Media Evolution and Society. Media Companies and the Übermedium

In cooperation with the Institut für Medien und Kommunikationspolitik and the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum


Ever since C. P. Snow came up with his hypothesis of the »two cultures« (sciences vs. humanities) in the late 1950s, the boundary between them has become more permeable, due in large part to the computer and neurosciences. Paradoxically, it is the global computer network and corresponding new means of communication that have given rise to a new cultural dichotomy: between “on” and »off«, »us« and »them«, »internet utopians« and »content mafia«, »content originators« and »content industry«. Particularly in Germany, the copyright debate has seen this dualism evolve into a new clash of cultures and even led to the formation of a popular new kind of political party.

The underlying question is whether the World Wide Web as a uber-medium can develop distinctive spiritual and social structures that are fundamentally different from the organizational form and content of traditional (mass) media. In this regard, John Perry Barlow’s »Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace« (1996), which ironically was put online during the 1996 World Economic Forum in Davos, is still the most expressive text: »Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from cyberspace, the new home of the Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.« In a more far-reaching approach, theoreticians of the »technological singularity« visualize the turning point when technological intelligence incorporates and exceeds the capacity of human brains. As of late, select individuals of supreme intellect can even enroll at Silicon Valley’s »Singularity University« founded by Ray Kurzweil and Peter H. Diamandis.

For the time being, the Web is characterized by established brands of great capitalist market power that are still drawing upon the spiritual and utopian concept of »cyberspace«. Older media (companies) are struggling to define their place in what has become, for them, a threatening combination of »space«, »mind« and »speed«. Consequently, numerous joint ventures and mergers between web companies and older broadcasters/publishers have sprung up in the fields of production and distribution. Film writers and producers, for instance, can forge deals directly with Google/YouTube or Netflix. This technological expansion of the means of production and distribution entails consequences on media policy and the economy that go far beyond any »copyright« questions.

Just how capitalist will »the Web« be? Which older forms and brands of media will persist? What will remain of the »new home of the Mind«? What are the implications that will arise for media consumers, companies and digital growth?

These issues are to be debated in a high-caliber international workshop at the Cologne Conference 2012. The aim of the event is to involve representatives of the economy, politicians, scholars and members of civil society in a discussion of current and future developments and challenges as they arise in the digital age.