An Interview with Geert Lovink

Interview with the Dutch-Australian media theorist and critic Geert Lovink to be submitted for a special issue of Internet Histories dedicated to Internet and the Web in the 90s (see the CfP), edited by Valérie Schafer and Benjamin G. Thierry (second semester of 2018).

G. Lovink at CPOV-Conference in Leipzig Germany; September 2010
Photo by Rob Irgendwer
CC BY-SA 3.0

Valérie Schafer: First of all, could you tell me when you discovered computers and computer-mediated communications?

Geert Lovink: My first encounter with the world of computers was at the end of my primary school, in the late 1960s. This was a rather intense time for the Magic Centre of Amsterdam and the hippie movement, a rather turbulent time. I got influenced by the promises of computers from the hippie perspective, how people can communicate, influenced by the psychedelic movement, which of course one can read back in Fred Turner’s book[1]. This context is closely tied to the questions of how software should look like and how the user should be positioned in there. This topic is something I was really intimately familiar with when I grew up.

VS: Did your parents work in this field?

GL: No, I grew up near the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, behind the Concertgebouw. Almost next door to my primary school was the Hilton hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono stayed when the hippies took over the park where I played, in 1969. Of course, I’m not from the ‘68 generation, I’m younger, from the punk generation, I entered the scene in 1977. But as a child I was very influenced by the counterculture that happened in front of where I grew up. My first direct encounter with computers was somewhat odd. I was twelve, thirteen years old. With a friend of mine I decided to become a member of a rowing club in Amsterdam. We started rowing on the river Amstel and while we were doing these explorations from the water we came across a strange metal junk yard where the first generation of mainframe computers were dumped and recycled. We could access the yard via the water. We often went there to have a look at these machines. At that time, my friend and I were interested in DIY electronics, in particular transistors. We then traded the large circuit boards we took from there with our friends.

A couple of years later, when I studied political science in Amsterdam at the university, of course I encountered these mainframes again. That was in 1978-1979. We had to learn SPSS and data processing. This was done in the tradition of the Baschwitz institute, which studied public opinion. Kurt Baschwitz is one of the founders of mass communication and he was introducing computers in social sciences. We had to do questionnaires and then process the results using these mainframes.

Around 1983-1984 the personal computer became affordable and available, with the introduction of the IBM PC combined with MS-DOS, the Microsoft operating system. We started to use it. We were running a weekly magazine for the squatter’s movement in Amsterdam and very early on we used the computer to do text processing. Friends of mine also started to use the computer to build databases in the early 1980s, to trace neo-Fascist groups and map housing speculators. These were early database and mapping exercises. The use of computers and databases in social movements goes back a really long time. Activists gathered names, dates and observations. There are archives that try to conserve the autonomous social movement heritage and I’m also playing a role in this preservation effort at the International Institute of Social History (IISG), which is in Amsterdam. IISG has extended its archives, which focused on Marx, Bakunin, early trade unions and the Spanish civil war to contemporary movements such as feminism and ecology.

When the squatter’s episode of my generation came to a close, in 1987, with the help of my father, I purchased my first personal computer.

VS: Did you feel early on that there was a need to archive this history?

GL: My studies started with a visit to the Institute of Social History. The first paper I wrote, I was 19 years old, was on the history of the provo movement[2] which I had witnessed as a child. Back then I was too young and I couldn’t really understand much of it. I went back to the archives, to study that movement ten or so years later – a movement that had had a big impact on Amsterdam and was foundational to the squatter’s movement. Archival work has always been an important task for social movements to pass on collective experiences, images, concepts and debates.

VS: Would you say that your investment in digital cultures and social movements is a continuity of this starting period?

