Introduction by Roy Skodnick to "Teleconferencing Computers
and Art" text from PLANET and EIES teleconferences published in All
Area Number 2, Spring 1983, NYC., pp.66- 70.
First a series of benchmarks in order to situate teleconferencing:
Alfred North Whitehead once remarked that the nineteenth century was dead by the 1880s, and the 1870s was its last lush decade. One could also say that the period from 1880 to 1945 was the period in which the old Western ideologies exploded...In 1946, the first digital computer, the ENIAC, was completed at the government proving grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland, and it was soon followed by the MANIAC, the JOHNIAC, and, within a decade, ten thousand more. Never in the history of invention has a new discovery taken hold so quickly and spread into so many areas of use as the computer...If the atom bomb proved the power of pure physics, the combination of the computer and cybernetics has opened a way to a new "social physics"--a set of techniques, through control and communication theory, to construct a tableau entiere for the arrangement of decisions and choices.- Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, 1973) pp. 346-347.
In 1945, Vannevar Bush, President Roosevelt's wartime director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, published an extremely foresighted article in which he predicted, among other things, the Xerox machine, the Polaroid camera, and FORTRAN. One of the items predicted was Memex, a writing, reading, filing, and communication system contained in a desk and including a screen and keyboard.- Murray Turoff and Star Roxanne Hiltz, The Network Nation (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1978) p. 63. This is the standard work on computerized conferencing. See also Art Kleiner's entry in The New Whole Earth Catalogue; also Jessica and Jeffrey Stamps, On Networking (New York: Doubleday, 1982).
Essentially, a memex is a filing system, a repository of information, and a scheme of searching and speedily finding a desired piece of information. It utilizes miniaturization, high-speed photography, memory cores such as computers embody, and provisions for the coding of items for recall, the linking of code to code to form trails, and then refinement or abandonment of trails by the machine as it learns about them. It is an extended, physical supplement for man's mind, and seeks to emulate his mind in its associative linking of items of information, and their retrieval as a result... The heart of the idea is that of associative indexing whereby a particular item is caused to select another at once and automatically. The user of the machine, as he feeds items into it, ties them together by coding to form trails.- Vanevar Bush, Pieces of the Action (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1979) pp. 109-110.
For the usual method of retrieving an item from storage we use a process of proceeding from subclass to subclass. Thus in consulting a dictionary or an index, we follow the first letter, then the second, and so on...Practically all data retrieval in the great computers follows this method.
The brain and the memex operate on an entirely different basis. With an item in consciousness, or before one, another allied item is suggested, and the brain or the memex almost instantly jumps to the second item, which suggests a third, and so on. Thus there are built up trails of association in the memory, of brain or machine. These trails bifurcate, cross out other trails, become very complex. If not used they fade out; if much used they become emphasized...Although we cannot hope to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.
Here is where the ability of the digital computer to learn from its own experience...comes into play.
...the geo-political tensions behind the allocation of Hertzian waves to different uses are as political as they are technical and often even the most experienced telecommunications technicians find themselves unconsciously indulging in politics.- Anthony Smith, The Geopolitics of Information (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) pp. 118-119. See B. Menon's review in this issue. This book is an essential summary.
The spectrum is the resource upon which exploitation of all the information resources (or almost all) depends. It is based upon the facility which exists in nature (and which has been explored since the last years of the last century) by which electro- magnetic energy can be made to oscillate, to move in waves, at different rates; the spectrum itself consists of the total range of possible rates of oscillation. If you stand at a particular point and a long skipping-rope is waved before you there is constant distance between the 'crest' of each wave; this is called the 'wavelength.' But since all electro- magnetic waves travel at the same speed--186,000 miles per second--the wave peaks and troughs will occur at a higher frequency the shorter the distance between them. The longer the wavelength the lower the frequency. One cycle per second is the basic unit of measurement known as one hertz; one thousand cycles is a kilohertz, one million is a megahertz and one thousand million one gigahertz. At the smallest end of the spectrum the waves cannot be heard or seen and for the purposes of radio communication the available frequencies range from 10 kilohertz to 300 gigahertz.
