Franz Nahrada /
A Visionary Visit To A Globe Of Villages







Franz Nahrada

Digital Creativity-    

A Visionary Visit to a Globe of Villages    
New Modalities in Culture through Digitization and their Effects on Life    

Keynote speech for the CULTH 2 (Cultural Heritage in the Global Village) conference in 2002

 back in 2002 ... 
with my dear friend
Kim Veltman (left)
to whom I owe
many of the follwing thoughts.

Inhaltsverzeichnis dieser Seite
Digital Creativity-   
A Visionary Visit to a Globe of Villages   
New Modalities in Culture through Digitization and their Effects on Life   
The CULTH Process as a model for a multi-stakeholder vision   
Cultural Heritage work is not nostalgic, but the vanguard of digital media culture   
First Modality: Media Integration and the New Possibilities for Learning:   
Second Modality: Constant Originality and the New Possibilities for Creating   
Beware the Danger of Media Feudalism   
Third modality: Retrievability and the new possibilities for authoring   
Ubiquity and the new possibilities for Access   


The last decade has been the decade of the breakthrough of digital media, yet the very significant differences that distinct digital from analog media have not been fully recognised. This paper tries to show that digital media possess four groups of modalities unfamiliar to analog media.

The most important new modality is the new, unprecedented relation between original and copy. Originality is much more in the process and in the source of a digital cultural production than in the product itself. The product can be modified, combined and linked virtually in a thousand new ways - and still also be represented in the perspective of originality.

The currently dominating vision of digital media and digital culture as a large marketplace with powerful players offering digital copies of jealously protected originals for “fair use” is therefore based on a fundamental misconception of the creative process. Instead of supporting creatives and creative processes, the copy restrictions and patent laws are increasingly blocking creativity of all kind. With the increasing dependency on digital media this blocking takes the form of feudal exploitation of intellectual properties and swells to a serious threat of any independent autonomous creative process.

This misconception might be more visible if we dare to extrapolate a different vision based on the assumption that there is no such thing like a digital original, rather arguing that "originality" is an inherent property of the creators of culture. The vision could be boldly set in a not too distant future based on the assumption that the rule of the game is a mutual agreement on the free usage of all the content, which “we” consider as our common cultural heritage. By the "we" I refer to a global intercultural community and not any more just a national or cultural one. And "usage" implies modification and augmentation, which leads to something as original as the original.

The paper argues that such an assumption would not only require some modifications in the technologies we use to store and distribute digital contents, but they would also lead to a fundamental and very tangible modifications in general life and notably in the status of culture.

Culture would not be the collection of significant historic (arte-) facts, which are sharply distinguished from civilisational knowledge, but would return to the centre of our life. The economic process would not be founded on the distribution of copies, but on constant and ubiquitous originality. And, most visibly, the ubiquitous nature of the knowledge and tool base of life would lead to a re - cultivation of what we had to abandon in the period of industrial constraints. According to a concept of the British-American architect Tony S. Gwilliam, we could say: after a long period of hundreds or even thousands of years where it was drawn to and refined in the urban melting pot, the mind can return home. The mind that we bring home would be empowered and educated, to constantly “enlarge” this planet by linking the macrosphere of culture and knowledge to the microsphere of sustainable living space. Cultural institutions can help pave the way to this paradigm shift to the Global Villages, and they have a lot to win from that.

The CULTH Process as a model for a multi-stakeholder vision    

The CULTH (Cultural Heritage in the Global Village) Conferences 1998 and 2002 were designed and meant to facilitate not only to learn about the day-to-day usage of digitisation tools in memory institutions, but also to facilitate such a visionary process. The idea of a conference like CULTH was not necessarily to bring together only documentalists, people from reproduction departments and art historians with the market communicators of technology providers. We had created this event to allow crossovers, to look at the issue of digitisation and culture from different angles and tap into a broader and sustainable vision that might create new needs, new tools and new technologies.

