The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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New Communications Media (computer conferencing, patterns of influence in new media)

graphic of page

New Communications Media

Can we account for the human dimension?

'Condensed from a paper of the same title by Robert Johansen given at the World
Future Society Second General Assembly. For a free copy, write Institute for the
Future, 2740 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

The new communications media, especially that of computer conferencing, has
produced new and systematic ways of understanding its human implications. ln
researching group communications, experts have found that they can pinpoint
three overall patterns of influence in the new media. For simplicity's sake they
call them the Great Thinker, the Social Accountant, and the Technology-Firster.

The Great Thinker has the ability to look at overall patterns - to mentally
grasp a totality and express it in a way that others can also see. But it is
usually a very general vision; it is often highly debatable; it is sometimes
naive. Great Thinker approaches usually lack detailed information or experience;
however, they play the very important role of assumptions-questioners and
visionaries. Their effect on new media is felt only on a general level, but it
is an important effect. lt would have taken a Great Thinker point of view in
1945, for instance, to view the computer as anything but a number cruncher.
Computers are now communications media as well, though most people still view
them as primarily number crunchers. We need ways of broadening our own vision
about current examples of infant media - perhaps still including the computer.

The Social Accountant seeks to evaluate a new medium of communication before it
is released to the general public in order to precisely measure its social
effects in a controlled environment. The problems with his outlook arise in
trying to generalize from the laboratory to the "real world". The tools of
social accounting, however, are often invaluable and may be the only systematic
processes available.

The Technology-Firster argues that one can never estimate the social effects of
a new communications medium until it is actually being used on a large scale.
The failure of the Picturephone is an example of the Technology-Firster gone
wrong. However, there is a basic truth in the position of the
Technology-Firsters: new media of communications cannot be fully understood
until they
are in real use over a period of time. Technology-Firsters are usually very good
planners; they just aren't social planners.

Taken alone, all three approaches to technology lack the vitality or
comprehensiveness necessary to plan for human communications such as those
likely to occur in the near future. A hybrid among them however, is not only
possible, but may be the only serious hope for adequate accounting
of human factors related to the new communications media. The resulting approach
would operate in the following ways:

1. Maintain a sense of larger social implications as practiced by Great
Thinkers, but make sure it is linked to processes for developing and applying
new media.

2. Develop the measurement and evaluation sophistication of Social Accountants,
but don't be afraid to leave the laboratory.

3. Keep closely tied to the operational know-how of Technology-Firsters but try
to keep human issues on an equal footing with technology.

Computer Art continued-

way as the telescope or miscroscope extends their vision. They had entered into
a productive partnership with the computer. They had put the computer on.

The computer is by all odds the most extraordinary of all the technological
clothing ever devised by man, since it is an extension of our central nervous
system. Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore.

And they learned EXPLOR, a means to control the machine and have it do their
bidding. Many have gone on to use EXPLOR to experiment with graphic design for
the production of silkscreens and needlepoint. Others have gone on to courses in
FORTRAN (the language in which EXPLOR is embedded) to enable them to have still
more control over their end-products, And all will view computer art,
particularly graphics, from a new perspective, now having a deeper understanding
of what went into it.

There are many portals to the world of computers. Some people will choose one
doorway, some another. For many, as the Festival demonstrated, computer art is a
most inviting, comprehensible, even compelling entry point.

More output using EXPLOR.

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