Teledomesticity: @HOME on the net

Amanda McDonald Crowley and Brad Miller at the Doors of Perception 2: @HOME conference, the Netherlands,1994

Doors of Perception 1994 was staged by the Netherlands Design Institute and Mediamatic magazine. Over 1000 delegates from all over Europe, the USA, Japan and Australia, from the fields of technology, design, psychology, philosophy, art, and architecture were in Amsterdam for the event.

The conference organisers started from the premise that when a new technology enters a culture, the culture changes. In response, speakers focused on a particular culture, ‘home’: home as market, as metaphor and as myth.

Speakers compared the qualities of telematic space and domestic space, and analysed changes to our sense of place, both public and private. They looked at the psychology of belonging – to a family, group, or community, and explored the architecture of information and the creation of shared meaning in virtual communities.

There was concern expressed that vast resources are being devoted to digital versions of existing human activities – teleshopping, video-on-demand, telecommuting, but attempts to create entirely new uses for the technologies have been unambitious, to say the least. As the concept of ‘home’ developed, various speakers engaged in debate about the political and cultural potential of new media and its impact on domestic space. What ‘home’ might constitute in light of advances in telematics physically as well as psychologically became a key issue for the conference.

For John Perry Barlow, lyricist for The Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the global interpersonal links facilitated by the “information superhighway” mean that one can go out and make everywhere ‘home’. Pauline Terreehorst, journalist and author, speculated on the other hand, that the introduction of communication technologies into the physical home would transform the home into a place where people could also work thereby fostering positive changes in relationships between men and women. Her argument was founded on the belief that home played a much more positive role before industrialisation forced people to separate the domestic sphere from work.

Amy Bruckman, a doctoral candidate at MIT, and founder of MediaMOO (a text-based virtual reality environment designed as a professional on-line community for media researchers), saw communication networks as a place – perhaps an extension of the home. She stressed the expressive powers of language and the role of the imagination in new media, pointing out that the network was a place or space to inhabit, and that MOOs are more about a sense of community than they are about information exchange. Mitch Ratcliffe, editor of Digital Media and co-author of Powerbook: The Digital Nomad’s Guide, was particularly concerned to ensure that freedom of speech and thought along with privacy in all personal transactions are protected by the technosystems. He stressed that public participation is crucial to the development of information networks, given that currently the networks simply resemble an “infomercial superhighway”. To Ratcliffe, the Church, the State, and the Corporation have to date been the dominant influences on society, whereas we now need to focus on a sense of community. Whilst the sense of family, or community on the net provided the audience with a positive – indeed almost warm and fuzzy feeling – as the conference progressed the issues related to privacy and access and the fear that the internet already appears to be slipping from the public sphere provided a counter argument. This tension exploded during David Chaum’s paper. Chaum is managing director of DigiCash, an Amsterdam-based company which has pioneered electronic cash payment systems and also chairs CAFE, the European Union research consortium investigating the technical infrastructure and equipment for electronic money in Europe. He described the possible introduction of purchasing power via the internet, which raised concerns amongst many of the conference participants about what sort and how much personal information about users would become readily available via the net.

Whilst artists such as Jeffrey Shaw from Karlsruhe, and Lynn Hershman from California provided some insight into how media art can provide a means of critiquing space and place in the impending telematic age, more concrete issues of how to maintain or indeed gain equitable access to the “infobahn” tended to be marginalised by the debate.

Given the multimedia-mania which has arisen out of the Federal Government’s recently announced Cultural Policy, you too may wish o participate in the echoes of these debates. You can do this by accessing papers delivered at the conference at the World Wide Web site set up by Mediamatic and the Design Institute, where, sitting in a dark bedroom bathed in the light emanating from your computer terminal, there is also the opportunity to reply. http://mmol. mediamatic.nl

The Netherlands Design Institute, established in 1993 as an independent foundation which receives core funding from the Dutch Government, aims to identify new ways by which design may contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of the community. It is a ‘think-and-do tank’ which develops scenarios about the future of design and undertakes research projects to test them.

Mediamatic magazine is a quarterly on art and media and the changes being wrought by techno-culture, hypermedia and virtual reality. Aside from the print and CD-ROM publications, Mediamatic magazine is also published on the internet. Mediamatic Interactive Publishing also offers content driven research and development.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 28

© Brad Miller & Amanda Cowley ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 1995