There are philosophers, sociologists, people from other academic disciplines. There are educators and representatives of cultural institutions who deal practically with the Internet. We have people who are networkers, offering additional support and standards to facilitate cooperation. There are of course developers of hardware and software, the ones that shape the tools that others use. And then there are people who have little to do with the cultural sector, but they are dealing in new and innovative ways with public sector information - for example with geodata. In fact these spheres might have a lot in common.

What unites all of the participants of this conference is the fact that they are maybe a little bit more curious about innovation than the average person, and that they like to figure out the meaning and the potential of this innovation for their personal dream together with others. So the question is: are we fulfilling our dreams or are we participating in the creation of a nightmare, and what freedom do we have to influence this?

Cultural Heritage work is not nostalgic, but the vanguard of digital media culture    

One of the intentions to create an event like CultH was the conviction that the digitisation of cultural heritage is in itself at the centre of the digital revolution, that this is by no means an exotic niche or insignificant topic. The underlying hypothesis is this: the effects of digital media on our life will only the be really significant when they are strong and elaborate enough to absorb the “content” of the old media that represent the standard of the elaboration of our worldview.

(By using the term “absorb” I do not mean that old media will completely disappear with the advent of the new Media. Handwriting has not disappeared with the advent of the typewriter; it has simply transposed its meaning and place in society. The typewriter, however, is alive in the computer while handwriting has become a personal medium, a medium that sends messages of affection.)

So, the hypothesis continues, the digital rebirth of culture is like a proof of maturity of the digital media. Why is this as such ? Why can one medium really claim to absorb so many, to unify such different modalities in one single medium? The answer lies in the separation between information storage and information representation, something that we will observe closer in this paper.

Nevertheless, the hypothesis goes on, this separation of storage and representation does not only allow to absorb different modalities, but also to bring them together in absolutely new ways. We feel that digitisation is not just putting old wine into new bottles, so to say “doing multi-media”. This unique and unprecedented blending might as well change the very meaning and self-reference of culture, the way we work, the reason we work, the way we think, the things we think.

This is why I want to invite you on a journey to illustrate the simultaneous 4 major transformations in modality of cultural content as a precondition to extrapolate them into a set of new roles, institutions and environments.


First Modality: Media Integration and the New Possibilities for Learning:    

The first change in modalities refers to the fact that related content can be expressed simultaneously in speech, written language, abstract diagrams, graphics, pictures, films, algorithms, etc. – simply the fact of absorbing but also of representing.

Computers can talk to all five senses now; they can even produce scent and taste.

This offers new and unprecedented possibilities for learning and understanding. For example, skills that required a large amount of visual information or orally transmitted teachings can now be put more easily into a framework of complementing media. Each medium is now the interpreter of another medium than just a message by itself.

At this point it is important to keep in mind a fundamental fact about media, about all those extensions of man that are used for speaking, singing, dancing, drumming, painting, writing, performing, all those media like language, theatres, canvas, musical instruments, microphones, clay, hammers, brushes. On one side they extend certain abilities of man, while on the other side they narrow the mode of expression. Without knowing it, we become one - sided. Each medium brought to its perfection increasingly shows this onesidedness and consequently creates the ground for another medium. But we often avoid some of the onesidedness and limitations by combining different media. This becomes the regular grammar of digital media.

The producers of the technology vision video “HyperCard 1998” by Apple Computer quoted an example by the Silicon Valley futurist Alan Kay who brought the example of the ice-skater and the pirouette. While the visual representation of a whirling dancer on the ice can provoke nausea or excitement in us, the geometrical representation of the arms, the body and the speed of rotation can explain to us how to do it. Both graphical media interpret each other and broaden our understanding of the subject. But the cross-connects between media are endless, some are a transposition between old customs like illustrations in books, other are new, like moving images in texts or 3D immersions as an expansion to music. This way we learn much more about the reason to choose a particular medium. We might, for the first time, become completely “media literate” by understanding the special grammar of any single medium.

For example, while language and words rely on memory, historical perspective and common cultural annotations and associations, pictorial expression allows integral and universal communication. But language and words allow us to link perceptions to each other, to ask what is behind things that we see. Eventually the word becomes evocative power, the power to create, to shape ideas.

