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From Telematic Man to Heaven in the Net
By Paul Sermon
In March 1992 I was offered a commission from the Finish Ministry of Culture to produce an installation, with support from Telecom Finland, for the annual summer exhibition in Kajaani, a small town in the north east of Finland. The theme of the exhibition was derived from the notion of "home" as Jean Baudrillard describes it in the essay "The Ecstasy of Communication". In the actual concept that I proposed for the installation - Telematic Dreaming, I quoted from a much earlier Baudrillard text - Xerox and Infinity, published in 1987. The inclusion of this quote was not intended as being decisive on the outcome of the installation I was proposing, as I couldn't be certain what effect Telematic Dreaming would have on myself or the public - it was simply an inspiring piece of text, which was justification alone for its inclusion. I quote the follow text:
"The celibacy of the machine brings about the celibacy of "Telematic Man". Exactly as he grants himself the spectacle of his brain and of his intelligence as he sits in front of the computer or word-processor, the "Telematic Man" gives himself the spectacle of his fantasies and of a virtual "jouissance" as he sits in front of his "minitel rose". He exorcises "jouissance" or intelligence in the interface with the machine. The Other, the sexual cognitive interlocutor, is never really aimed at - crossing the screen evokes the crossing of the mirror. The screen itself is targeted as the point of interface. The machine (the interactive screen) transforms the process of communication, the relation from one to the other, into a process of commutation. i.e.. the process of reversibility from the same to the same. the secret of the interface is that the Other is within it virtually the Same - otherness being surreptitiously confiscated by the machine"
Telematic Dreaming is an installation that exists within the ISDN digital telephone network between two locations - or in two installation parts that function as customized videoconferencing systems. In the first part - A video camera is located above a double bed in a very brightly lit space. The camera image picks up a birdseye view of the exact size of the double bed beneath it - a queen size bed is exactly the same ratio 1:3/4 as video format. The double bed is covered in a blue sheet, and has a person lying on it. The camera image of the person lying on the blue bed is then chroma-key mixed with a pre-recorded videotape - replacing the blue area of the screen with the videotape image. This final output image from the mixer of a person appearing to be lying on a bed of video images is fed into a videoconferencing system, converted into a digital signal and sent via an ISDN telephone line to another videoconferencing system in a geographically distant location - the second part.
In the second part, the digital signal is converted back into an analog video signal and fed to a video projector situated above another double bed. The live video image is projected down onto the second bed, this time with a white sheet, and another person lying on that, in a very dark space. A second video camera, situated next to the projector then picks up a birdseye view of the life size live projection of the first person with the actual image of the second person on the same bed. This camera image is then fed directly to two video monitors either side of that bed, in the blacked out projection space. And then back to the first illuminated space, via the videoconferencing systems and ISDN line, and fed to four more video monitors that surround the blue bed. The projection space became the main point of focus as a gallery based installation due its visual presence and ease of communication and interaction over the blue bed.
During my first experiences with Telematic Dreaming I encountered all the "jouissance" and ecstasy that Baudrillard established in his text - I couldn't agree more with what he was actually stating, as I was experiencing it first hand. However, at the same time the installation was at complete odds between the paradoxical sentiment behind his text, and the non-paradoxical experience I was encountering. The other me - the body at a distance was no more of a simulation than the carbon original - what I mean by that concerns language and our definition of reality - i.e. I don't use the word "hand" to describe the thing at the end of my arm, I use the word to simulate a belief of it in the first place - and in that sense there is no difference between the simulation that videoconferencing presents and the simulation of reality that language presents. Telematic Dreaming is the Baudrillard text in practice, it extends the existing simulation of the body beyond the screen to a distant simulation of it.
Telematic Dreaming was referring directly to the concept of an extended body. The physical movements of my carbon body were talking place in a local space whilst its cause and effects were talking place at a remote site. My sensory input devices were literally at a distance from my brain. The Cognitive Scientist Daniel C. Dennet explains the same phenomena in a far less technological experiment in his book Consciousness Explained first published in 1991:
"Blindfold yourself and take a stick (or a pen or pencil) in your hand. Touch various things around you with this wand, and notice that you can tell their textures effortlessly - as if your nervous system had sensors out at the tip of the wand. It takes a special, and largely ineffectual, effort to attend to the way the stick feels at your fingertips, the way it vibrates or resists being moved when in contact with the various surfaces. Those transactions between stick and touch receptors under the skin (aided in most instances by scarcely noticed sounds) provide the information your brain integrates into a conscious recognition of the texture of paper, cardboard, wool, or glass .... (Dennet goes on to say) ....These successes must depend on felt vibrations set up in the wand, or on indescribable - but detectable - differences in the clicks and scrapping noises heard. But it seems as if some of your nerve endings were in the wand, for you feel the difference of the surfaces at the tip of the wand."
