Doors of Perception 4 S P E E D - D A Y B Y D A Y -
|by Jules Marshall and Jouke Kleerebezem
|Friday 9 November: Sessions 4, 5, Debate, and Party
Friday 9 November 1996
Session 4: Changing speed: scenarios for selective slowness
Co-organiser of Doors 4 Michiel Schwarz introduced the second day of the conference, focusing on scenarios for 'selective slowness'. Speakers including Ivan Illich and four contributors from India attempted to move beyond our current speed paradigm by focusing on such topics as falconry, belly dance drumming, Indian classical music, Robert Louis Stevenson's Art of Walking, and 12th century Indian art.
Sebastian Trapp and Matthias Rieger both chose a narrative structure to their thoughts on speed in nature and music respectively, setting up Ivan Illich to deliver an intense hour of quiet yet powerful reflection. Trapp's historical tale of Frederic II's hunt with falcons and his illustrated 13th century manuscript ('The Art of Hunting with Birds') showed just how thoroughly one can engage in the art of velocity without once mentioning the word 'speed'. Frederic II never compared his birds' distance/time progress, but minutely described their aired behaviour. Matthias Rieger told the story of his belly dance drumming lessons, his teacher Ali and their discussion prior to his talk at Doors. He used the history of the metronome (invented 1812) to illustrate that the inner sense of timing, not setting oneself by a mechanical timer, is the key to successful percussion.
The poet Milton must share some of the blame for introducing the concept of speed into English, said Ivan Illich, by separating space from time -- a necessary fracture for this evolution, 'speed' being 'distance over time'. This new fraction, he claimed, is an unnatural limitation of space and time and responsible for modern self-imprisonment. Referring back to the hunting behaviour of the falcon and the belly dance drumming, speed -- rythm, tempo -- should be experienced as 'behaviour in relation to our environment and our fellow man', said Illich.
Measured speed is the result of an 'attitude of observation', that we have only had since the late 16th century, continued Illich. Whenever his students informed him they had made this or that observation, they were dismissed with the retort: 'Don't observe, be critical -- without the help of measurement imported from outside.' This leads to a hypnogogic state, he explained. 'Better to see rather what IS'.
Being 'present in the now' supposes a critical attitude towards the cracks within our assumptions, within the certainties of the era that should not be taken for granted. 'Free time' does not equal 'leisure'. Speed is the social expression of velocity, but should primarily be recognised as vitality from within, said Illich. 'Our current misconception of speed as a fraction now invites us to go slow', he said, adding that 'slowness' is not opposed to rapidity.
Designers should lead us out of this misconception of speed. 'We have crossed a threshold in recent years, as great as that which first enabled us to speak of velocities,' said Illich. 'Are we beyond the Age of Speed and moving towards an appreciation of Real Time?' He invited the audience to seek presence in the here and now, to be 'quick', not slow (quick as in 'quicken', the first sign of life, the first contact between a woman and the child she bears).
Hans Achterhuis introduced his points with a Philips promo-clip of the Vision for the Future's 'hot badge', a communication device that transmits its bearer's interests and connects with other 'hot badges' to negotiate contact. Achterhuis identified two perceptions of time: ever accelerating, and moments of rest, meditation and wonder (quality time). The Hot Badge project aims to reconcile the two, but would not lead to a healing but a worsening of the problem, he claims.
The suggestion that time is scarce and technology can help is a promise as old as industrialism -- Adam Smith said all technology is for this. The irony is: time is scarcer than ever. The paradox is that speed does not only kill distance, but also time: time gained is time spent at ever increasing speed -- as speakers reminded us time and again -- while slowness 'can't be designed or constructed, but needs to be taken the time for'. Achterhuis experienced this walking in the French Cevennes this summer, when it took him two days to quieten down from his daily pace. 'We don't gain time by speeding up, some things cannot be technologically given -- like a cool drink after a desert walk or a great conversation with a stranger.' This is why modern pilgrims still walk to Santiago de Compostella, for example.
1/6 of all new American jobs are the result of some Asian connection; the Chinese surname Lee is held by the combined population of USA and Japan. So began Kayoko Ota and David d'Heilly's rapid-fire portrayal of Asia in all its diversity and abundant scales of speed. A baffling barrage of facts, figures, comments and images of Asia's explosive economic and cultural frenzy had the audience cat-calling to 'slow down'. All graph curves go through the ceiling here, while it remains hard to figure exactly out what the Asian acceleration is built on: 'That's Asia', d'Heilly sighed.
