Chapter 3 - Distributed Authorship: Emergence of Telematic Culture

3.1 Sputnik and the Geoscope

3.1.1 The TEL in teleology is the TEL of in-TEL-igent, TEL-epathy, American TEL. & TEL., TEL-evision and TEL-escope, or "TELL you what I saw" or "It TELLS" (i.e., it COUNTS, it mathematically rationalises to advantage, a TELLER, an interpolator and COUNTER-OUTER of abstractly accounted credit-in figures on the books into units of sensorial specie. (Something to show for speculation). (Fuller, 1938, pg. 257)

3.1.2 In the previous two chapters I attempted to define the artist working with technologies as a networker and a media persona working on a triangulated bridge between the arts, humanities, and sciences. In this chapter I will locate this bridge in the realm of telematic arts and the emerging net culture. Once again I will begin by using Buckminster Fuller as a predecessor of this highly interdisciplinary and chaotic culture. His vision of a Geoscope was continuously developed from the 1950's and made more elaborate as technology advanced. I use it as an example of an early telematic art piece that predates artistic experiments with the networks by some twenty years.

3.1.3 Fuller saw himself very much as a product of technological advancements, and frequently pointed out that the year he was born, 1895, was also the year automobiles were introduced, the wireless telegraph and the automatic screw were invented, and X-rays were discovered. (Fuller, 1981, pg.128) In 1918, a year after he was assigned to a short special course at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, the first transatlantic two-way radio telephone conversation took place. This was a source of great inspiration for Fuller, and he wrote extensively on the idea of ephermeralisation‹moving into the realm of the invisible: "Radio measurement is teleologic measurement, for sensorial ends are joined by abstract means | |. The TEL in teleology is the TEL of in-TEL-igent, TEL-epathy, American TEL & Tel, Tel-evison and TEL-escope ... (1938, pg. 257) Four years later, Moholy Nagy creates his telephone piece over the phone and initiates the era of process art using communication technologies.[2]

3.1.4 But the story of telematic culture does not really begin until 1957 when Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth, was launched. At the height of the Cold War, the United States responds instantly to Sputnik by forming the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the department of Defence (DOD) in the United States, to establish the lead in science and technology. Telematic and computer culture emerges out of the war machine and remains directly connected to it, more than any other art form to date. Fuller provides an insight into this aspect of art and technology by being very closely allied to the US Navy throughout his career. In 1918 he joins the Naval Academy, in 1942 the Economic Warfare Board as its head mechanical engineer, and in 1954, his geodesic domes were adopted by the US Marines for all advanced-base enclosures.

3.1.5 Undoubtedly Fuller was privy to some of the most advanced technological developments of his time and perhaps contributed ideas to the military technologists on the way. The Geoscope is a direct outcome of this experience and provides an interesting prism for beginning to look at the evolving telematic culture. It was never fully realised, but the Geoscope contains within it many ideas that reflect the sign of the times to come. [3]

3.1.6 Let us first take a look at the context of the conceptualisation of the Geoscope by focusing on the year 1962. In 1962 scientists from the US Naval Observatory Time Service (USNO-United States) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL-United Kingdom) got together to use the first active-mode communication satellite, Telstar, to perform the very first transatlantic two-way clock comparisons. The large silvered mylar balloon known as Echo 1 was used in August 1960 for one-way transfer attempts. That same year J.C.R. Licklider and W. Clark publish a paper on a Galactic Network concept encompassing distributed social interactions, and Paul Baran proposes a new system of network design for sending computer messages following up on the first paper published on packet switching written by Leonard Kleinrock a year before. Eight years later, in 1969, ARPANET is born. Four nodes are established: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Stanford Research Institute (SRI); University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB); and University of Utah. In 1967, The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in Middlesex, UK, develops NPL Data Network under D.W. Davies.

3.1.7 Fuller marks 1962 as the year of transition to comprehensive technology from dry land to sea and into sky, from visible to invisible, "more-of-lessing," through transistors, metallurgy, chemistry, electronics, and atomic transfers, all basic controls to invisible ranges. One Telstar communications-relay satellite weighing only a quarter-ton replaces transatlantic cables weighing 75,000 tons in equivalent function. John Glenn, who recently defied age by going into outer space once again, was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. In the same year, Fuller and John McHale establish the "Inventory of Human Resources, Human, Trends and Needs" at the Southern Illinois University. McHale is the executive director of the Inventory and publishes a book on Fuller's work that same year. They would continue collaborating on ideas for the Geoscope for the next fourteen years. [top]


1. The word telematique was coined by Simon Nora and Alain Minc in L'Informatisation de la societe (Paris: La Documentation Francaise, 1980, pg. 2)

2. For an excellent account of Moholy Nagy's work in relation to emergence of telematic arts, see Eduardo Kac, 1992. [back]

3. The Geoscope may have never been built far beyond a prototype in Fuller's lifetime, but it has recently appeared as a centerpiece of the new Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada. It is lined with 9,500 light sensors and contains an acrylic globe filled with 1,000 tons of heavy extra-neutron water. It reacts to all types of neutrinos, causing tiny bursts of light that are recorded by sensors. Neutrinos cross interplanetary distances in minutes rather than millennia. (Wired, June '99, page 55) [back]

prev : next