Exactly the same process is taking place in Telematic Dreaming, only the system of sensory deprivation has been altered - In Telematic Dreaming the sense of sight has been returned in exchange for denying you the sense of touch, and the stick or wand in this case is a visual simulation of your own body at a distance. This is what I would term the process of sensory shift - touching with your eyes, but reaching the same cognitive conclusion as touching with your hands or the stick. Dennet's wand experiment is the exact process by which a blind person will use a white stick to visualize and navigate space. By paying special attention not only to how the stick feels, but also how it sounds, the loss of sight is compensated by improving and fine tuning the sensory inputs of sound and touch in parallel. In the same way you visualize a space with your hand via the stick, you are touching with your eyes in Telematic Dreaming, via your remote body, and just as some of your finger nerve endings were in the tip of the wand, they are also in the telepresent body, as the image of your own body is the ultimate sign of the self.
For example when a child falls down grazing its knee, and the pain is not felt due a numbing in the skin tissue, the visual sensory input is stimulated prior to it, and the cognitive process of pain takes place via the eyes regardless of where they are located. Unlike virtual reality head-mounted displays, which simulate a point of view from within the body, Telematic Dreaming assumes a point of view from outside the body.
Further more, the location of your senses and their distance from your brain have no bearing on your conscious experience. The differing delays in millisecond between sensory inputs are sorted, rearranged and processed in parallel within the conscious experience of the whole. In Telematic Dreaming these time delays are greatly exaggerated, due to the speed of ISDN videoconferencing, taking up to 1.5 seconds between the moment of cause and effect. Whilst the user will feel clumsy initially, a higher level of concentration is developed in the sorting and processing of events in parallel, during the momentary lapses of time between the cause and effect that race back and forth between the local and remote body.
Another contributing factor to the cognitive ease of extending your body in this telematic space is the semiotic complexity of the bed that preoccupies the mind whilst the process of sensory shift takes place almost unnoticed. The telematic communication experienced is heightened when the technology involved is secondary to the primary point of importance - being the bed - i.e. the videoconferencing technology is deemed invisible by the sign of the bed, and users are often reluctant to enter Telematic Dreaming due the potential interaction that is being signified by the bed, and in a public space. So entering and exiting Telematic Dreaming are the most uncomfortable points for the audience. After the initial embarrassment has passed the audience member lying on the bed becomes less concerned with their local body and far more concentrated on their distant telematic one - and just as hard as it was to enter, it is to exit - in breaking your concentration and returning to the concern of your local body, in a bed, surrounded by other people, in a public space. Coincidentally many people who have experienced the installation found it extremely lifting in a psychological sense - well, transcending cultural and political obstacles in western society that prevent us from embracing complete strangers, whilst avoiding the dominance of a physical body does have its benefits and appeal
To complete the story of Telematic Dreaming for the moment I would like to bring you up to date on its development. The original installation has been exhibited in various media art related exhibitions, galleries and centers since its realization in 92. This year the installation will be on loan to the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria. During its residence there Telematic Dreaming will offer more interactive access via a dedicated World Wide Web site. This web site will allow the user on the net to view a live video stream directly from the installation, on the web site - and the net users will also be able to upload their own images to the web site and select them for chroma-key mixing in the actual installation, replacing the prerecorded videotape I mentioned earlier in the technical description.
In 1993/94 I produced Telematic Vision at the (ZKM) Center for Arts and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany (Zentrum für Kunst Medientechnology) - as this was a commissioned piece - it was in many ways the artistic follow up to Telematic Dreaming. Whilst many of the existing ideas remained, Telematic Vision did bring up several new media related issues.
Technically speaking Telematic Vision works in almost the same way as Telematic Dreaming: Two very large blue sofas exist in two geographically remote locations. A large video monitor directly in front of the sofa and two smaller ones adjacent to each arm of the sofa are installed in both spaces. In the first sofa location a video camera above the larger monitor receives an oblique view of the blue sofa and a person sitting on it, this image is then chroma-key mixed together with a live television image - so the TV image replaces the blue area and the person appears to be sitting on top of a television image. The mixed image is then fed to a videoconferencing system and sent via an ISDN line to the second sofa location. The image is received in the second location and fed directly to another chroma-key mixer, which is keyed together with an image of another person sitting on the second blue sofa. So the final image of the two geographically distant people sitting together live on the same TV-sofa image is then fed immediately to all three monitors in the second site and then back across the ISDN line to the three monitors in the first location.