Throughout the region, history is being erased in a post-WW2 re-colonialisation by father figures like Sukarno, Nehru, and Lee, with stress on discipline. Aiming for 300 years of industrialisation in 30 years, methods used to hold everything together include 'aerodynamic racism' (the creation of pan-country races from 100s of cultures), the favouring of consumer rights over civil rights, an endless production of just-in-time 'city states' to process the largest and fastest migration in history, urbanising (policing) the military, and bizarre moral initiatives such as the red light that shows on Singaporean cinema screens to allow people to look away during sexy/violent bits.
Ota finally noted the emergence of a young Asian identity in spite of authoritarian control: a floating identity based on information and communication, on Western and re-imported Asian culture that had produced the nickname 'Bananas' -- yellow on the outside and white on the inside.
'When the self shines, everything shines', was how Gaston Roberge introduced his contribution. 'When the self is at rest (in 'stasis') everything moves'. He unraveled his argument in synch with a classical Indian song, explaining: 'The singer sings and we surf on the wave of his song,' and interfacing his thoughts as an enchantment of the variety of speeds that we embody: from the firing of synapses to the pace of breathing. 'We are each a site of infinite speeds -- each organ has its own speed, as have light, wind, etc., according to function. Each speed is in harmony with others in a cosmic ballet.'
But science devoid of poetry has become a pathology, and economics is the dominant science, the one that excites desire. 'Speed is desire rushing in space, a terror, because desire has no object', he said, 'and 40 years of market ideology has produced more poor and sick than ever before.'
Human beings create speed and modulate it in art and dance for the sake of beauty and joy, but we find it increasingly difficult to rest in stasis, he said. Designers could contribute to create inner spaces for stasis, quiet, desire-less space, as a step to an ecology of mind. 'We're slaves to the market only because we have not stepped away,' he ended.
Popular with audiences but with limited presence at previous Doors, the strong Asian contribution this year continued with a number of speakers from the Indian subcontinent. Jogendra Panghaal pointed out Indian culture accepts a variety of speeds in its streets (as in ourselves) and warned against monospeed in our professional and personal lives. 'The pattern is greater than the footprint,' he said. The massive growth of public phone offices has led to more work creation than industrialisation ever did, he continued, and telecoms multinationals were not involved, but 'IT artisans'. The Internet offers a 'new sub-continent of the mind,' one that will allow Indians to nurture inner rhythms AND visit the high tech fast lane, such as for connecting with the huge number of expatriots. He compared the Net favourably with Bollywood's 'virtual India'. Alongside the Infobahn, he made a plea for 'Indian roads, where the journey is greater than the destination.'
Limited interaction models also restrict diversity, said Ranjit Makkuni. 'The PC is a cultural artefact, as such involving the expression of values, like the Western view of learning as 'information transfer'. I believe the PC must move beyond accessing facts.'
Speed is valued in display and distribution, but sense-making and storytelling models must be richer, he said, and illustrated with three Indian examples of such richness: the electronic sketch book of Tibetan paintings, which allows deep examination of the rich symbolic language of the tankas -- part of Xerox Parc's Access the World project; a digital version of the 12th century poem Gita Govinda that 'is both sensual (fast), and spiritual (slower).' 800 years of theology and artistic imagery is access via Narrative, Interactive, and Reflective levels, each with fast, multimedia and multiple readings of each.
Input technology is still impoverished he pointed out, but ran out of time before telling us about attempts to find a synergy between paper and the PC.
Ravi Sundaram began on the politics of cybertime: 'Once we traveled to see others cultures -- indeed, it was our duty as Muslims to travel, but with no limit on time.' He went on to talk about the 'Gandian paradox': Gandi made his great journey through India by train -- which had destroyed much of Indian culture -- and on foot, with its high degree of interaction. The journey proved to be an innovative critique of technology, claimed Sundaram.
Later, cartographic anxiety and filiality to borders became the mark of a citizen, which partly explains why the Web has reached India with such massive force; the state border is no longer sacrosanct (despite the presence of aggressive nationalists in cyberspace). At the same time, new narratives of consumption and desire are being created by satellite and music channels -- but there is a 'Third space in India,' he claimed; the cyber-public realm, unconstrained by nation or multinational. He called for the reconstitution of cyberspace beyond the control of either, before ending with the cryptic comment that 'We're all foreign on the inside because there is no outside!'