So imagine if we had all the time all the modes of expression – words, pictures, music, animations, simulations, tactile experiences, sounds, scents, tastes - simultaneously at hand and we could creatively apply them. It would be like an orchestra combining the perfection of the single musical instruments to something bigger than just a sum of the single contributions. It would be like a concert, a symphony, where one instrument takes over a theme and handles it in its special way, to render whatever is one-sided into a more complete and comprehensive expression. Digital media, as soon as they can handle the granularity and precision of their analog ancestors, allow us to do exactly this: to interpret one medium through the other and create a whole that is more than the parts.

Andreas Okopenko is one of Austria’s well known contemporary poets who has condensed and molded language to the extreme point of representing what he calls “fluida”, the special qualities of moments in space and time that sometimes reappear from memory with a sound, a smell, a sight. In his novel about the sentimental journey of a businessman, he constructs an interactive space of experience rather than simply telling a story. At certain points he reaches the limits of language. So on one page of the novel, there is a tiny square free space in the book - like in the collection book of philatelists. In the middle a line says: glue in a moist glass! 12 years ago, we formed a group of artists, composers and writers to create an “Electronic Novel” and to explore the grammar and poetry of multimedia storytelling, where one medium complements the other when you reach the point of the moist glass. In the meantime, adventure games like “Myst” have become a new kind of art, and we see this art increasingly applied for the exploration of our past and for the learning about other cultural universes. The first visionary dream that I want to share with you today relates to indigenous cultural wisdom applicable in our civilisation: Seven years ago, I accidentally stepped into a group of people learning about the Medicine Wheel. This is a very powerful and ancient tradition derived from old Indian people in North America. It is a system of balance that encompasses not only the structure of decision making in Indian tribes, but also the whole way of holding attention, learning and creating. This tradition which was even for some time forbidden in the United States, is conveyed by teachers through story, song, role playing, diagrams, painting, symbols, life experience, even dance.

Some of these teachers have started to deliver their knowledge to the very civilisation that has dispossessed and destroyed the American Indian Culture – in itself an interesting fact. In my personal experience with their teachings I found that they provide tools that can really help us in the creation of vital and sustainable living systems. Moreover, I felt that those tools allow for the transformation of hierarchical and bureaucratic organisations into complex self-organising entities while increasingly easing their self-determined, peaceful co-operation with their environment. In one word, if we understood that word right, one could say that they are very “powerful”. But there are only a few teachers to spread that knowledge and wisdom. They spend a lot of time and energy and effort, while maybe even not reaching the ones that really can put their knowledge into action.

So one night I sat together with my friends WindEagle and RainbowHawk from the Ehama Institute and imagined what multimedia could do for the spreading of their traditional wisdom. They never put their teachings into a comprehensive book, because they feel that this medium is not really talking to all of our intelligences, as to our emotional intelligence, to our creative intelligence, to our predictive intelligence, to our perceptual intelligence, to our sustaining intelligence, to our decisive intelligence. It might only talk to our memory, to our brainmind, as they use to say. We might take word lessons, but not world lessons. But what if there was the possibility to create a composed medium that interacts with all of our intelligences? What if this medium would even connect a body of people learning to mobilise and control their collective intelligence? Then the story might be different! And we felt that there was an urge to work on such a tool for learning in a world that is gradually unlearning the art of peace. The body of knowledge and art represented in this way is still a vision, but clearly this vision was able to fire some enthusiasm and is worth trying.


Second Modality: Constant Originality and the New Possibilities for Creating    

Digital Media are like a blueprint for the generation of forms, they are of an algorithmic nature and separated from input and output devices. Not all traditional media share this advantage. Music is an interplay of descriptive and performative elements, while painting is created and stored on a canvas; hence the medium of storage and output is literally the same as the medium of input. This creates the problem of originality versus copy. While pieces of art of that kind became technically reproduceable by photography, there is still some kind of “aura” around the original as Walter Benjamin has stated. The original stays precious and fragile in itself, is object of possession, of collection, of admiration, of myths. And it is invaluable as a point of reference for research.

