"Power is no longer measured in land, labour or
capital, but by access to information and the means
to disseminate it." Radical Software, Issue
The founders of Radical Software (RS), and the
Raindance collective that
published it, sensed they had a unique chance to have
a powerful impact on the future. For the original team
- Beryl Korot, Phyllis Gershuny, and Ira Schneider -
plus all the Raindance members and the artists and writers
who wrote for this remarkable journal, Radical Software
was an attempt to help leverage a revolution in the
world of communications.
The late 60s and early 70s was a time of major social
upheaval - and like most such periods, a time not fully
understood by those living it. One thing the team did
understand was that the development and increasing availability
of revolutionary new video hardware could play an important
role in accelerating the social change they desired.
As Marcuseans, they understood that change would only
occur by increasing the level of social pressure. They
understood, through their reading of Buckminster Fuller,
Gregory Bateson and Marshall McLuhan, that what needed
changing was not the machines, but the instructions
used to operate them. The social implications were evident:
radical hardware was fine but what was critically needed
was Radical Software.
The idea for this journal came about in the fall of
1969, right after the Woodstock festival. The Viet Nam
war was raging; a previously powerless and voiceless
generation in the US and abroad found that they could
no longer trust their governments or the newspapers
and television networks to communicate any truths except
those in service of the prevailing order.
The killing of Martin Luther King exacerbated the feeling
that race war seemed inevitable. The toxic Nixon presidency
amplified feelings of alienation and despair, but also
compelled many to imagine alternatives to the soulless,
murderous culture in which they believed they found
themselves. The urge to create new cultural structures
was a genuine attempt to help lead a generation out
of the wasteland in which many felt entrapped.
This assortment of artists, writers, musicians, and
filmmakers shared a vision. They imagined a social order
in which new forms of community might be formed and
maintained by the development of an interlocking network
of shared intelligence, a concept embodied in the thought
of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist,
and philosopher. Gene Youngblood called this concept
They imagined a world in which the contest of ideas
and values could take place freely and openly, outside
of the existing institutional framework and in active
opposition to the worldview constructed and maintained
by broadcast commercial TV. They proposed not only a
re-ordered power structure, but also a new information
order in which the very idea of hierarchical power structure
might be transformed or even eliminated. This was five
years before the notion of the new world information
order sought to balance first and third world consumption
and production of news and other forms of mass communications.
They imagined self-healing communities in which aesthetic
passion, and the love of knowledge would replace the
alienating forces of spectacular capital. They imagined
a world in which poetic forms would serve as an antidote
to the continuous barrage of commercial propaganda.
Nam June Paik, would note, paraphrasing Hegel in Radical
Software's first issue, that, "What is more
educational is most aesthetic and what is most aesthetic
is most educational."
For them, Radical Software would provide a platform
for the exploration of alternatives to the dominant
mass media structure, and would do so in a manner that
mixed the subjective style of the new journalism with
the non-precious, self-published format of the Whole
Earth Catalog. Readers would be encouraged to copy anything
and disseminate it as they saw fit. Radical Software
would not present itself self-consciously as an art
magazine, but rather as a form of social activism and
environmental sculpture. It would be a forum, a video
craft how-to-magazine for the fearless, a rudimentary
marketing and distribution system for the burgeoning
community, and a journal of philosophical speculation
and political opinion for all who shared their vision.
RS would take seriously the full range of social, technological
and artistic issues that called for redefinition. The
idea was to be contentious without being pretentious.
For the first four issues, RS had a carefully honed
homemade feel to it - a communal style that was fully
consistent with the values espoused by the journal.
The driving motivation was clear to all involved, and
to the growing community who read each successive issue.
It was this: technology might have brought us to the
brink of global destruction, may have enabled the alignment
of power and money that kept us on the verge of devastation,
yet technology was not our enemy. In fact, if properly
developed and humanely managed, the new communications
technologies held within them the power to unleash something
From the vantage of 2003, the liberating promise of
cable television, for example, seems naive. Similarly,
the utopian visions of the portapak era of video may
seem quaint at a time when the camcorder has become
ubiquitous. But it is easy to understand how the recognition
of the power and poetic potential of real-time video
and the recorded simulation of real-time playback packed
such an ontological punch and inspired so many interesting
artistic experiments and so much speculation among the
community of RS writers. Some of the articles and, yes,
rants in the collected volumes of Radical Software
may appear dated today. However, we should still recognize
that the aspirations and concerns of the men and women
who contributed to RS were extremely prescient.
For what lies at the core of their enterprise was nothing
less than the realization that the structure of communications
had forever changed. It wasn't that change was proposed,
or in the offing, but that a truly radical transformation
had already taken place in the minds of these people,
and it was now their collective task and social obligation
to come to grips with that "paradigm shift."
Not that they read every sign correctly. For example,
cable television was mainly important because it signaled
the end of one economy and the beginning of a broader,
expanding one. The old paradigm was an economy of scarcity
supporting centralized social control. An economy of
abundance was in formation, though few could imagine
the extent of change that the 21st-century information
economy would compel.
The portapak, and the social/aesthetic potential of
the poetic visions and independent voices enabled by
this tool, was a finger pointing at the moon. With the
exception of Nam June Paik, who asked the question,
"How long before every artist is his own television
station?" no one predicted that twenty years after
RS ceased publication, the Internet would provide the
technological framework for the real revolution in the
structure of mass communications.
But even if they did not read every sign aright, there
were many that they did. Following Fuller's lead they
saw communications and media as ecological issues, and
made media ecology a frequent topic in Radical Software,
imposing a broad theoretical perspective on what could
easily have been seen as a purely political issue.
They explored the impact of satellite-borne, real-time
communications, and the Fullerian recognition that new
larger media frames of reference would contain all older
forms, transforming them and allowing them to be seen
as the basis for the production of art.
They came to grips with the role of new media in education.
The concerns and opportunities for change raised by
a special issue of RS devoted to education echoed the
issues first raised by Nam June Paik, who contributed
his "Education For The Paperless Society"
to RS # 1.
In fact, most of the issues that characterized today's
debates on the proper place and impact of new media
in our lives found some form of expression in the pages
of Radical Software. As we leaf through the digitized
pages of RS, we can ask ourselves how these concerns
of thirty years ago translate into our current thinking
about media, social change, and our collective responsibility
to take action.
Are we clear about the impact that the new media has
continued to have on the empowerment of previously voiceless
communities? Twenty years after the RS special issue
on community, the re-emergence of the idea of community
is perhaps the defining character of non-commercial
Have we managed a balance between corporate and personal
forms of mass communication? Does the issue of the digital
divide indicate that we have still a way to go to truly
give voice to the world's still voiceless poor? Do we
still privilege one-way communication structures, or
have we truly embraced the two-way and multi-path potential
of media untethered to the implicit power relationships
of old media structures? All these issues, raised and
debated, were the locus of critical content that was
The online availability of Radical Software
is an extraordinary event. As we continue to explore
the distinctive qualities and capacities of today's
technology and the radical hardware it spawns, we recognize
that the consideration of Radical Software is
more important than ever.
David A. Ross, February 2003