For eighty years now it has been possible for man to use more and more of the spectrum for sending information and entertainment, either from point to point or in broadcast mode to general audiences. Each information device which has been developed during the twentieth century uses up more of the available frequencies and careful international organization--through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the world's oldest international organization, dating back to 1865--is necessary to avoid the squandering of spectrum space. Unlike other international agencies, the ITU exists only through its members, who make unanimous decisions from decade to decade on how to govern the use of this flexible resource of nature. Different devices, from radio and television to computer data sent via satellite, utilize different quantities of the spectrum, or different amounts of 'bandwidth': one colour television channel, for example, uses as much bandwidth as 2,000 ordinary telephone circuits or 40 FM radio channels. The members of the ITU have gradually over the decades divided the total spectrum into bands within which specific services may be transmitted: there are twenty of these in all, including radio and television broadcasting, radio astronomy, mobile radio, point to point communications, etc.
One further world resource is interconnected with the spectrum and that is the orbit around the globe at a distance of 22,000 miles within which satellites may be 'parked' in such a way as to enable three of them to send signals to the entire world. There are already many 'sets' of satellites of this kind, known as geo-stationary satellites because at their particular height they move at the same speed as the earth. Even in the few years since space communication became possible, so many satellites have been sent up to use that particular orbit around the earth that it is in danger of becoming cluttered. Only a handful of nations have hitherto acquired the expertise to launch satellites of their own and these and their client nations today require ever more parking spaces within this very convenient orbit. The geo-stationary orbit and the electro- magnetic spectrum are both different from earth resources such as oil, coal or gas, in that they never run out. They are different from crops because no amount of effort on the part of mankind can increase them. In some ways they are comparable to water resources, in that mischievous or uncooperative exploitation can make them useless but they will always regenerate their usefulness if the mischief or excessive use is removed.
During manned space flight, there is data transmission of the rate of 52 kilobits per second, the equivalent of an Encyclopedia Britannica every minute. Between 1961 and February 1974, there were 318 days of manned space flights. How many encyclopedias does that make?- Daniel Bell, "Teletext and Technology," The Winding Passage (New York: Basic Books, 1977) p. 57.
One of the greatest data collections in history to date is the 1974 Global Atmospheric Research Project (GARP) Atlantic Tropical Experiment. Sponsored by the United Nations, 4,000 persons from 72 countries used 38 ships, 13 planes, 6 satellites, 63 buoys, 1,000 land stations, and 500,000 balloons to examine an area of 29 million square miles from 1,500 meters below the ocean to the top of the atmosphere, in an area west from the Eastern Pacific to the Indian Ocean. The objective was to improve weather forecasting and to discover the sources of hurricanes, monsoons, floods, and droughts. The project collected 7,000 reels of tape and 14 billion bits of data. It will take several years to analyze the collected material. ...the jargon of information technology itself (being relatively new) is so extensive that a special English-German dictionary of 10,000 words was published in 1968 and recently updated to 15,000 items.
...the image of the Alexandrian Library--the single building like the Bibliothèque National, the British Museum, or the Library of Congress--where all the world's recorded knowledge is housed in one building, may become a sad monument of the printed past.- Bell, op. cit. p. 58
It is very likely that in years to come an information ring main system will be used in homes and offices rather like the electricity ring main system of today. A single circuit could supply all of the information modes which a household of the present or the future could require...- Smith, op. cit. p. 114.
In the broadest sense, the explosive upsurge of new technologies is breaking down all the older conceptions of signals, carriers, modes, and systems, and this "fusion" of information media sets the stage for a major set of social upheavals in the next several decades. These become central issues for the postindustrial society. The major one is the social organization of the new "communications" technology.- Bell, op. cit. p. 55.
