internet as a medium, meeting place and information source. We didn't claim the internet was more important than other media, or that in order to have a successful project/campaign/activity it is necessary to rely on net mechanisms. Radio, for instance, is unsurpassed when it comes to spreading a message to even the remotest areas of the planet. However, none of the "conventional" media influenced our perception of reality like the internet did then and does even more today. That is, the boundaries of participation and observation/non-participation are clearly defined when it comes to reading the paper, watching TV etc. The internet, on the other hand, has a far-reaching interactivity. It is a soapbox, library, publishing tool and meeting place at the same time. Where else could one find detailed and extensive information on, for instance, genetic modification, join a newsgroup, put a website up, find like-minded people to organize a global campaign, spread news about local actions within minutes of them taking place – all of that just a click away..or a few?

We felt that the Internet should be accessible to anyone and that censorship sucks. Infringement on free speech, surfers' privacy and over-commercialization of the net were major problems already. At this rate the net would soon, we were sure even then, be one huge billboard where multinational companies provide the world with good, clean family fun. Not if we could help it. We also hoped the positive subversive elements of the world will continue to infiltrate the net and create ways to keep information free. That was our vision at the end of the 20th Century.


Consequence, agitation and involvement:


After one year of our engagement in Amsterdam, we felt that our local involvement and teachings, could be spread to other like-minded people and also spread and applied internationally, so we organized a couple of international meetings on the subject of 'internetworkspaces' and spread the idea within one year to more than 10 European countries and around 20 or more cities. Being aware that the situation in Amsterdam is not the same as in other cities, we tried to help other places that were inspired by our idea to adapt to the specific local environment and circumstances. We also moved our ASCII 'internetworkspace' around Amsterdam, changing locations and adapting our space to our demands and being a squatted place by choice, it was forced to move around sometimes...We participated on various international events providing our media-tech expertise and knowledge to help activist media centers on many occasions Europe-wide. Whether it was a big-time international hack meeting or big-scale anti-globalisation rally or a local environmentalist demonstration.

In the meantime we took our local activities one step further. We conceived (amongst the other numerous supported activities like genderchangers.org,radar.squat.net etc.) an independent city-wide wireless network that should offer free unmonitored connectivity without the need of commercial companies. The resulting Amsterdam Network Collective spanned a large part of the city and connected several independent venues and many households in the city. Also this concept in cooperation with people from Leiden and London wireless communities spread all over the continent and has inspired networks like Funkfeuer in Vienna and Freifunk in Berlin.

Then at some point in time, after almost 8 years of existence as 'internetworkspace' we decided that we actually could close down. Internet was available all over, Linux and F/OSS were not obscure hacker's tools anymore and we had successfully propagated our ideas. They have since evolved and spread internationally.


new step towards...phase II or was it phase III...?


The conclusion was, in our case, that to do cool stuff one doesn't really need permanent space. The result of which would be creation of hierarchies within the collective and a danger of becoming an institution.

So, our future had to be shaped and we put on our thinking hats to conceive method of a new state or existence in time. So at the moment we try to see and find out how our ideas and purpose can exist without an actual space. We, as a collective, are spread all over the world. We meet sometimes in person, we discuss and create projects, but how to put it all together in theory and practice, that is what we see as a new challenge to be further explored. That is on our to do list right now and this process is ongoing...and we know that answer is not '42'.

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"If you can type 'man man' into terminal, it means that you can run Linux too.."

... an introduction into ASCII Linux lecture