The wages of criticism
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A statement by Douglas Rushkoff Past projects / The etoy Fund / Dec. 20 conference / Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff speaks at the press conference held December 20, 1999, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
German version here

Back in 1994, the Internet was limited to non-commercial purposes. Users had to agree not to conduct commerce online in order to get an account. When a pair of immigration lawyers sent out the first "spam" email offering their services, they were booted off the Internet, altogether.

How times have changed. When commercial interests moved online, many of us were concerned they would change the essential character of this space -- that a communications infrastructure would be turned into an electronic strip mall.

But Wired, cyber-libertarians, and e-commerce enthusiasts reminded us all of the simple fact that the Internet has infinite real estate. There's room for everyone. Not so.

A group of International artists understood the threat that consumerism, marketing, and stock market speculation posed to Internet society and culture at large. In 1994, they created ETOY -- an art project designed to take place in the public sphere. It was meant both as a satire of the corporate value system, and a barometer of the information space. By selling symbolic "stock certificates," for example, ETOY was able to expose the ludicrous speculations and valuations of the pyramid scheme otherwise known as the NASDAQ exchange, where billions of dollars are made by people with the best story or dot-com brand name. The ETOY brand was created so that art might compete with commerce.

Etoys, the e-commerce company, arrived online two years after ETOY. But because they do "real" business ­ meaning they serve as a story through which investment dollars may be accumulated ­ the court and Internic have decided to support their interests. In 1999, commerce takes precedence, and an artist can be booted offline, illegitimately, illogically, and illegally.

But in an era when Time magazine's "Man of the Year" is an E-commerce merchant who made zero from his business but billions off his brand name's market cap, this should not surprise us. As the arts collective we are here fighting for predicted, capitalism accelerated by computers allows fiction to overtake reality.

I've often been asked why ETOY did not accept the five hundred thousand they were offered to change their name. First, ETOY *is* its name. Would anyone have asked Warhol to sell the right to use his own name on his work? ETOY is a real project, and the value of its name is intrinsic to the value of the whole piece. Over a dozen artists have worked five years towards its creation. You do the math. Second, for ETOY to accept money to surrender art space to commercial space goes against what these artists have dedicated their lives to. If Etoys, the e-commerce company, wants to control ETOY, the Internet agitprop experiment, they can buy Etoy.shares like anyone else. ETOY will not, and should not, submit to corporate blackmail.

ETOY's resistance demonstrates that the Bottom Line in our civilization must not be the bottom line. ETOY will not abandon its existing shareholders by taking the money and running away. Unlike almost everyone else in the Internet space, they have no "exit strategy" because they are here to stay. And, unlike ETOYS, ETOY is more than just a URL. The name is not for sale.

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