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New publication: How Amsterdam Invented the Internet

September 30, 2014

A few years ago, I was asked, as an historian, to collaborate with Caroline Nevejan on a piece on the history of digital culture in Amsterdam.  Especially since Manuel Castells wrote about it, Amsterdam’s proto-World Wide Web De Digitale Stad (Digital City) in 1994, has long been a legend in digital development, especially its connection to one of the first dial-in internet services, XS4all, which grew directly out of the hacker movement in the Netherlands.  You can check out a quick guide at the great “digital archaeology” of DDS here.


(this was interface 3.0 of De Digitale Stad)

Caroline had told much of this history in her 2007 PhD dissertation, Presence and the Design of Trust, where she uses her experience as a cultural programmer at the Paradiso in Amsterdam to think about what it means to be present with others and witness to them as fellow humans in the mediated and networked world.   Working together, we throught through this story from a different angle: how these styles of networking grew out of the cultures of the city of Amsterdam.

We started with a ‘blind date’ at the Waag in Amsterdam (including the FabLab, where citizens can come play with technology.  First time I ever saw a 3-D printer), and she began to unravel a tale of squatters, habits, friends and connections all over Europe.  Between this and some intriguing trips to the International Institute for Social History, where Caroline’s archive is now stored, and checking back with many of the other actors in the story, such as Marleen Stikker, Geert Lovink and Tjebbe van Tijen, an amazing story unfolded.  I came across great, simple diagrams like, this one, from the Galactic Hacker Party in 1989.

haii 1 your networkI am now happy to announce it has been published in an exciting collection:

Caroline Nevejan and Alexander Badenoch “How Amsterdam Invented the Internet: European Networks of Significance, 1980-1999” in Ruth Oldenziel and Gerard Alberts, (eds) Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes(Springer 2014 ) 179-205


In January of 1994, the Internet became available to the general public in the Netherlands via a new dial-in service and virtual access area called De DigitaleStad (Digital City, called DDS). Hailed as a new form of public sphere, DDS visualized the Internet as a form of a virtual city. Rather than trace how DDS gave shape to an online city, however, this chapter explores how an existing and emerging culture of the city gave rise to this new digital sphere. In particular, it highlights how actors from a range of independent media labs and cultural centers helped to invent the participatory city culture that was visualized within DDS. First, it traces the growth of Amsterdam as a central node and gateway of the Internet in Europe in parallel with the rise of independent media and cultural centers in the 1980—a culture related, among other things, to the squatter’s movement and worldwide activist groups fighting social injustice. The chapter then shows how these sectors came together in the late 1980s with the involvement of a third set of actors, the hacking community, to shape what would become Digital City and Amsterdam’s booming digital culture. Through a series of network events that brought these groups together, a digital culture took shape that eventually gave shape to the city’s digital culture.

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