The sofa is less intimidating in a semiotic sense than the bed, and ultimately as an installation far easier to negotiate its interface. For that reason Telematic Vision was deemed a bigger public success than the bed. However, Telematic Vision is far more than just a sofa, it represents the ubiquitous font-room, television, sofa, scenario. As Japanese writer and curator Machiko Kusahara sums up in her essay on Telematic Vision:
"The overlapping of the familiar sight of the TV monitor with reality deconstructs the meanings held by these everyday landscapes. In Telematic Vision, the couch potato state of sitting alone in front of a TV and staring at the screen is transformed into a scene likely to appear in an old American home drama - that of an affectionate couple or a happy family, seated on a sofa of classic design, watching TV together. And yet, the teleconference system which plays out nostalgic scenes of "sweet home" is both a tool of business - the diametrical opposite of family - and a member of the same class as the TV game, which invested the TV monitor with a different meaning and drove scenes of family togetherness into extinction."
Although Telematic Vision maybe a little easier in terms of the psycho drama of its interface - i.e. being a sofa and not a bed. It picks up the concept of telepresence and the extended body far more directly than Telematic Dreaming ever did. Whilst Telematic Dreaming relied on the projection surface as a means of interaction, it localized the interaction to the beds surface in direct proximity of the person lying under the video projection. And for this reason the blue bed was far more successful in discussing the issues of the extended telepresent body. Telematic Vision utilized this rule of measure by doing away with the close proximity of the projection surface in favor of a telepresent chroma-key situation in both sites.
The Sofa and television scenario was a perfect location to exploit this situation. By disabling audio contact between the two sofa sites, which was also the case in Telematic Dreaming, the two users discover methods of communication and interaction akin to the melodrama of early silent film, which unfolds within a theatrical space created between the sofa and the television monitor. For obvious reasons cutting the audio contact in both Telematic Vision and Telematic Dreaming was to avoid letting speech dominate the communication between complete strangers, which prevents other means of communication to emerge. Telematic Vision is a vacant space of potentiality, it is nothing without the presence and interactions of the participant who create their own television programme by becoming the voyeurs of their own spectacle.
The second part of this paper concerns my recent research into the Internet and the consequent changes taking place in my telematic work. It has been with the lesser known Internet applications that I have been involved with - such as irc (internet-relay-chat), news-group, e-mail-lists, MUD's (Multi User Domains) and most of all with CU-SeeMe - videoconferencing on the Internet. Whilst these applications offer very little in the way of scripting and authoring artistic content in the more traditional media terms, they posses the fundamental interactive qualities of open systems. As oppose to "browsing" the World Wide Web, which is by definition a passive form of interactivity, and like the interactive montage of a CD-ROM, it is ultimately a non-changeable closed system of interaction. However, the actual Internet, which is still largely text based, has become a place to live in and believe in. As your text based encounters become more intimate your faith in it becomes stronger and as your identity starts to multiply you start to crave more of it, and more bandwidth to get it.
This is best described in Sherry Turkle's book Life on the Screen, published in 1995. Of which the entirety sevres as a better conclusion than the following quote:
"The Internet has become a significant social laboratory for experimenting with the constructions and reconstructions of the self that characterize postmodern life. In its virtual reality, we self fashion and self create. What kinds of personae do we make ? What relation do these have to what we have traditionaly thought as the 'whole' person ? Are they experienced as an expanded self or as seperate from the self."
My most recent project - currently in progress - is entitled Heaven 22.214.171.124. The number in the title indicates an Internet Protocol or IP number of a computer server on the net. This particular server is running a CU-SeeMe Reflector. A maximum of twenty five users at any one time connected to the net can call this reflector server, via its IP number, with a small piece of software called a CU-SeeMe client running on there own computer - which sends a live video camera image to the Reflector. The reflector then sends video images of all twenty four other users back to your client - aided by an audio in and output device, and incorporated with an IRC chat window, the programme functions as a multipoint videoconferencing system over the Internet. Your CU-SeeMe client software can also be launched directly from a World Wide Web site featuring information about the project - it has absolutely no design or visual effects. The web site name is the same as the reflector number http://126.96.36.199 and it reads as follows:
Heaven 188.8.131.52 (www site & CU-SeeMe launch)
Suppose we told you about a machine that connects your computer directly to heaven and displays it live on your screen - would you believe us ? and if we provided you with an ftp site to download the software to access this machine - would you try it ? And then if we told you that the same software can be used to access live images of Internet users from around the world - would you believe that too ? Can you believe in a machine that connects you to the globe any more than a machine that connects you to heaven. Well you should, because this site can do just that. Aided by a new revolution in ATM communications bandwidth and processor designs advanced Internet technologies can now bring you live images of Heaven directly onto your personal computer in the comfort of your own home. For the biggest event since man landed on the moon download the necessary software required to access this machine today. etc. etc.