Are there any limits to miniaturization? Anyone making predictions in 1944 would have extrapolated existing technology--that is, improving the vacuum tube--and he would have been wrong. The invention of the transistor in 1948 completely changed the entire basis of electronics. One reason why the transistor was "unforeseen" at the time was that in 1944 there was as yet no such thing as "materials science." The invention of the transistor required the refinement of a technique for preparing materials of less than a few parts per billion harmful impurities, and the utilization of special techniques to prepare highly perfect crystals.
If there is next to be a major change it may come with "integrated optics." Integrated optical circuits can be laid down in thin films in much the same way as integrated electronic circuits. These thin films, however, use miniature lasers, lenses, prisms, light switches, and light modulators. Since the frequency of light is some 10,000 times higher than the highest frequency of an electronic device, the amount of information that can be carried by a light signal is correspondingly greater. Moreover, optical circuits are in principal considerably faster than electronic circuits. [Ibid., p. 37.]
The clock, with its sixty pulsed seconds to the minute and the sixty phased minutes to the hour, is the symbol of the industrial economy. The computer, equally, is the time symbol of the postindustrial world. Computer time is a conceit; it is called, oddly, real time, which means virtually "instantaneously." Nanoseconds are the minutest portion of computer time. Electric signals go through computer wiring almost at the speed of light, about a thousand feet per nanosecond. A thousand million nanoseconds make a clock second, or about the same number of clock seconds as there are in thirty years. In the present large-size computers, it takes about fifty nanoseconds to process one "bit" of information. In that context, what is the meaning of the division of time--or of Zeno's paradox?
It is possible that we are reaching another limit of scale in technological terms. But all exponential growth reaches an asymptote, the ceiling limit, where it levels off. In communication around the world, we have already approached, in telephonic, radio, and television communication, real time, and the technological problems are primarily those of expanding the number of bands of communication to permit more and more people to enjoy that use.
In that fundamental sense, the space-time framework of the world oikoumene is now almost set. [Ibid., p.64.]
These texts were edited from the terminal print-outs of two teleconferences generated on two different computer conferencing systems. The first (from November, 1978 to February, 1979) was conducted on PLANET, the second (from January to May, 1981) on EIES. Both conferences were intended as forums to consider the possible uses of emerging electronic technologies in the production, interpretation and distribution of art. They were expected to develop texts as well as implement design and construction of museum-related events. Although each conference involved several "players"; in different parts of the country, discussion was principally between artist Frank Gillette in New York and Brendan O'Regan, Director of Research of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, in San Francisco. The PLANET conference also included physician Richard Chilgren in Hawaii, David Ross then Curator of the University Museum, Univ. of Cal., Berkeley, and the sculptor Charles Frazier. The EIES conference was sponsored by The Film and Video Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and included John G. Hanhardt, Curator of Film and Video at the Whitney, James Harithas, former Director of the Everson Museum in Syracuse, New York, and Steven Poser, a writer (trained in philosophy) who assisted Hanhardt, in co-ordinating and evaluating the conference.
Each participant used a Texas Instruments Portable Memory Terminal (Silent 700 series) Model 765 which has a 20K memory capacity, i.e., it can store 20,000 bits of information in the memory element of the terminal itself, independent of the memory capacity of the teleconferencing system to which the terminal is linked by telephone through the Telenet system. The terminal allows for composition off-line, followed by rapid transmission from the magnetic "bubble memory" of the terminal through the phone link to the computer for dissemination.
As with most advanced technology, computerized conferencing is a spin-off from developments first used by the government for military and strategic purposes:
''Packet switching" is the use of minicomputers to break data into packets, send them by the fastest available circuits (satellites, microwave, or cable) and then reassemble the packets for the user. The system was developed by ARPA, the Advance Research Projects Agency of the Defense Department which developed a nationwide network of government and research oriented computers from places like M.I.T. and Stanford, and is now available for public commercial use.- Daniel Bell "Teletext and Technology," The Winding Passage Basic Books, 1977, p41.