The advantage of digital media is that the usage of content is not per se destructive to the original. The modification of a given original can create new content while the old content is still intact and can be deliberately “frozen”.

Reusability has been very often the case in traditional art, it is essential to musical notes or to copperplate printing; beyond that, destructive reuse was also very common. Old paintings were not sacrosanct, often enough they were modified by surface painting; scarce materials of statues were reused by molding the metals etc. This has not only biased our depth of understanding of cultural history, but in a rebound reaction led to a kind of canonisation of originals that incorrectly linked “originals” with originality, i.e. the creative process itself.

Digital Media allow for a much closer relation between the inventory, the collection and the creative process. They also are able to help us preserve the various steps that the making of an artefact takes: to be stored separately, to be treated separately, and each one of those steps to be included separately in new production. We simply do not have to throw them away, we can “inventorize” them and learn from them – it is only a question of storage capabilities. Just as the old masters relied on many layers of techniques they combined and applied in unique ways, we can create inventories of layers and cultures. Even the re-use of our own inventions is easier for us.

On the other hand this is not destroying the concept of the original and its historic reconstruction. Digital media can even help us a lot to explore and prove the authentic nature and character of artefacts – simply by giving more information to the hand of the skilled researcher, the detective, the journalist. Thus they contribute to our understanding of historic facts. They allow reconstruction of what has been destroyed, they allow us to perceive what we have lost and again to re-examine our re-constructions, be it the Cathedral of Cluny or the world of dinosaurs.

But in the same mode they also enable us to do much more than simply copy or strive for the authentic picture. They allow us to take apart and put together realities in different ways, to explore playfully variations and possibilities. They can help us to build worlds and to change them in an instant, with the speed and effortlessness of a thought. We can paint, construct, build, compose and perform at almost zero cost, without the fear of wasting resources or precious materials, harm others, or the fear to be bound or restrained by the outcome. We can test, experiment, we can transcend borders, structures and customs with less dangers. Nevertheless we can share those creations and even let others live within our mind worlds, test them, augment them, co-create them.

Some are concerned, some are enthusiastic: will all that sharpen our senses for the true depth of reality or will it make our “sense of being” disappear? Have we already lost the concept of reality, in a world that consists of various layers of simulacra, so that whenever the media introduce “reality” into the scene we might be confronted with just another image, projection, artefact? In my opinion, this is well possible; but we might as well celebrate the constant crossover between the representation and the substance and become able to handle it.

No digital medium will ever reach the kind of resistance and guidance provided by the physical materials to the artist. This sacred quality of the process where spirit and matter meet to co-create form, and thus allows the thought to persist as perception, is still the very essence of art. But exactly because of that reason digital media can be an excellent tool to prototype and to refine the shaping abilities of the artistic process. They can hold and simulate physical properties, they can allow the artist to see the outcome and to modify it constantly. They can lead to collective art, to interplay and improvisation, to invention and innovation. They can lead to a much better understanding of cause and effect, of complexity, of laws and constraints, of possibilities.

The relation of matrix and materia is not a new story; every new invention in media was accompagnied by the fear the mind might get stuck in the fetters of his own imagination. But like the early cave-paintings might have been magically evoking human courage and abilities, the world builders toys of today might help us to understand the complexity of situations untold by linear wording and hardly conceived by perspectivical imaging,

There is another aspect in this internal division into storage and manifestation: be it printing or playing or sculpturing, digital algorithms or blueprints can themselves create material output in a much greater variety than traditional techniques of reproduction.

When we did the electronic version of Okopenkos novel, composer Karl Heinz Essl constructed an algorithm of great complexity; so the composer generated a composing-performing piece of software which could play random music for billions of years without repeating itself. A few piano samples together with a deep knowledge of musical theory applied to programming created an infinite world of music.

