Saturday, January 18, 2014

BPN 1678: Celebrating public internet in The Netherlands

In the past week, there were celebrations in Holland in the framework of the introduction of public internet in 1994. The launch of De Digitale Stad (Digital City) on 15 January 1994 was commemorated. The event sparked off public internet in The Netherlands, which in less than three years registered one million internet users. Both events were celebrated, The Digital City in Amsterdam and public internet in The Hague. I was invited to speak at The Hague event.

Amsterdam announced two happenings in the framework of the launch of the Digital City. The Waag Society and the archaeological department of the Digital City announced two meetings addressing the question: How free and open is internet yet? On January 15 the international campaign "The Internet is broken . Let's fix the internet.",  was joined.  This meeting was dealing with subjects as  secure and reliable Internet technology, the development of secure protocols, hardware and software NSA proof , designing user-friendly cryptography, supporting data protection legislation and the development of alternative social media and search engines . On January 16 , the results of the meeting "The Internet is broken. Let's fix the internet" were presented in the meeting Silent rough roadmap”.

The Hague
At the Museum for Communication there was an evening meeting, organized around the new permanent exhibition Muscom needs internet. There were three presentations.

Consumer internet
The first presentation dealt with 1994, the year in which consumer Internet made a breakthrough of consumer Internet in the Netherlands. From 1980 Dutch consumers could retrieve information through the online service Viditel and use a rudimentary e - mail service. Until January 1, 1997, this videotext service and its successor Videotex Nederland attracted 325,000 users who irregularly used the service. When the Digital City opened its doors in the context of the municipal elections in Amsterdam in 1994, internet was not only available for users in Amsterdam, but also available for  users from around the country. On March 23, 1994,  De Groene, a weekly, reported, that already 12,000 users were registered. And on January 1 1997, there were  1 million registered users in the Netherlands, using the services of several ISPs (Digital City, Euronet*Internet, Planet Internet and World Online). In 17 years videotext services had totalled 325.000 users, while internet tripled its users to 1 million in three years thanks to the disruptive technology of the Internet.

I also had an epilogue in my pocket, but I forgot to read it out in public. “Marshall McLuhan argued in his book Understanding Media (1974 ): A new medium is never an addition to the old media nor let the old media alone. The new medium does not stop with the pushing of older media until the new forms and positions have been found in the media landscape.
Online has started to conquer strategic positions in the media from 1970 onwards. Since the sixties online pioneers such Lickleder and Doug Engelbart saw a new world for themselves with electronic messaging services, video telephony, electronic ordering and shopping, electronic banking, electronic publishing and translation electronically. Almost all technical issues had been rudimentarily developed in the pre-Internet age.
But thanks to the internet a flywheel effect came into effect. There was a wide user base, and there was a great advancement in refining technology such as e-mail, icu, Skype, e-shopping, e-banking, digital publishing and translation. Now internet has already intervened in the technology and economics, but there  is still some teething to be done. Internet will dig deeper into everyday life, social customs and influencing lifestyle. Life as well as  the Museum for Communication needs internet.

Internet abstinence
The second speaker was Bram van Montfoort. This youngster has lived without internet for a year and has written a book about internet abstinence. He told about the trials and tribulations he has experienced in that year : no Internet and no Facebook. He noticed that he was struggling to enroll into college for a bachelor degree journalism. His responses to requests by letter were not immediate as with e-mail. And after a year in the monastery of analogue media thousands of emails awaited him. His experiences he shares via an analogue medium, the book Een jaar offline (A year offline).

It became clear that the pace of his life changed and that hand written letters became an art form again. I recognize the custom of writing letters. During my time in boarding school, but also during my studies, I wrote many a letter to my parents and friends, in which I told him what I had been through and what future ideals I was striving after. Those subject you will not see addressed in emails and FB postings.