Presenting the new Reading Table for Old and New Media, Caroline Nevejan said it was based on the 19th century Dutch cafe tradition, and had the aim of recreating the same vibe -- collaborative reading, interaction between readers, integration of different speeds and different media. To foster an ambiance with appeal to the new user, all 'tech fever' has been removed -- users see no software or PC, no Netscape interface. 'You have to be well-grounded to speed up, both as individual and as a culture,' she warned. 'Psychology is important'. She added that the Table's location -- in the ancient Waag -- was the city gate 'through which rich and poor alike passed', applauding the sentiments of the metaphor.
Session 5: Design for Different Speeds
The goal of the final session is to offer food for thought rather than conclusions, said Kristi van Riet, introducing Design for Different Speeds.
Kristi van Riet
Ezio Manzini agreed with many other speakers that a finite planet means we must limit acceleration to socio-cultural sustainability, but warned that 'The only future we can't imagine is the past -- we can look back, but not go back.' The social consequence of acceleration is a period of radical anthropological change -- but this needn't be a catastrophe -- 'we've been through similar without the loss of our humanity before. But this time we know it is happening -- and that is unique. It may be frustrating and anxiety-inducing -- but 'we can all design something to give weight to one possible future or another.'
Manzini noted two speeds -- the change in the environment and the change within ourselves, asking: what can we do about either? The answer is 'not much' about change one, as this is due to the aggregate of choices made by two.
'We can't discuss speed without discussing mobility and freedom -- both deep in our culture, while we are living in the first period of history in which we can choose the design of our lives,' he continued. Fundamentalists may try and limit this freedom, but maybe there is no mental way back, despite the danger. 'Mobility is a change in state; to be free we must have the ability to change, therefore they are linked. We can re-discuss issues of physical mobility, improve resistance of space and time, impose limits or pay the real costs -- but these are not design choices.
He proposed a system of 'subsidiarity' -- lowest level decision making or: don't do far away what you can do here. 'You're still free to go, but it is not necessary.' Maybe this is insufficient without creating the 'imagery of slowness, an aesthetic,' he conceded. Perception of speed changes -- a horse is fast when you're on it, so is a motorbike, but these fast experiences are at 40 and 80 kph respectively.
Jeet Singh, another veteran of Doors 1, pointed out that the builders of technology have little time to contemplate -- about as little as some of this session's speakers had to make their points, in fact. 'The tools and the media are changing too fast'. His Art Technology Group has recently created an instant publishing system for faculty members at Harvard Business School. Prompted by the logical question: how do you then create content for it?, ATG is currently working in Japan to create World Fiction, a collaborative networked comic book.
'The idea of design has no meaning without a sense of the future,' pointed out John Wood, who agreed with Illich that this was a result of the post-Enlightenment separation of time and space (the fragmentation of 'now'), producing detachment and objectivity. 'Aristotle's Astronomical Time becomes Newtonian Absolute Time, via the 'lived time' of Augustus.' Continuing his dissection of the 'times' we live in, Wood said clock time is temporal time, which is time 'yet to be lived in'. Shared lived time is social time, which is negotiated.
Then he turned scary: all digital devices have global timers, we are taught to trust clock time more than our personal sense of time, and this promotes speed; remember that 'killing time' today generally means 'consuming'. Global capital allied with digital information leads to increased competition, down-sizing, and self-organising Taylorism. The resulting cognitive and metabolic dissonance produces temporal alienation, as evidenced by the likes of car factory workers who claim 'all days are the same'. 'Can we audit phenomenological processes?,' Wood wondered.
Jakub Wejchert briefly announced a new European Union ESPRIT long-term research initiative looking for participants, I-cubed (i3: Intelligence Interface Information), all about connecting communities with common interests in inhabited information spaces for cross-national projects (see www.i3net.org/call.html). Deadline 18th December.
Gerald van der Kaap and Tjebbe van Tijen
Sitting down bent over the overhead video projector, physically scrolling his lecture out of a shoe box, Tjebbe van Tijen presented the 'Limping Messenger' -- a title well chosen, for this well researched overview of symbolical imaginations in over seven centuries of mediation slow and fast. Substantial meters of glued together photocopies of carefully crafted old media, moving from right to left on the screen, drifted us through a landscape of memories with shadows of Memoria, Intelligentia and Providentia.
Prize for the most oblique references to speed must surely be shared by Amsterdam Bad Boys Gerard van der Kaap and Willem Velthoven.
