Communication Front 2000 Book, "Crossing Points East-West"

New Media, Greece and the Information Society

Korinna Patelis

January 2001

This article attempts to overcome the tokenism embedded in some new media practices by pointing to the increasing e-elitism prevalent in debates about the development of new media. It alerts to the dangers of naively presenting new media production and collaboration like a Benetton advert campaign or the Eurovision contest. It does so merely by stating the obvious, i.e., by providing an understanding of the real material circumstances in which new media production must occur. It criticises certain misconceptions and assumptions around the development of new media using the Greek context as an example.

New media and more specifically the Internet are my research area, and this means that Greece or any other country cannot, given the nature of critical research, be at its centre. Furthermore, national identity has not been a focal axis in my identity formation, partly, I assume, due to my fortunate social position. This has meant that Greece has not been an important parameter in my social research, in the same way as it is not, say, for a chemist. Greece, together with Portugal, being part of the European info-have-not periphery, has of course been one among many other technologically poor countries that have paraded in my analysis of the political economy of the Internet.

Hidden behind these theoretical choices lies an important theoretical question: Do I, by not wearing my identity on my sleeves and research, contribute to a misunderstanding about contemporary Greece? My answer to that is no. People should be able to understand and communicate with each other regardless of their nationality and social characteristics. And researchers should have the freedom to choose their area of research regardless or despite of these, according to what they want, and of course what the material circumstances allow. I am saying this because there is a danger of saying that knowledge production does occur in some kind of material and social vacuum, which is of course not true.

Of course one could then ask why I am contributing to this volume, the focal point of which are East/West relations and technology? I am contributing because it has become apparent to me that in celebrating the possibilities the Internet opens up for collaboration, it is sometimes forgotten that we do not all inhabit the same country. Therefore somebody collaborating from Athens does face a very different new-media macro-economic reality than somebody say in Amsterdam. A further reason is that I do think that analysing the development of new media in Greece contributes to a political economy of the Balkan area, a political economy the elaboration of which is long overdue.

A useful way of approaching the subject topic is to list the tangible macroeconomic facts with regard to technological development in Greece. The list that follows is compiled using official sources (NGO, state and suprastate information). It demonstrates that Greece is in a process of transition with regard to new technologies.

Greece is a EU country, member of the OECD, with relatively low telecommunication infrastructure, as the key indicators show. Only 74% of the Greek telecommunications network is digitalised, which is the lowest figure in the OECD area, and lower than the E.U. average of 90%. Greek cities are more wired up than the periphery - the cities' networks are digitalised to 95%. The network includes some 13 000 kilometres of fibre-optics. Greece's total connectivity is 51 mbps, 18 of which link it to Europe and 33 to the U.S. In 1999, Greece boosted some 69 800 IP addresses, 11 296 domain names and nearly 8 000 Web sites.  [1] There are only 180 000 dial-up accounts to the Internet via commercial servers, while the other 150 000 dial up via academic servers. That adds up to a total of 330 000 dial-up accounts for a country of 10 million people. This is not surprising, since according to ESIS statistics there were some 9 computers for every 100 citizens in Greece in 1998,  [2] the EU's lowest computer penetration rate.

The number of people actually using the Internet is difficult to calculate, and in a way is not so important. Estimates vary from 400 000 to 1 million, which is 10% of the Greek population. Greece also has one of the highest penetration rates of mobile telecommunications, which means that WAP may be its future. Greece's Internet services sector is booming, with more than 168 ISPs in the country and at least 10 major portal sites, which function as gateways to the Internet for many Greeks.

These statistics are changing as more money is being invested in building the country's info-telecommunications backbone. For example, last year 75% of the Greek educational system was wired up in a remarkable example of leapfrogging. Over the next years some 700 billion Greek drachmas (or 2 billion Euro) will be pumped into all sectors. The amount includes 80 billion for culture. In short, Greece is in a moment of transition towards a more knowledge-based society and economy. Consequently, many may argue that although Greece, like many other European countries, lags in cyberspace, it is only a matter of time until a critical mass of Greek are on-line and the sector booms. The problem however is far more complicated.