GL: For sure. We’re aware of similar struggles before WWII. But we also knew, in particular in the city of Amsterdam that was so severely hit by the Holocaust, that the rupture of WWII and the following decades of conservative reconstruction created a gap in the collective memory. We met few people in our field, only one or two, that were able to bring the memory of the pre-war back. It was a bit more common with the 60s movement. Memory and its transition from one generation to the next, a strong theme in the work of Bernard Stiegler that I admire, were at the forefront when I grew up.

VS: You bought your own computer in 1987.

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Temps et temporalités du Web

Après le colloque de décembre 2015 TTOW… le livre regroupe une partie des contributions présentées lors de ces journées …

Rethinking the distinction between old and new media

The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

Special Issue CFP

Rethinking the distinction between old and new media Guest editors: Frederik Lesage (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and Simone Natale (Loughborough University, UK)(August 2019)

Read the CfP

Deadline for abstracts: 31th May 2018

Please send a 500-word abstract and a 100-word bio to the guest editors: and
Authors of accepted abstracts will be invited to send full contributions by 31st October 2018

« Fractures numériques »

Qu’est-ce qu’un forum Internet ?

Une généalogie historique au prisme des cultures savantes numériques

Camille Paloque-Bergès

OpenEdition Press, 2018

Découvrir le livre et sa présentation


Digital Countercultures and the Struggle for Community

By Jessa Lingel (parution aux MIT Press en avril 2017)
Résumé Whether by accidental keystroke or deliberate tinkering, technology is often used in ways that are unintended and unimagined by its designers and inventors. In this book, Jessa Lingel offers an account of digital technology use that looks beyond Silicon Valley and college dropouts-turned-entrepreneurs. Instead, Lingel tells stories from the margins of countercultural communities that have made the Internet meet their needs, subverting established norms of how digital technologies should be used.

Lingel presents three case studies that contrast the imagined uses of the web to its lived and often messy practicalities. She examines a social media platform (developed long before Facebook) for body modification enthusiasts, with early web experiments in blogging, community, wikis, online dating, and podcasts; a network of communication technologies (both analog and digital) developed by a local community of punk rockers to manage information about underground shows; and the use of Facebook and Instagram for both promotional and community purposes by Brooklyn drag queens. Drawing on years of fieldwork, Lingel explores issues of alterity and community, inclusivity and exclusivity, secrecy and surveillance, and anonymity and self-promotion.

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Entretien avec Jean-Claude Michot (1/2)

Le parcours de Jean-Claude Michot, qui s’inscrit à la fois dans les innovations télématiques des années 1980 et 1990 et dans celles qui touchent à Internet et au Web dans la décennie 1990, témoigne d’une continuité certaine dans l’histoire du numérique et de ses cultures. Cette continuité est palpable dans l’aventure France Teaser qu’il retrace pour nous, depuis la création de la société pour permettre de télécharger des logiciels via Minitel à son passage sur le réseau des réseaux. Mais c’est aussi dans QBBS, BBS du 3614 que se lit une continuité d’usages, ici moins informatiques que communicationnels. De France Teaser à Gandi, Jean-Claude Michot éclaire aussi plus généralement le contexte entrepreneurial d’une économie numérique en plein développement.


Gaps and bumps in the political history of the internet

Tréguer, F. (2017). « Gaps and bumps in the political history of the internet ». Internet Policy Review, 6(4). DOI: 10.14763/2017.4.714


In the past years, there has been a growing scholarly attention given to “digital rights contention”, that is political conflicts related to the expansion or restriction of civil and political rights exerted through, or affected by, digital communications technologies. Yet, when we turn to history to inform contemporary debates and mobilisations, what we often find are single-sided narratives that have achieved iconic status, studies focusing on a handful of over-quoted contentious episodes and generally over-representing North America, or scattered accounts that have so far escaped the notice of internet researchers. How can we explain these gaps in internet histories? How can we go about overcoming them to build a more fine-grained understanding of past socio-legal struggles around human rights in the context of media and communications? This essay calls for advancing the political history of the internet in order to empower scholars, activists and citizens alike as they address current (and future) controversies around internet politics.

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