Kaap's presentation of his Wherever you look on the This Planet book was a masterful demonstration of how take any subject and connect it to any other by the brilliantly simple mechanism of telling the audience that the connection exists. Combined with a deadpan, faux-rambling hypertextuality, Kaap's performance is sure to become a new po-mo parlour game that will be played for years to come. "(Picture of a car) A car...moves...which is about speed. (Picture of a tree) A tree...er...doesn't move...which is also about speed." Brilliant!
Taking over the baton, Velthoven began by attempting to turn the stage into the Gerry and Willy Show, a comedy act cruelly scuppered by a Web that refused to play fall guy. Plan B, or the Iconoclastic Bravado that worked so well last year, failed to fill the gap left by the absence of any reference to speed whatsoever. Something to do with "emotional algorithms" and Web search programs (or Poetry In, Poetry Out - PIPO, anyone?), out of respect for a former Doors organiser we'll leave criticism of this pointless and tangential 15 minu-
*JT interrupts the diary: "Eh? Why this aggro against our local team? I enjoyed Kaap's piece a lot, as I did Velthoven's; these are the kind of people that make Amsterdam such a strange but interesting place right now and I know a lot of the foreign attendees are fascinated and amazed by our artistic-digital demi-monde (Oh puh-lease! - editors wrestle with control, unsuccessfully. JT continues): "I personally thought Willem's piece was intriguing and fun. No obvious connection to speed, but you could say that about most of the design scenarios. But that's more my fault than the presenters." If we can continue? Thank you.
Judith Donath kept nicely to the point throughout her short allotted time: Fashion is the visual expression of identity, being created at the meeting point of Desire and Information. Change the rate of access to the latter, and you change the equation. Then she sped through a brief history of fashion, from its roots in the 13th century (with the arrival of new goods from the middle east, via the crusaders) -- around the same time as the invention of temporal change (clocks). More social mobility in the 14th-16th century when rate of information access -- and flow (printing) -- was changing increased the speed of fashion.
These changes accelerated in the 19th century, when Veblen and others outlined the traditional sociological explanation of fashion as due to trickle down from the elite, which differentiates itself, to the middle class which imitates, leading to change over time.
20th century global communication, youth music/fashion, web pages -- all are speeding the cycle. What does this have to do with designers? Well, they could use 'intelligent fashion agents' to find what is in and out -- leading to faster and faster cycles. Or try a slower fashion, one in which perhaps individual fashion history becomes important, 'like the tree that grows but keeps a record of where it has been'.
Adriaan Geuze was perhaps the most enthusiastic proponent of speed among the speakers. Tracing the history of 'landscape' aesthetics from its 18th century English roots, to the 20th century, where we are confronted by a constantly changing view and situation (thanks to speed and mobility), he positively crooned as he flashed through slides displaying how buildings have become scale-less and how delicacy has been rejected for multiple perspectives.
'Contrast with the world behind your eyes, not before' he said. 'We are still governed by Romantic ideals of aesthetics and landscape.' His bold example of a public space-less housing project on Amsterdam's waterfront some found shocking.
Marco Susani first shared his thoughts on what kind of action would be desirable after either fast or slow communication and information exchange had taken place: this question so far having been primarily presented as a limited choice between forcing an individual viewpoint or drowning in the sea of possibilities -- Susani offered the option of building common ground with a community of interest. Besides this rather obvious 'third way' evaluation of information overload, he reflected on three interesting observations that were inspired by a recent trip to Mexico, where he met with ancient civilisation, having been conquered and culturally overgrown but then again uncovered by digging up the ruins of it, their decay having been suspended -- just because at some stage it literally has been built upon... some remarkable conservation outcome indeed. It gave Marco the sensation of 'light solidity', or fleeting 'permanence', this being his first keyword. The second observation was that of 'human imperfection': the hand of a local craftsman painting global logos and ads straight on the walls: not the exact PMS colors or high market slickness but a re-interpretation of global information as visual culture out of real life. Besides 'permanence' and 'human imperfection' Susani explored 'sedimentation': working on sandals he realised how these simple commodities are informed by a tradition of sandal making, with new generations of craftsmen continuing both long lines of fabrication and decoration, and slowly adding new features.
Sam Pitroda talked of a 'culture of contrast ' of over- and under-employed, a recipe for tension. 'There may be free borders for trade, but not people,' he noted, from multiple visa experience. The accelerating rate of change was affecting all institutions: retail, education, governmental -- 'whole systems up for grabs'. But he warned of the wrong technological decisions maybe connecting humans, while disconnecting people.