The project Bram van Montfoort lasted for a year. There have been similar projects of internet abstinence previously, but they usually were shorter and of course in a different era and context. Jeroen van Loon, the third speaker, has spent two months without internet during his studies. He got RSI from internet and decided to ignore internet. In 2011, a college in Utrecht started a research project on internet abstinence for a week with sixteen people. They reported by video about their experiences and their " withdrawal symptoms". And in 1996, a number of Internet fanatics in Rotterdam had themselves locked up for a period of time. Public reports on the internet abstinence were published. Of course there are big differences between Internet users in 1996 and 2012. In 2012, Internet penetrated much more in the daily lives of people.

Muscom needs internet
Life on the needs internet project by Jeroen van Loon I wrote as once a posting, a project awarded in the European Youth Award (EYA). Meanwhile, the internet artist has collected more than 300 handwritten letters. This website of this collection now has a new design and is more accessible. Now users can look for letters by categories such as gender, age and region as well as categories such as leisure, online/offline and pre-internet. The letters tell the stories about their first experiences with internet by people worldwide. They cheer the ease of making social contacts, but also question big brother, while children indicate that they may sit behind the computer for a limited time. The Museum for Communication in The Hague has now made ​​a selection from this letter collection and putt eight letters on permanent display under the title Muscom needs internet. For the museum, this is a worthy entry into the world of Internet.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BPN 1677: Launch Digital City Amsterdam (1994)

Launch Digital City in Amsterdam
15 January 1994

Sunday, January 12, 2014

BPN 1676: Sound of Colors

This is not a blog posting about synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon of a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately (hearing green grass), but the posting will deal with cyborg, the joining of organic and material parts. In fact it will concern the first cyborg ever.

The word cyborg was not in my encyclopaedia till I met Ann Westfelt, a Swedish jury member of the Europrix Awards. In a conversation about trade literature a Scandinavian book on cyborgs was mentioned. But it took till 2004 before I was confronted with a real example, not a concept, again during a Europrix jury.

Neil Harbisson at the Europrix party, talking to Chiara Boeri, an Italian artist.
The project from Britain was an entry by the out-of-the-box thinker Adam Montandon. He had met Neil Harbisson, who suffers from a rare disease, achromatopsia. This condition is caused by genes, so that the affected people get monochromatism or complete colour blindness. They really only see black and white and their colour blindness differs from the variety with which the red and green colours can be distinguished.

For a student arts complete colour blindness is an absolute disaster as the colour palette is not more than black and white, not even grey. This was not only annoying for his study, but also in everyday life. "I confused red jam with tomato and orange juice with apple juice" Neil said in an interview. He also used to wear clothes in one colour, black.

After a lecture on cybernetics at the Plymouth University, given by the 23 -year-old Englishman Adam Montandon, Neil got in touch with him and told him about his disability. Adam looked into the problem for his graduation assignment. It was clear that he needed a camera and computer to record colours. But Adam also realized that only then the problem starts. Because how do you convert colour? With words you cannot fully specify the colour shades. Eventually he chose for conversion of colours into sounds. Neil got a camera on his head, a PC in his backpack and an earpiece. The structure he called Eye-borg.

Adam Montandon developed colour-to- sound conversion software, that worked dynamically. Each level got a frequency; in this way, the pure intensity of the colour can be determined and displayed. With a noise value Neil had to learn the pitch of the sounds. Red is translated in low noise , while violet has a high sound. And he did learn fast. Soon he started to wear colourful clothes on his blue jeans.
Passport photograph of Neil Harbisson

Soon Adam and Neil saw that technology is one solution, but they also saw the social implication. The gear has become part of his body. It has become a medical prosthesis. So he received a certificate from the National Health regarding his camera. In the meantime he has received a passport with a portrait photograph showing the camera.

Now a group of creatives wants to produce a documentary movie with the title Sound of Colors. The title shows similarity to The Sound of Music, the movie which plays in Austria. That country supported the Europrix Awards and the selection of the sonochromatic cyborg. But then in 2011 Arnau Gifreu Castells of the Universitat Ramón Llull – Universitat de Vic in Spain reports in Graz (Austria) about an audiovisual and online interactive documentary about Neil Harbisson and the cyborg, produced as part of a degree project. And now this project gets a sequel in an official documentary.