ARPANET was de-classified in 1967. The actual design implementation of computerized conferences originates in the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) of the President of the United States. The first computerized system harnessed instantaneous transfer of information to conventional methods of data gathering through questionnaires, a further development of the Delphi system which soon led to "a highly innovative technique for using a computer to structure human communication for information exchange and collective effort to solve a problem." [Murray Turoff and Star Hiltz, The Network Nation, Addison Wesley, 1978., p.49]. EMISARI (The Emergency Management Information System and Reference Index) was the first such system; PLANET(developed at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif.) and EIES (Electronic Information Exchange System developed by Murray Turoff at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey) are two of the more sophisticated, flexible systems that exist today among several. PLANET and EIES structure communication into several options and modes presented as a "menu." The EIES system
supports electronic messaging, conferencing, personal notebooks, text editing, and document preparation. It includes a multitude of specialized features such as voting, automated questionnaires, and data- gathering...EIES has five alternative human machine interfaces, from simple menus for the beginning and casual user to self-defined user commands and procedures for customized tailoring of the interface.- from EIES access statement
PLANET allows participants in public conferences to exchange private one-to-one messages at the same time. Despite elimination of face-to-face cues and other kinds of kinesic context and contact, the "space" of computerized conferencing generates a complex social world with its own evolving norms, another realm of micro-sociology Gillette observes.
The history of these systems is subtly more fugitive than this summary indicates. Murray Turoff was "system designer and programming manager" in the System Evaluation Division (SED) of OEP
In 1968 I held a number of meetings with the Language and Systems Development people who were developing a higher-level language for the [UNIVAC] 1108 called XBASIC. Without any formal arrangements between LSD and OEP, I suggested a number of requirements and modifications to their language that would allow for the programming of communication structures, and LSD incorporated this into their design. As a result in late 1969, there was a software capability available to automate a Delphi Process.- Turoff and Hilts, op.cit.. p.47.
Turoff continued to develop more complex systems:
Problems still existed with the 1108 software, one of which was that they [the OEP computer shop] could not tell who was doing what from any of their remote terminals. This was their problem, our advantage. [ibid. p.47]Eventually the palace guard began to notice:
...the rest of OEP became aware that something was going on. This occurred because the computer console operators began to talk about people from all over the country who would occasionally phone to find out some piece of information about hours and such things. This gradually filtered up the ladder until someone decided to ask what was going on...they discovered that there were a lot of people accessing its computer from outside the organization and doing something with it that had not been programmed by them. They got a bit upset and conducted a complete investigation to see if government resources were being misused. [ibid. p. 48.]At one point Turoff's computer terminal was taken away, but he and his co-workers had allies, including the head of OEP, General Lincoln who was "one of the five statutory members of the National Security Council."(Ibid., p. 50.) Turoff and Robert Kupperman, the supervisory head of SED had helped Lincoln in an interesting way which Kupperman describes:
There was a memorandum that made an impression on Kissinger. The details are classified but it dealt with the question of should we or should we not have an ABM system. We had rather strong opinions. We had come from defense, and we know as much as anybody. We were able to put Lincoln in a useful intellectual position. Kissinger, commenting on Lincoln's memorandum, said that was foresighted. [Ibid., p. 50.]Turoff and Hiltz conclude:
This is the organizational setting that provides the context for the emergence of EMISARI: jealousy, power struggles, rival camps in the bureaucracy engaged in internal warfare. [Ibid., p. 51.]The system proved itself useful and became part of the steering capacity in crisis management and intervention although OEP ceased to exist:
EMISARI...is used as the weekly reporting mechanism from the ten regions of the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA) of the General Services Administration (GSA), a successor to OEP. Whenever the GSA has a crissis to monitor, RIMS [Resource Interruption Monitor Sustem] is revved up to full operational status. [Ibid., p. 58.]The democratic nature of entry and participation in these systems tends to shake up formal hierarchies of management and decision- making. Turoff and Hiltz speculate on the effects computerized conferencing will have on the normative set-ups and paradigm structures of research science. Planning and advocacy groups will no doubt accelerate democratic applications, complicate the steering process, alter research goals, as well as re- configure access to information. Turoff is committed to the design of non-monopoly systems which allow any sender to be an originator of information.