Speaking about the unique Indian experience, he quipped that 'Out of 950 million Indians, there has to be 9 million smart ones' as an introduction to the fact that over 600,000 villages have been wired for telecommunications in the country in recent years. He ended with a plea: 'With life too fast, my world becomes overloaded; I get 100 faxes a day, leaving too little time to be meaningful. Please simplify our lives for us; integrate speed.'
The Doors Panel Sessions are often the high point of the conference; with all speakers up on stage, and the audience given a its main chance to voice its opinions.
Oliver Morton set the ball rolling, saying how surprised he was by degree of negativity at the conference. 'Many of us value speed, for example, the car. I wonder how speed is distributed in society? Like income?' (a long slope up to a sharp peak of super rich). 'We here are high speed by choice -- and have the choice to downshift,' he said. 'But we can't say everyone should downshift (and leave us with our relative advantage).' Like fashion, he said, maybe we should just say if it becomes a blur, change the signifier.
Andrew Ross bemoaned the triumph of the free market and loss of alternatives. 'My plea to designers is: think about designing jobs, not saving labour.' Sam Pitroda clarified his personal position on speed: 'I can live more lives in one lifetime with more speed. I like speed, but want simplicity.' Susan George disagreed: 'We're too kind to speed. What is the correlation between speed and profit? More like a pyramid, with 85% of wealth owned by the top 10%'. She added that Rem Koolhaas' idea of a European enclave 'living well and making beautiful things terrifies me'. As did Adriaan Geuze -- 'what future for democracy with no public space?' Ravi Sundaram's parting shot was that 'Speed is a categorical imperative which must be negotiated with'. And Europeans -- 'be self-critical, reflect more on the past. There is a declining attention to the South.'
Which prompted someone to ask that old chestnut, 'Can the South leapfrog industrialisation?' Sam Pitroda says in India, 50 phones in a village of 5,000 can produce 85% more revenue. 'The farmer can check his markets before selling, lorry drivers can make appointments, even vaccination is helped.' Many linkages between telecoms and life have been forgotten by the West, he believes, such as the connection between phones and drinking water, phones and education -- connections which are still appreciated in India. IT may destroy jobs, but they shift elsewhere into more worthwhile things, he believes. 'Many jobs are not real anyway -- like filling in forms all day.'
Wim Crouwel was impressed with the high intellectual content at Doors 4. 'I conclude I am not scared by speed. There was much longing for the past and fear of speed here,' he said, defending Adriaan Geuze. 'Inspired -- I loved the vision.' Old aesthetic ideas are changing for new interesting times, and design is changing from specialisation (such as graphic or industrial) to the borders -- 'which is where it will happen, and why the Netherlands Design Institute was created.' Design is not affected by speed, he ended, as it's in the head.
Morton's fellow Wiredling Jim Flint took rather detailed exception to Susan George's theories before coming to the point: don't worry about the speed; 1 million Ecstasy-users in the UK love speed, actively seek it out. 'Worry about the new agglomerations of power that are aiming to control the new social groupings created by speed culture.'
In the last of his dramatic outbursts at the conference, Claude Gaignebet suddenly lept to his feet raving that 'in 1968 we did not slow down -- we stopped . If you want to change anything, you must stop, and decide you are free! (Much cheering, from the over-40s at least).
Which just left the irrepressible Derrick de Kerkhove -- a Doors veteran himself, this time in the audience: 'Speed is not the cause but the symptom of a transition stage from one technology to another,' he declared. 'We've seen this before, in the switch to literacy (which led to 200 years of war in Europe), and to radio (which led to the First and Second World Wars). Linear speed is explosive, producing religious wars.' Now we have radial acceleration, he said: a connecting of intelligences. 'We feel this as speed. All we can hope for is that it turns out to be calming, not explosive.'
Friday night, the ever-whacky Supper Club pulled off another famous Bachanal at the Westergasfabriek. Shame we couldn't have been at the impressive Vrieshuis, as originally planned, but Amsterdam's purportedly laid-back city administration chose this weekend to get heavy with unlicensed parties. The only black spot of a phresh and phunky night was around 3am, when, finally turfed-out of the dancehall, stragglers found themselves locked in to the old gas factory compound. Let's hope someone let them out by now.
original photographs: Wendela Smit