The official documentary about the first cyborg Sound of Colors will be a crowdfunded project. And now the circle is round. The crowdfunding organiser is the Spanish organisation Verkami, which in 2013 in Sri Lanka received the World Summit Award, the successor to the Europrix Awards. The project group is requesting 3.200 euro to produce the documentary.

Update Febr. 1, 2014: The official documentary about the first cyborg Sound of Colors was a  crowdfunded project by the Spanish organiser Verkami. The requested 32.000 euro has been pledged for and even more, while there are still 18 days left. So the making of the movie can start.

Friday, January 03, 2014

BPN 1675: 2014: already a memorable year

The new year has only just begun. Yet, for me 2014 is already a year to remember. It is 20 years since the Internet for consumers made ​​her entry in the Netherlands. On January 15, 1994 the ISP launched The Digital City ( DDS ) in Amsterdam.

The Digital City ( DDS ) started on Saturday January 15, 1994 with an television interview in the eight o'clock news. DDS was an internet project, intended as a discussion forum in the run up to the municipal elections of March 1994. The project was designed by netactivisten (Hack -Tic), the municipality and partly inspired by Marleen Stikker, the virtual mayor of the city. The town was based on community networks ( free nets) in the U.S. and Canada. The model of the city was chosen as a metaphor.

First DDS interface text without graphics (DDS Archief)

DDS Interface 3.0 DDS Archief)


DDS was a great success. In six weeks, 10,000 people applied for access to the city. By visiting the virtual mayor of organizations, but also to institutions, the project received much local attention, as the mayor visited organisations and institutions. And it were not only people coming from Amsterdam, but also people from across the Netherlands. After the project DDS went on as an Internet service provider. DDS actually opened the doors for Internet consumers by January 1994 and by January 1, 1997 the Netherlands  had registered 1 million internet consumers.

The success of DDS was surprising. There used to be an online and multimedia industry in the Netherlands. Online databases such as Kluwer Legal Database were used for scientific, technical and business research. Electronic messaging services like Memocom were separate, mainly business services. For consumers, there was the information service Viditel, followed by Videotex Netherlands. And for amateurs, there were the Bulletin Board Systems ( BBS ). Furthermore, there was there a beginning of a multimedia industry with text CD-ROMs, multimedia CD- ROMs and CD -i titles as well as a few electronic books. But this industry was only 100 million guilders ( 45 million euros) great in revenues and the consumer share was very low.

Internet, however, developed separately from this industry, mainly through the academic network SURF. As of 1990 there were ISPs and by the end of 1993 there were approximately 295 companies connected to the Internet. In May 1993, XS4ALL opened an Internet service to consumers. Although in the first two days, 500 consumers were registered, the number of subscribers grew slowly. DDS, however, was the driver and was a resounding success.

In retrospect, a number of factors accounted for this consumer success.
a. The number of households with a PC in the Netherlands had increased from 7 percent in 1985 to 34 percent in 1994.
b. People wanted to do more with the PC than gaming, word processing, accounting and consult encyclopedias on CD - ROM.
c. Internet came as a disruptive technology. Existing online and multimedia technologies had to adapt or eventually disappeared, eg videotex and CD-i. Out of the concrete mixer containing different technologies, eventually only Internet and email survived. Teletext and CD - OM stayed on, but played no important part anymore.

 d. Consumer internet was cheap compared to online databases. Moreover, the Internet technology was user-friendly thanks to hypertext, had more graphic opportunity and had greater potency multimedia ( text, image, video and sound). Besides, Internet combined with email.

e. Internet did not developed within the existing online and multimedia industry, but within the bosom of universities and scientific institutions. Companies that had internet installed proved attractive to students after completion of their academic studies.

For those interested, Reinder Rustema wrote a doctoral thesis on the Digital City in 2001.