Andy Warhol was the artist to focus on the process of reproduction as the centre of modern art and to discover the abilities of automation. His repeated and yet modified prints of Marilyn Monroe, his whole emphasis on the “factory” can be read like a big antithesis to Walter Benjamins theory about the aura of originality. Of course the possibilities of technical reproduction had to develop to a certain point to make such a shift possible. But even Warhol who died in 1989 could not foresee the advent of decentralising and multiplying technologies of reproduction that render the concept of the “factory” obsolete. They allow us to individually use the accumulated cultural knowledge to create something new out of it. Of course this includes a mode of production which is completely opposed to our still prevailing current paradigm of industrial mass copying: Some have called this new paradigm mass customization, third wave or prosumerism. I prefer to call it Digital Creativity. No economist, as far as I know, has seriously attempted to estimate the amount of benefits accumulating for humankind by letting everybody use any intellectual pattern legally. With our reproductive capacities and communication tools, we might get to an astonishing result: the benefits would not accumulate arithmetically, but geometrically. The speed and power of free software development is a harbinger of this development, even though it is not really supported by the institutional and ethical framework of our society.

Beware the Danger of Media Feudalism    

But maybe we will see the exact opposite. If the large cultural industries acquire for example the right for the reproduction of the personality of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol would be considered a criminal because of using that personality for his artwork. Let us look at the current hoarding of intellectual property rights: like a Hollywood Studio had a contract with Marilyn Monroe, they might acquire her digital personality rights to let her live forever and produce fully digitized movies. Or maybe create a digital version of Yul Brynner like in “Westworld”. Of course the amount and the costs of creation in these productions is enormous, so at the same time, to protect the investment, the fight for intellectual property is getting as furious as the wars of the feudalist period. Lawrence Lessig, a Harward Professor of Law, brings tons of examples of the absurdity of this media feuds. “The film ‘Twelve Monkeys’ was stopped by a court twenty-eight days after its release because an artist claimed a chair in the movie resembled a sketch of a piece of furniture that he had designed.” (Lawrence Lessig, the Future of Ideas). You might think that all is irrelevant to cultural heritage? You might think different when you see the success of rendering the two-dimensioned face of Mona Lisa into a three dimensional actress. Technical development has bridged the gap between nearly all dimensions of classical art and the digital world.

Here again is the other vision: what if we had more programming languages and tools which would really allow us to blend the diligence and complexity embedded in our cultural heritage with the capacity of automation embedded in our programming languages? What if we had not only the patterns and algorithms, but also the “realizing technologies” in our reach to build and to customize and to create material results out of that giant, vast repository? It would be infinitely meaningful to create such tools and such a repository. It would be the dream of all great artists to come closer to nature with her abundant power of life, generously creating pieces of art in every moment, in every movement, without effort, pain and labour. Maybe we would even come closer to one of the oldest utopian dreams: to a generous and abundant world without the notion or fear of scarcity that would lead us to monopolise resources.

Of course to realize that dream we have to put our effort, pain and labour somewhere else: into ordering our cultural repository and preparing the process of creation. This would be an enormous work for millions of people. It is only comparable to the culture-building work of monasteries before and during the 12th century renaissance or to the emergence of the master guilds of the cathedrals, and later of universities and science before and during the 15th and 16th century renaissance.

If there is something similar in our time, it will most definitely be grounded on a third modality of digital media: the networking of information.


Third modality: Retrievability and the new possibilities for authoring    

The third modality of digital media is the fact that they allow their digital and thus virtual objects to coexist in one global continuum. However we call it, the fact is that the vast majority of computing and storage capacity is networked. Protocols for the linkage of stored files like SGML, HTTP or XML allow not only compare files by pattern recognition but to support a great deal of intentional linking and semi-automatic part description. Thus each content in any given moment is relevant and related to other content. The real product of what we create with digital media is a set or space of related information, if we want it or not.

The early vision of the computer as a communication tool was related to Hypertext and a universe of interlinked documents, but this vision has faded away in our days caused by several factors. Some of them are competition and commerce as driving forces of the development of the net; inflation of tags in web browsers; lack of strategic and systematic content management across institutions; and many others. Nevertheless instead of universal approaches to interlinkage, a large and diverse number of small bottom-up activities is beginning to explore the building of shared content in a much broader sense, including the question of legal agreements and the guarantee of sustenance of those who create the content.

