EIES Teleconference (January - May, 1981)
Page 1: O'Regan Position Paper 1/31/81
Table of Contents
The Responsive Environment - An Expanded Concept of the Museum Environment and the Art Event
The majority view of the museum environment is that it is a "place" for art to be viewed by an audience. The majority view of the art work is that, whatever the medium or process involved, it is something "made" by the artist in some other location which is then brought to the museum environment to be viewed by others. Various attempts to break away from these accepted norms, whether in terms of the "happenings" of the Sixties, the "performance pieces" of the Seventies, or other departures from tradition in music and painting, are well known and documented. Only a few of these efforts can be said to have even attempted to embrace some of the possibilities inherent in some of the new technologies of the last two decades: The efforts of the Experiments in Art and Technology group and the Cybernetic Serendipity Exhibition are possibly the most well known here.
However, none of these projects or "movements" have ever specifically embraced the nature of some of the emerging technologies for their own special properties. Rather they "added them on" as an additional set of options for the artist, for reasons which emanated from the aesthetic text before the advent of these possibilities. There has yet to be any direct expansion of the aesthetic text that both stems from and embraces these new possibilities. Until this happens, it is unlikely that the level of "technological effect" will be transcended.
The present project both stems from, and is set directly in, the milieu of a special selection of the new communications technologies. Indeed, the grounds on which the selection itself is being made (which will be an inherent and on-going part of the various phases of the project) is itself part of a decision as to how the aesthetic text can be meaningfully expanded. Specifically, the selection of technologies to date has been made from those which collapse the process of time, space and information.
At the outset, the capacities of each may appear familiar:
The "instant" transmission of personal text across global communications networks, accessible now to everyone possessing a telephone and simple computer terminal.
The immediate and semi-immediate two-way exchange of graphic imagery--from slow-scan still images to full-colour two-way video linkages, also global in extent.
The expanded "augmented human intellect" of individuals or self-selecting groups that form the membership of the expanding global computer data and communications networks.
Each of these systems has its current raison d'être, both financial and functional. Separately, they each could have "application" to art in forms that are familiar to us. Few groups however have concerned themselves with implications and possibilities inherent in the emerging synergies of such systems operating in linkage between themselves, a multi-disciplinary group of artists, scientists and scholars and a specially designed environment capable of displaying and responding to the products of all three interacting on a global, real, and delayed-time basis.
Perhaps the only precedent for this set of possibilities comes to us from several disparate, though symbiotically linked, groups. One major group is the Defense Department in the form of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. Army. Historically, it has been this group that has almost single-handedly stimulated and funded the development and creation of the first global computer network appropriately called ARPANET. This same search for expanded military options today is providing the thrust toward discovering the possible advantages inherent in linking high technologies with their:
Capacity for memories with random-access to image and text, both moving and still.
Capacity to provide "infinite" choice to the viewer/learner thereby allowing the ultimate in individualized learning of the operation/maintenance of complex classified weapons, or the terrain of foreign power's secret bases.
Ability to rapidly assimilate, cross-correlate, and abstract salient data from the works literature on any subject, in any language, at a speed which functionally collapses the research task from a decade of work to a day of retrieval time.
What kinds of characteristics do these uses have in common that differ significantly from how these expanded options may be applied to art?
1.The first and most obvious difference is that these uses are rooted in teleological concerns. The differences in capability between the various technologies are subdued to the achievement of specific purposes, deemed valuable to ARPA. This is in stark contrast to the attitude of "adding in" these capabilities for the artist.
2.The teleological goal produces the need for synthesis of the technological options. This leads to a modus operandi grounded in the idea of experiential simulation for the learner/interacters of complex situations that are otherwise unavailable. The simulation basis of these uses then serves as the context which attempts to draw forth a synthesis of integrated output from the technologies that smoothly interfaces with the needs of the human perception in the learning mode. (There is another aspect to this which we will deal with later: What is the impact on the human nervous system of this special kind of information environment?)