Commercial applications have been quickly operationalized by banks and corporations. Two examples from Smith:
The Hewlett-Packard Corporation has already created its own electronic mail system which has, according to the company's own calculations, enabled it to take on orders at a far higher rate than would have been possible if it had remained totally dependent on US and other postal services. Its plants are distributed in several continents; it has 4,000 different products and hundreds of thousands of parts on its order books at any given moment. It has reduced its internal invoicing and ordering to a series of standardized sheets and an enormous volume (hundreds of thousands per day) of messages are being transferred from postal services to electronic mode.- Smith, op. cit. p. 135.
SWIFT (Society for World Financial Information Transactions) operates daily bank clearing work in a single worldwide market and has begun to transform money flow. It means that cash can be moved around the world with extreme speed and without any hindrance being placed through physical or legal obstacles. It holds 300,000 transactions at a time, some of considerable size, beyond all national supervision. The entire "bank" is run on a computer which generates a kind of stateless currency, rocketing around the globe, potentially creating international currency instability as it moves.[Ibid., p. 142.]The most sophisticated transmission-links remain classified. But two corporations and one government agency are collaborating in design and construction of a planetary system:
The most important single aid to this evolution now being planned is SBS--Satellite Business Systems--a company formed by IBM, Comsat (the US communications satellite company) and Aetna Life Insurance Company. Its plans have been shrouded in discreet corporate public relations for several year, perhaps awaiting the outcome of the 1979 WARC, since its life depends upon the allocation of a suitable set of frequencies in the 12-14 gigahertz band which has been set aside for ground to satellite data links, both for direct broadcasting and fixed satellites. SBS has been 'grandfathering' a frequency in this band (squatting on it prior to allocation, in the hope that its right to continue using the frequency will be eventually conceded) since 1978... At this point SBS, firmly seated on the spectrum and capable of generating and processing a much greater volume of traffic than that afforded by US intra-corporate business will be able to move into the field of international mail and telephone connection, replacing the cumbersome unreliable services of many countries with instant and reliable communication, both on paper and in sound. The whole of filing systems of corporations around the world could be stored in IBM computers situated anywhere in the world. Where data links are presently costly and clogged with traffic between continents and across oceans they will become ridiculously cheap, by traditional standards, and plentiful. [Ibid., p. 136. WARC is the acronym for World Administrative Radio Conference.]There have been remarkable applications in the realm of human services, in the sharing of medical and other specialized knowledge, and in the development of alternative learning modes. But how will artists, writers, and researchers, as well as the now problematic "general public," begin to explore the uses of these systems? How will they be marketed, institutionalized, and maintained? Bell points out there is still no national information policy. We are only beginning to explore the nature of this kind of communication. Johansen, Vallee, and Collins (the designers of PLANET) write:
Computer-based teleconferencing is a highly cognitive medium that, in addition to providing technological advantages, promotes rationality by providing essential discipline and by filtering out affective components of communications. That is, computer-based teleconferencing acts as a filter, filtering out irrelevant and irrational interpersonal "noise" and enhances the communication of highly-informed "pure reason"-- a quest of philosophers since ancient times.- Johansen, Vallee, and Collins, "Learning the Limits of Teleconferencing: Design of a Teleconference Tutorial," quoted in Turoff and Hiltz, op. cit. p. 28.
"Pure reason" is imprecise and needlessly invokes Kant who meant not axiomatic method, as these writers seem to, but the a priori structures of consciousness which constitute the sensible world as immediately given. If teleconferencing is one more step in the accelerating "retreat of the word" (George Steiner's phrase that describes the erosion of natural language use by denotative, and increasingly artificial, languages), then (following Jürgen Habermas) I would place this kind of communication within the horizon of instrumental reason. But these writers immediately qualify their statement and observe
Yet, whether computer-based conferencing actually does act as a filter, even in the majority of situations, is open to question. And where it does, some may object.- Turoff and Hiltz, op. cit. p.28.