New technologies, like many other mass culture goods before them, are an import product for Greece. The imported goods that have been gradually entering the Greek society and economy over the past 5 years include: cable and wireless communications technology, hardware products, software, culture, usage patterns, ideologies, know how, activist strategies, grassroots organisational tactics. Furthermore, perceptions of what these new technologies represent, implementation tactics, business uses. This process is not exceptional, in that there is nothing generically different about Greece or new technologies that make this relationship of financial dependency different. Many scholars in the past have examined the process by which mediatic products and processes are exported from the centre to the periphery and have explored the outcome of this flow of information worldwide. The scholarship in question has resulted in a heated debate, which is widely known as the American-imperialism thesis. The media-imperialism thesis is relevant here, but cannot exhaust the issues at stake. For example, as critics have so skilfully shown in the last decade, the American-imperialism thesis tells us little about how these technologies are actually used. In accepting such criticism, I have no real interest in exploring the relationship of periphery and centre in these terms any further but rather wish to shed light on an often-neglected parameter of the debate: the supply side of new media production. In short I am not interested in how a Greek grandmother learns to use her mobile phone, but rather on the nature of localisation tactics employed by Greek firms or multinationals in producing new media.

Indigenous suppliers and producers of new technologies are themselves consumers of a number of knowledge-economy products. These include: consulting knowledge, magazines, business strategies, policy frameworks, management schemes. In short, what we are importing is not only the software required to go on-line, the cables to wire Athens and Business-to-Business platforms to handle e-commerce. But also knowledge policy and strategies, the business paradigm within which new media production must occur. Such knowledge essentially frames the indigenous production line. We are buying an entire mode of production. And we are also importing the knowledge workers needed to implement this - people who have experience in the development of new media. These might be young Greek who, like me, have been trained abroad and are now returning to bring knowledge back to Greece.

In the case of the Internet, the production line imported necessitates the restructuring of info-telecommunications markets and the setting up of a laissez-faire paradigm for new media production. What is imported is a neo-liberal approach to the Internet, according to which the Internet and laissez-faire capitalism are identical in nature and behaviour, and therefore an understanding that the development of Internet services goes hand in hand with the development of a free market of goods, service and ideas. Greek producers have to learn what an incubator  [3] is, what a  [4] is, what venture capital  [5] is, IPOs  [6] and the lot. Where a year ago you could not find a copy of Business 2.0 or Red Hearing at a Greek kiosk, we now have our own Net-business titles.

Unfortunately, the above applies for cultural production too: models of what autonomy constitutes, of how strategic alliances are formed between thinkers and doers, are being imported, while an army of Greek new-media thinkers like myself await their moment of oppositional glory.

The cost at which the above are sold to the periphery by consulting firms, educational institutions, NGOs and supra-government policy makers is by no means harmless in monetary terms. Millions of Greek drachmas are being paid to get the right advice and strategy for Greece to move ahead on its path towards the information society. Millions are being given for students to study abroad, and millions to digitalise the production chain. For thinkers and artists, the cost is not harmless either. Their sacrificial labour is being demanded to help the country move forward intellectually by setting up non-profit events which give Greece a place on the global map of new-media subversive activities. Thinkers, activists, consultants and venture capitalists, the heart of a nation's visionaries is beating for the new economy. If you are not doing it for e-business you have to be doing it for!

And unfortunately such economy of the "new" is our only alternative to technophobia, which would mean no development, no technology, no wires, no production. The backwardness of the technophobes who preach a stop to the import in question leaves me more astounded than the smiles of Greek neo-wired yuppies. My hope is that the time in which this process is occurring will soon destabilise the new production line. This is because the economy is now a bankrupt concept drifting into the collective memory of all those that thought the Nasdaq  [7] would continue on its infamous rise. The conceptual foundation of the mania became bankrupt at the same time as it was being exported to many countries of the periphery. With most technology stocks experiencing dramatic losses in market value, indigenous producers will have to be critical as to what they are buying into. A bear market  [8] is a difficult thing to sell, however neatly designed and wrapped. New-media economy objectives will have to be redefined by indigenous producers to avoid the new-economy tragedies we have all seen unfolding in the last year in the US. This will strengthen the imbalance of power between the have-not periphery and the have centre.


[1] The figures are from 30 June 1999 <>; a slightly newer survey is available at <> - eds.

[2] <> - eds.

[3] Incubator: A company or facility designed help startup companies, usually technology-related, to grow through the use of shared resources and intellectual capital - eds.

[4] company whose business model is fundamentally linked to the use of the Internet - eds.

[5] Venture capital/risk capital: funds made available to startup companies - eds.

[6] IPO/Initial Public Offering: the first public distribution of stock from a company that has not been publicly traded before - eds.

[7] Nasdaq: National Association of Security/Securities Dealers Automated Quotations; stock market launched in 1971 to automate transactions <> - eds.

[8] Bear: a market that has a strong falling tendency over a long period of time, as opposed to the bull market, which has a long-term growing tendency; correspondingly, investors are designated as bull if they invest aggressively, as bear if they are more cautious in their predictions - eds.

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