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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



riot gwwwls

So I’m just back from a riot grrl anniversary celebration. I ended up reading lots of Liz’s zines and flashing back to 1993 when Dave and Andy and Ed and Kevin and Andy and Ben and Sue and I were holed up in terrible flats in unfashionable Streatham, living off the dole and housing benefit and shitty code sold to Personal Computer World. We worked on, but never actually finished a zine called “Graduate Loser”. Somehow I never actually managed to get hold of many other zines either, but would religiously buy Factsheet Five and marvel at the wealth of information out there, in much the same way as when I was 14 and in Chelmsford I’d buy Time Out but never dare to go to London, sixty whole miles away.

Anyway, I’ve always felt that there was a direct lineage between the mid-nineties zinesters and the early web. Zinesters were bunch of overeducated media-obsessives in a recession that had no space for them, who worked dead-end jobs that gave them access to technology that let them reproduce their own work and distribute it to a small, but satisfying, coterie of like-minded people, who were sceptical of the mainstream, congenial to conspiracy theories, and fiercely in favour of radical free speech. When nobody else saw the potential of the Internet, it was inevitable that that generation would have the motive and the opportunity to recognise it for what it was: the world’s most powerful office photocopier, and run with that. To quote myself blathering onto a group of social media theorists on this topic a few years ago:

Now zinesters were the direct ancestors of the early beginnings of web designers. Why is this? Because they were very used to the idea and the appeal of self expression, un-moderated by anyone else. They understood the value of [self-expression]. They also understood the costs. Essentially the way you made a zine was the same way you did it in the 1960s. You crept into your work place after work and ran off hundreds and hundreds of copies on the photocopier, and that was sticking it to The Man, costing him over 20 pounds worth of photocopier toner. This was still going on when I first joined the internet industry in the 90s… I remember very distinctly the quiet Goth girl who did web design coming in late at night, when I was sitting there working on my own zine, and photocopying hundreds and hundreds of her Goth zine, and no one said anything of course because they were doing the same thing.

The appeal of the web of course was that it got rid of that problem. Rather than having to distribute to a hundred different people, you would be distributing it to the whole world. And all of the appeal and the dream that you had of having control over your artistic project was there for the taking.

You only see fragments of that lineage now — the most obvious being Boing Boing, which was a zine before it was a blog, and whose lineage went straight through Wired. A generation proud to write the ephemera of their age, because nobody else had much room to let them do anything else.

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.