Turoff and Hiltz refer to Simmel's category of "the stranger" to account for the confusion of realms engendered by teleconferencing:
The stranger is close to us, insofar as we feel between him and ourselves common features of a national, social, occupational, or generally human, nature. He is far from us, insofar as these common features extend beyond him or us... Objectivity...is a particular structure composed of distance and nearness, indifference and involvement. [quoted in Turoff and Hiltz, op. cit. p. 28.]In the EIES conference Gillette explores this contradiction further by employing (via Talcott Parsons) Weber's polar concepts: gemeinschaft vs. gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft designates the affective dimensions of traditional societies, and gesellschaft designates the institutional, bureaucratic forms of industrial society. Habermas, reformulating Weber, distinguishes between purposive-rational action (associated with technical rules, context-free language and productive forces) and communicative action or symbolic interaction (associated with social norms, intersubjectively shared ordinary language, and emancipation).[Jürgen Habermas, "Technology and Science as 'Ideology'" in Toward a Rational Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970). See also Knowledge and Human Interests (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971). Trent Schroyer's essay in this issue develops arguments based on Habermas; Schroyer's essay is a distinct American development, however, with formation of specific advocacy strategies.] Purposive- rational action is the determining form of modernization which has led to the possible transition to a "post-industrial society." Daniel Bell writes:
The concept "post-industrial society" emphasizes the centrality of theoretical knowledge as the axis around which new technology, economic growth and the stratification of society will be organized...- Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, 1973).
[It] suggests...that there is a common core of problems, hinging largely on the relation of science to public policy, which will have to be solved by these societies.
Habermas argues that the growth of theoretical knowledge itself collapses all previous forms of political and social decision-making into the routines of purposive-rational action, and he concludes that public policy debate must be returned to a re-awakened sphere of unobstructed communicative action. Teleconferencing does seem to occupy a middle ground and may become an important evolutionary tool.
The original research group that worked on the associated problems which
became later known as cybernetics included two doctors, a mathematician,
an electrical engineer, and a statistician. The mathematician Norbert Weiner
delighted in inter- disciplinary effort to explore what he called the "no-
man's land between established fields."[Norbert Weiner, Cybernetics (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1948). Weiner too was sensitive to this issue, and invited anthropologists
Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead to participate in the Macy Conference
on cybernetics. Bateson was particularly attentive to aesthetics, and it
is no accident that his work is used by O'Regan.] Sitting in on a class
at Black Mountain College that was studying Weiner's book when it first
appeared in 1948, the poet Charles Olson insisted that the only necessary
investigator missing in that group was an artist. Brendan O'Regan's work
in cybernetics and neuro-physiology leads him to consider the aesthetic
dimensions of information, and Frank Gillette is an artist whose work in
video has combined tactical use of cybernetics with acute powers of individual
observation. Their dialogue explores another kind of "no-man's land"--
where knowledge-bearing interests must initiate the uses of exchange in
the tableau entiere.
THE DISCOURSE OF TELECONFERENCING
Preface to PLANET and EIES texts by John G. Hanhardt
also published in All Area Number 2, Spring 1983, p.71.
Computer teleconferencing is a recent technological development which establishes both a new form and means of producing and distributing a written text. In this system, keyboard terminals are joined by telephone to computers, creating teleconferencing networks. The terminal, rather than operating within the mechanical technology of the traditional typewriter or oral dimension of the telephone, embodies a post-industrial, electronic technology that generates both real time communication, and texts which can be stored in the computer, edited, retrieved, and transmitted. Teleconferencing, when operating at full potential, is a conceptual tool that may significally alter our habits of communication. The intellectual and social "working through" of capabilities first developed within the military and scientific sectors is only now beginning. The museum is one traditionally determined place for selection, display storage, and analysis of objects. Writing is a complex cognitive process creating a material discourse of infinite possibilities. Joining the museum context to the production of writing through teleconferencing affords radically new means of cultural exchange and documentation.