Recently the editor of the Italian “Oltre” Magazine, Giovanni Abrami, suggested a scheme that linked the idea of the Virtual Community to the one of the Cultural Community, by distinguishing them through the ability to create not only a common set of values, goals and means, but also work towards common results and products. Maybe the traditional internet culture of virtual communities might be revitalized by the emergence of cultural communities with a substantial difference. While the traditional Internet communities were supported, but also restricted by standard procedures and tools – newsgroups, chats, email -, the emerging cultural communities might elaborate their own tools for sharing and designing and in this way become more independent and resistant against commercialization..

We have compelling examples from cultural institutions that combine their research and create networked collaborations which end up in virtual exhibitions; we have the example of Napster which enabled a large distributed online collection of music that put a large number of songs at the fingertips of the user. For some time it seemed that the network could become the storehouse of our memory. The unresolved issues of copyright have for the time being blocked the further development of such systems, but underneath the surface a new way of production is emerging -that starts from the very beginning with cooperative weaving instead of using proprietary content or tools. A good example for this is the newly created web site “Open Theory” (www.opentheory.org) which might create a revolution in the way we write and create. Authoring is not any more a process of secluded and isolated thinking, from the very beginning the participants put their intentions as well as their questions on the table.

This could not only apply to writing, but also to other forms of cultural production. As in Free Software Development, there is usually a set of social roles which means that a maintainer assumes responsibility for the text and is relying on contributors who might in a serious or less serious way annotate the work. This makes it radically different from the usual mushrooming style of computer based discussion fora. Aren’t we all fed up with their habitual endless progress into indigestable mass of information - or, in the opposite, their soft amnesia into dead content? What is required and applied here is the fact that maintainance requires constant refinement, condensation, absorption of thoughts into a concise text – in other words, a result.

Another example is the effort to construct a car on the Internet, the OsCar project. I mention this experimental project about whose success I am not sure at all because it allowed a form of design and creation where many different perspectives flow together. The system was created by people from the car industry that were increasingly upset about the growing irrationality in production, for example the disappearing standards of parts, frames, connections etc. which create a lot of secondary dependencies of the buyer. Even if it fails the Open Source Car will be remembered as a remarkable attempt to create an Open Forum of Design that allows that voices from completely different cultures came in. There was the woman who asked the simple question: “why dont cars have their brake lights also on the front side - where pedestrians can see it and be informed that the car is slowing down?” This is a paradigm of sustainable design, where many viewpoints are taken into consideration.

If we transpose this theme to the very centre of cultural content and we transcend professional, ethnic, cultural, gender, religious and other borders, we might learn more about the wealth of our own creations from the different perspectives and angles brought into the creation process. We might make them understandable, useable, more beautiful. The process allows us to reflect on our own unreflected truisms. It allows us to reduce the complexity of options by negotiating standards; it allows us on the other hand to reflect in our cultural perception of the world the fact that everything in reality is deeply interconnected, mutually interdependent, interactive. It allows us in our creation to reach vital and valid results.

And above all it’s simply fun. Why travel the journey alone when there are so many people that you can share your experience with? So many that take burdens from your shoulder, so many can pitch in when you lack a solution or you lack the energy.


Ubiquity and the new possibilities for Access    

The fourth modality is largely linked to the other three. It brings nothing new into the communication process itself, but let me nevertheless remind us of the fact that the point of storage and access, the point of input and storage, the different locations of storage etc. might be physically separated. This may be lead to the most spectacular result of all modalities.

It is widely recognised that digital media on one side support and on the other side challenge the traditional role of urban areas as containers of culture and information. Urban dominance is supported in the short run because affluent urban institutions were the forerunners of using information technology. It is the big museums, the national galleries, and archives, the academic world, which adopted digitisation, storage and networking early. They are becoming giant hubs of material even beyond their own collections. They usually start with collection management and end up with virtual exhibitions and “content – trading”.