3. These uses have built into them an inherent sensibility to the highly individual nature of each potential user. They achieve this by attempting to provide a menu of options for entry/exploration of the system designed to interface with the anticipated need of the user. The sophistication of our ability to divine the proper structure of these options is only at its beginning stages--this relates back to the point made at the end of 2. In effect this is technological simulation of experience "in the hands of the user" as opposed to the "eye of the beholder."
With slight changes in language, all three of these points could be statements about art, and yet these options have never been used for making art. It is true that small steps toward this have been taken from time to time by artists using various combinations of video/assemblage technologies and media as well as art with primitive viewer-interaction built into it, thus moving, slightly beyond the "beholder paradigm" in art. However, the combinatorial power of the complex mix envisaged as the goal of this project has never been assembled to date.
As with the advent of almost any new technology, there are some new characteristics of these media-in-combination which must be given special consideration. Since these are new phenomena, they are hard to characterize; at first, they appear to be "invisible" but eventually they have the power to "make or break" the whole process.
Now we must explore something of the structural landscape of this cluster of disciplines, with the aim of outlining the elements of an epistemology of the aesthetic text that both stems from and includes the new possibilities in technologies that collapse space, time and information.
We shall see very shortly that any attempt to articulate an image of the operations--actual or potential, of what we shall from now on refer to as "Space-Time-Information Collapse" (STIC) technologies--will require some use of terms from disciplines that concern themselves with complex phenomena, network and systems phenomena, neuro- and psycholinguistics, and artificial intelligence. In addition, we will need contributions from philosophy, logic, and aesthetics. To some this may provoke a raised eyebrow as it would appear to be a list that is spread over a terrain where the ice is very thin and the water terribly deep. However, this has always been both the curse and the strength of the field of cybernetics and the many other disciplines it has either spawned or influenced.
Teleconferencing User Characteristics: Usage Level, Understanding and Participation in Computer Network Processes.
As with any system of communication, there are procedures to be followed if effective communication is to take place. Computer teleconferencing is no exception. There have been enough people on sufficiently diverse groups of systems at this point so that some rather general observations can be made about their behavior, this difference between "good" and "bad" uses of these systems, and most important the kinds of conditions that need to be established if effective use is to A) occur, B) continue for a reasonable length of time and C) reach a level where it is possible to achieve specific goals beyond the task of "mastering the system."
In our case, all of these aspects need to be addressed with an even greater degree of discernment than usual because unlike other types of groups, who remain largely as message/data users, our specific need is to evolve uses beyond this level, to include the aesthetic, artistic, philosophical and even spiritual realms. This will require facility beyond the norm--for at least all of the organizers, if not indeed for a significant portion of those ultimately chosen to become part of the Whitney Communications Project.
To begin to grasp what these distinctions may mean, let's look at some of what is now known about the "norms" of teleconferencing. The following statements are abstracted from the book: The Network Nation: Human Communication Via Computer, Chapter 3, "Social and Psychological Processes in Computerized Conferencing." Summarizing findings about social/psychological processes on computer networks, Hiltz and Turoff write:
1.Users evolve specialized norms with respect to the use of the facilities, communications and writing style. The acquisition of these norms by individuals/groups appears to be an important learning process on such systems.
2.User participation in conferencing in an active sense of contributing items seems to require some degree of usage above the basic level of learning the mechanics. This may be a second-level learning plateau related to established norms.
3.Users will gain facility as time passes, so that their input rates become higher than usual typing rates. For large groups, the time required to send and receive communications will drop below that required for other media, such as telephone or face-to-face meetings.
4. The user's short term memory may be a factor in conditioning frequency of interaction with the system, Users tend to become conditioned so that, on the average, they have about 7 items to send or receive per interaction.
5. In accordance with social exchange theory, no participant will continue to use a conferencing system unless "rewards" are greater than "costs." Among factors that increase reward for users are:
a) Ratio of items received to items sent. This
increases with 1) size of active group, 2) throughout rate of the system.
b) Observable increase in skill and speed in using the system. This improvement is related to the richness of the design in terms of advanced features available to user once they have mastered the basic mechanics.
c) Importance of communication with system members in comparison with communication with persons not on the system; relative cost in time and money of other modes for communicating with people on the system.
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