In researching Heaven 184.108.40.206 I made an AltaVista search on the World Wide Web to check what is already in existence. This had a couple of interesting results, the other 988 links usually took me to either religious or pleasure associated sites. However, the search did tell me that the URL name http://www.heaven.com has been reserved at the Internic, which is the US based World Wide Web site name licensing body. So it exists - but you can't find it. There is no site - only the name has been reserved. From this information I assumed that an Internet domain of the same name may already exist, So I sent two e-mail messages to firstname.lastname@example.org. Neither of the messages were returned with a error message, so I can conclude my e-mail was received. However, this was some weeks ago, and I still haven't got a reply - or a sign. It begs the question, but I still haven't tried email@example.com. yet. The one site that the AltaVista search brought me to which related to Heaven 220.127.116.11 in some way was this one:
PRAYERS HEAVENBOUND: INTRODUCTION
Modern technology has finally caught up with mankind's spiritual needs. Here is a non-denominational, publicly accessible direct link to the Heavens that can electronically beam prayers, hopes and dreams into space, into time, ... into forever.
Our equipment accepts your letters or drawings, and launches them electronically at the speed of light on a powerful microwave radio beam into deep space. As soon as they are sent, they become available to be intercepted by God.
We are not attempting to sell a mystical claim or smoke and mirrors. We are offering science fact, based on the same technology that NASA uses to communicate with deep-space probes like Voyager, and which modern astronomers use to study the Universe as it was some 10 billion years ago.
It is well known to modern science that the radio waves on which the message is carried will endure until our present Universe ceases to exist - another way of saying until the end of time. That is an unprecedented lifetime guarantee!
NEW WAY TO PRAY: MESSAGES TO GOD
The Heavens provide the traditional abode of God. Some people believe He is everywhere, including the heavens, but few doubt that He can be found by looking upward.
Until now, the best you could do was to say prayers aloud in the hope that He would hear. You might also pray silently and believe that He knows what is in your thoughts. Prayers, especially thankful ones, are often published as advertisements in newspapers, but we have to say (with no disrespect) that there is not much evidence that God subscribes to daily newspapers.
When you write your prayer, you will be praying in the traditional way. But now, we give you the chance to do much more. With our service, you can place your prayer directly before God in Heaven.
Here is what many believe is the face of Jesus in space. The image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope; a face is clearly visible in the upper portion of the photo.
We know of no other service in the world offering you this NEW WAY TO PRAY . We make possible a prayer that physically exists - not just a thought or utterance. It is not solid, not 'carved in stone', but it is as real as the radio waves that are central to modern life (such as in TV and cellular phones). Your prayer, made from the same 'stuff' as the light of the Sun and the stars, will be 'out there', ready to say to any Heavenly Power who gives it attention: 'I am here, Lord, and I wanted to tell You...'.
Similarly, now you can make your confession directly to God in the message that we send for you. As with all messages, we will keep it confidential.
THE TRANSMITTING SYSTEM
Letters and drawings are fed into an optical scanner, much like feeding a 'fax' machine. The image of the page is then converted by a specialized computer into a succession of digital pulses. These pulses modulate the microwave transmitter which then feeds its radio energy through the antenna into outer space. Our dish antenna, originally built for sending communications signals to Earth satellites, has been re-configured to send transmissions into deep space. The large dish concentrates the energy produced by the transmitter into a beam, somewhat like the beam from a flashlight, and projects it with high efficiency directly to the Heavens. Our system achieves an effective isotropic radiated power of 20 million watts.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR MESSAGES
Letters and drawings transmit best if the submitted copy is on plain white paper (no ruled lines) of any size up to the standard 8.5 x 11 inches. Handwriting or printing is just as good as typewriting. Limit your drawings to simple line drawings, and avoid the use of shading. Photographs do not transmit well.
THE BROADCAST CERTIFICATE
Customers will receive by mail a handsome 8.5 x 11 inch Broadcast Certificate suitable for framing. This document certifies the transmission of your message with a signed and dated Authentication Seal.
The cost is $9.95 per page. This includes the Broadcast Certificate and all postage and handling.
Is the Internet a global network or a Turing machine ? Depending on how you look at its both, but never at the same time. If I choose to deny the Internet, my screen would present the ultimate Turing machine that passes every test. However, if I choose to believe in the net the Turing test would have never been passed, but I would have made a lot of new friends on the other side of the world. The paradox here is that if I deny the net, the more intelligent my screen will appear to me, and if I believe in the net the more intelligent I will appear to myself. The purpose of Heaven 18.104.22.168 and its technological and spiritual claims relates to both the conclusions of this paradox, it serves to contradict the belief in the net at the same time as contradicting the intelligence in the screen.
In conclusion, I am still trying to answer the question I bagn with in Telematic Dreaming. Presently the Internet is not a space into which my body can be extended, as it was in the erlyer ISDN experiments. By definition the net is a space and not a connection. A space that is dominated by the text will not allow my body to extend as a telepresent simulation - but only as the interlocutor of the self, and all the multiple identities I choose to manafests as text with it.
Paul Sermon. 2/97
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