Nevertheless it is that very emergence of urban hubs which, in the long run, sets the scene for a paradigm shift. Let me use intentionally a paradigm from the economic world: When the big department store in the urban centre gave place to the decentralised shopping mall, we were witnessing the emergence of networked outlets in the suburbian “Edge City”, a lot of smaller shops held together by incredible logistical network. Some call this with some right a destructive process, for others it holds a potential for a cultural refinement and recomposition. What we see nowadays is that the new logistical abilities of transport and communication are beginning to change the largest institutions drastically and force them to reinvent themselves.

The Edge City is the birthplace of a multicentered, fractal and eventually a distributed urban environment that calls for multiplication and networking within institutions.

In a parallel development the possibility to exhibit cultural content place-independently is created by institutions which today own also large exhibition space. It is the large cultural institutions that are the promotors of digitisation. The same institutions deplore that only a small percentage of their collections can be shown.

Nowadays technological means have developed that allow the infrastructure for a virtual exhibition or a theme park to be packed into a car. We see that successful exhibitions are already a mix of originals, reconstructions and carefully orchestrated arrangements. They determine our view of culture to an extent that the authentic artefact reality becomes indistinguishable from the aura in which it is brought to life. In fact imagination and interest is more fired by media than by anything else. So the realisation of "the real thing" by the virtual piedestal will be an ongoing challenge, supported by the increasing granularity of digital media. The question is this: can this granularity be the backbone of a new relation between culture, nature and space? Can we use this enormous decentralising power not to create chaotic traffic, but really bring the potential of media to the places that can be augmented? Can we “bring the church back to the village”, as one of our speakers at the first Global Village Symposium asked, with the help of a virtual church -builder, an extension of the urban dome?

Futurists like John Naisbitt have often predicted the emergence of decentralised lifestyles, and one might be interested in the factors that have rather supported the excrescence of large urban agglomerations. One of the decisive factors in my eyes is the "urban myth", the density of cultural content.

In our Globally Integrated Village Environment project we have studied the efforts of villages and small towns to stop population drain detrimental to their survival. Talking to majors and regional planners, we found out that even the offering of abundant resources like cheap housing, secured jobs and marvellous recreation spaces cannot keep people from relocating to urban areas. They are afraid of missing something.

In a project with the Lower Austrian Village and Town Renewal, we were trying to find that missing link and bring it so-to-say "to the village". We found out that the capacity to set up local centres of knowledge and culture might be decisive factors for the survival and the future of rural settlements. This capacity is increased dramatically with the linkage between those rural "portals" and urban "hubs". The institutional changes in the centres and in the periphery might create such a collaboration of hubs and outposts that result in "micro-urbanity". In return, this micro-urbanity could crystallise and grow around local themes which are augmented by global media, not just thoughtlessly dispersed in the landscape to create an irrational Megapolis.


It is this background of four major transformations which sets the scene for the visionary visit to a globe of villages, where the capacities of the digital revolution have allowed the mind to return home and abide in an environment of human scale and proportions. It is not a farewell to the urban dream, but it is the prediction of the end of the predominance of the urban dream. The urban dream in the opposite may have become so powerful that it wants to break free of the scarcity and shortcomings of agglomerations.

So at the end of my speech we imagine visiting a global village, where people find the ground and the means to live creatively according to a set of values that brought them together as a cultural community. They are realising simultaneously all four modalities of digital media, with the support of the Mother Cities and their institutions, which grew into a task even bigger than from where they started. The City is not dominating the villages, because the latter have a choice, they are seeking partnership rather than cultural dominance. The many professions that we encounter in this imaginary villages, the many activities, they all are in a way tele-activities.

It is not so hard to envision how such a globe of villages, that enables us to link to nature and landscape again instead of hopelessly abandoning them could look like. Consider this image of Tony Gwilliam of a settlement we might call the SynchroniCity. It is from a never published book called “Bring your Mind Home”. In this book Tony argues that networks might give a completely new meaning to the home, as a place that can be empowered again, like the homes of craftspeople or farmers. In the end, the support that the stream of data provides to our local abilities might be indistinguishable from natures gifts – sunlight, air, earth and water, and from our natural companions, the plants and animals. And the same procedures that have separated us from our homes might finally bring us back there, to a powerful, self-sustaining, proud and colourful home.

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