Every historical period sees itself as contemporary

Every historical period sees itself as contemporary. The inventors of the telegraph made many of the same claims as the designers of the Internet. Pioneers in the production and creation of film in the 1890’s traveled the world in an effort to generate interest in the new medium and to establish networks of playhouses where their films could be viewed (this activity is now being repeated in the Microcinema Movement which uses DV cameras). Every form of transportation that humans have invented has led to their use in the transmission of information from trains to boats and planes. The movement of personal letters across vast distances especially from the 17th century onwards is partially the result of the increase in modes of transport, especially ships (and the idea of a post office as a fulcrum for distribution). Typography remains as important to the World Wide Web as it did to early forms of publishing with the Gutenberg Press. Modes of illustration, although fundamentally altered by sophisticated software, remain embedded in centuries old methods of drawing, painting and sketching.

My point is not to belittle or dilute the importance of new technologies at the beginning of the 21st century. Rather, it is to place them into a context that will connect innovation to history and that will show how the very notion that a computer can create links between different bits of information was an “invention? that came about because of a three hundred year experiment in Western culture with novels and theater. It is important to remember that during the early phase of discussions about computers among engineers and designers, computers were generally thought of as “arithmetic? machines, or glorified calculators. As time progressed, it was the culture of experimental labs like the Bell Labs and Xerox-Parc that began to move computers far beyond initial assumptions both about their power and their utility. Brilliant scientists and engineers ran those labs. The actual role and impact of creative artists and designers needs to be examined with great care, but it is clear that the effort to go beyond simple functionality came about because of the tensions and challenges posed by different disciplinary orientations clashing with each other.