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Nam June Paik
«Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away»
We now are at a different point in history. The effort to bring black and white children together by means of school busing is going awry. Desegregation strategies have become questionable. But television power can help achieve integration and understanding, and it has the added advantage that it happens over the air, unhampered by our polluted and complicated earth. I wonder what would happen if two day care centers for pre-schoolers, one in a black neighborhood and the other in a white one, would be able to hear and see each other by means of a two-way cable television set-up, so that the children of the two different cultures could start to play with one another over the air waves, without having to cope with stressful bus trips and their negative side effects.
Is this escapism mere hypocrisy, or is it a kind of first aid meant to initiate a long-range cure for the race problem? In any event, the technology exists; it is only waiting to be pressed into service, and it would cost very much less than ferrying kids around by bus.
Video-telephones, fax machines, interactive two-way television (for shopping, bibliographies, opinion polls, health care, bio-communication, data transfer from office to office) and many other variations of this kind of technology are going to turn the television set into an «expanded-media» telephone system with thousands of novel uses, not only to serve our daily needs, but to enrich the quality of life itself.
This «mini- and midi-television» (to use Professor René Berger’s expression) will join ranks with many other forms of paperless information transfer, such as audio cassettes, telex, data pooling, continental satellites, micro-fiches, private microwaves and eventually, fiber optics on laser frequencies. All of them together will constitute a new kind of nuclear energy for information and the improvement of society. I would like to call it tentatively a «broadband communication network.» Setbacks suffered by local cable companies have considerably delayed the arrival of this new nuclear energy. A recent article in the New York Times said: «There never was any question that cable television would become an independent medium; the only question was always when? Optimists still cling to their prediction that it will happen in the 1980s; pessimists predict a longer take-off period, some don’t think it will happen before the 21st century.» (10 March 1974).
Even if we accept the most pessimistic forecast, the 21st century is now only 26 years away. The fact that the dilemma concerning VHF frequency stations and public educational television is a direct result of the faulty planning of 26 years ago demonstrates beyond all doubt that the BROADBAND COMMUNICATION REVOLUTION has to begin, and it must begin NOW. (...)
The Great Depression of the «30s was fought with courageous public commissions and capital investments, such as the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the construction of highways. The building of interstate highways in particular became the backbone for the economic growth of the past 40 years. New shifts in the economy – caused by the twin shock of increased energy prices and a disturbed ecology, and compounded by the historical necessity to make the transition from industrial to postindustrial society – are now calling for equally radical remedies. A social investment is needed which must also be of value to the economy. The measures to be taken must modernize the infrastructure of the economy, increase international competition, and contribute to lasting postindustrial prosperity.
A huge new industrial complex connected to a communication network of strong transmission ranges will be one of the urgently needed stimulants. It will generate a demand for countless new video programs to fill empty cable television channels; the packaging of video-discs and video-cassettes will keep coming generations occupied well into the future. Because video programs leave little room for automation, high employment – especially of skilled workers – will continue for an almost limitless time.
By the same token, the number of boring jobs at the conveyor belt, symbol of the past years of automatization, will be small, and many people will once again take lasting pleasure in their work. The current import of video equipment from abroad will not continue to afflict the balance of payment for much longer, because America is predestined to become a huge exporter of video programs, just as it has been one of movies and popular music for the past half-century. America is of enormous importance not only economically, but socially and politically as well. In the «30s, when I was a kid growing up in Seoul, Korea, Shirley Temple’s name was the first name I heard and remembered – before any Korean or Asian name, including my own father’s. The repackaging (in video) and translation of thousands of old Hollywood movies for the entire world will in itself give rise to a whole new industry.
The building of new ELECTRONIC SUPER HIGHWAYS will become an even huger enterprise. Assuming we connect New York with Los Angeles by means of an electronic telecommunication network that operates in strong transmission ranges, as well as with continental satellites, wave guides, bundled coaxial cable, and later also via laser beam fiber optics: the expenditure would be about the same as for a moon landing, except that the benefits in term of by-products would be greater.
Conferences between people in different locations via color video telephones will become commercially feasible. Video-teleconferences that consume no energy (though there is the initial cost of copper) will drastically reduce air travel, and along with it the chaotic shuttling of airport buses through city streets – forever! Efficient communication also reduces social waste and all sorts of mishaps everywhere. The gains will be tremendous, environmentally and energy-wise. And eventually, telecommunication will cease to be only an ersatz and a lubricant to keep the gears running. It will become our springboard for new and surprising human endeavors. Thoreau wondered a hundered years ago: «Even if the telephone companies should ever succeed in connecting the people of Maine with the people of Tennessee, what would those people have to say to one another?» The rest is history.
The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss said: «Culture is a communication network.» The American anthropologist Bateson and the psychoanalyst Ruesch go even further: «Values are (...) simply preferred channels of communication (...) as soon as the interpretation of a message becomes an issue, no clear distinction can be made between communication theory, value theory, and anthropological pronouncements about culture. All of us are dealing with a medium that consists of a combination of these features. Thus we call it «basic social structure.» (Bateson/Ruesch 1952)
Source: In the spring of 1974, Nam June Paik was hired as a consultant by Howard Klein, Director of the Art Program for the Rockefeller Foundation. In this paper, Paik proposed the 'Electronic Super Highway' to the Rockefeller Foundation and was paid $ 12,000. The idea was published in the German catalogue Nam June Paik. Werke 1946–1976. Musik – Fluxus – Video, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 1976. An excerpt of the english original was published in 1994 under the title Electronic Super Highway. Travels with Nam June Paik, New York: Holly Solomon Gallery and Hyundai Gallery, Fort Lauderdale: Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. The larger part of this analyses in detail the situation of television and communication systems in the U.S.. The reprinted excerpt mainly concentrates on the summary dealing with the visionary aspect – twenty years before Bill Clinton made this a political issue.