The Film and Video Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art turned to teleconferencing in order to engage these possibilities in planning for a future project that addresses the impact of the new technologies on art making and distribution. Rather than only initiating a symposium, with presentation of formal papers, we wanted to develop a preliminary telecommunications procedure for on-going work that would combine familiar and more novel elements in the production, interpretation, and display of art. This model would begin by inviting participants to explore the design of a teleconference for a specified period of time. Their experience and the information gathered would only then be incorporated into formal presentations. A third stage would have the conferees develop their exchanges further by re-engaging the teleconference network.
In discussions on how the implications of a post-industrial culture and an emerging epistemology of information might be explored by the Film and Video Department, Frank Gillette suggested we conduct an initial teleconference as a conceptual workshop. Arranged by Brendan O'Regan, a specific conference "New Technologies and the Arts" was set up on the EIES system, and O'Regan, also provided a position paper "On the Responsive Environment" to which we could respond. James Harithas and Steven Poser joined us later on. The plan was to communicate among ourselves and also possibly contact others within the total EIES system.
The capabilities of teleconferencing as a communications tool became immediately apparent in its daily operation. It is a lightweight and portable system with the terminal's access to the network as simple as dialing an access number on the phone and attaching a receiver to the terminal. The first step was to check in to see if there were any messages waiting sent by fellow conferees and then to check if anyone was currently on line using the system. After overcoming the practical problems of learning to use the terminal and the proper procedure for access codes, and coping with "down time" when the entire system was not operational, the most immediate and profoundly engaging issue was the role time played in one's perception of teleconferencing. The teleconference was always available; it never turned off.
Its presence, therefore, began to manifest tangible temporal qualities. One could always send a message; there was always someone on line no matter what time of day, since participants were working within all time zones. Whenever one wanted to work on a text, one was accessible to others, to new messages, new dialogue, new questions. Thus time became material, shaping the discussion, however subtly, as the roll of the paper provided a potentially infinite text. One changed in relation to individuals as questions went unanswered, or answered, and the linear sequence of reasoning became enmeshed in three dimensional coordinates of space and time as the printed text fused present and past (stored) times.
The body of text we have here takes more the form of a monologue than a whole multi- layered discourse. It is an expressive performance, with critical asides, within the teleconferencing system. My first hope was realized, for although we did not approach the completeness teleconferencing promises, it was an engaging learning experience. What is needed is to establish more interactive discourse that seeks in its growth a harmony of purpose, a desire to make the presence of the layered text a factor in dialogic exchange that would not only be the means for contact, but for the construction of discourse. In teleconferencing, time materializes in a series of feed-back relationships, mediated by the terminal and the total system. The dynamic of exchange in time offers the possibility of creating whole communities that may contribute a rich new layer in the archeology and history of knowledge.
I foresee as the next step in this project the establishment of a number of conferences that would be, to use a biologic metaphor, cultures of individuals linked by common interests, allowing time for small groups to understand the teleconferencing process and to realize together the potential for the development of thought. In order to create such a community of discourse, the teleconferencing text must become a multi-dimensional semiotic of communication and information processing. The infinite teleconferencing text becomes like Freud's 'mystic writing pad,' a cultural and archeological site of a future individual, and collective, memory. As in Freud's semiotic question to a patient speaking in fragmentary phrases, "who is speaking to whom?"[Dean MacConnell and Janet Flower MacConnell, The Time of the Sign (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1982) p. 11.] the full potential of the semiotics of teleconferencing demands not the Levi- Straussian bricoleur, or a one-dimensional session of monologues, but a dialogic intercourse of narratives postulating the ground for a new community of texts.
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