No Carrier and Other Stories from Philippine BBS Culture
Fatima Lasay

Author: In this paper, I will discuss the place and importance of ideological and political forces in the analysis of the development of a very small but significant networked software art and culture in the Philippines, beginning with the creative programmer-artists' culture within local Bulletin Board Systems from 1994 to the present time. The nearly total demise of BBSs in the country is traced from attempts by the country's largest telecoms company to implement phone metering (which the BBS community successfully lobbied against) to the proliferation of Microsoft Windows operating systems and computers bundled with such applications that conveniently diverted localised connectivity towards Internet connection. Included in this presentation are my own experiences as sysop of "The Digiteer" from 1997 to 2000, a Wildcat BBS running on a 486sx notebook computer. "The Digiteer" sought to support and promote the individual and cooperative work of artists and programmers. A few early works that may be categorized as software art, electronic poetry and digital art produced through networked collaborations and distribution through BBSs, from the files areas to the message areas and the door games, will also be presented.

The small BBS story represents a crisis in the cultural use of technologies in the country - - there is a marginalization and detachment from local, more pressing concerns brought about by a cultural production using technologies and material controlled and owned by foreign capitalists. This situation cultivates a dependence on initiatives coming from foreign countries, making artists working in technology-based art mere consumers of non self-sustainable resources. While technologies are often imbued with an ahistorical and anthropomorphic misconception (the idea that technologies change history and society) that trigger such euphoric and false sense of freedom, novelty, or emancipation from the controls of established art systems, the consumeristic programmer-artist is actually being turned into a dependent at the mercy of those who control the cartel of the "information society." Even the myth of the Filipino computer wizard is so prevalent that in the statistics, in the head count of educating programmers to do seemingly high-tech work for high-tech companies, we underestimate the repercussions of being too busy supplying cheap labor force to establish a nation-wide network of support for truly local innovation.

A theoretical solution will also be proposed in this presentation. The proposed solution points to a localised arts, technolgy and culture "education" as a powerful resource. I do not believe in the often suggested idea that science in the developing world is held back by cultural attitudes as these merely reinforce a "captive mind" and the trappings of a colonial cultural system. What I would like to propose is an analysis based on geopolitical and ecological systems, in particular those that were in place within ancient Philippine society.

This essay was written for Read_Me Software Art and Cultures conference and is published in read_me Software Art & Cultures Edition 2004 .


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