On the same day I interviewed Erna I went also to speak with Marianne van den Boomen, who is also working on a PhD at Utrecht University, in new media. Marianne has already been writing about technology for some time, so she has a very well-informed perspective. Before meeting in person we exchanged a series of emails, so I will start with some excerpts from that exchange.
I guess I have to make a distinction between new media and Internet, because I encountered these separately.
My first involvement with new media was in 1984. I was working as an editor of a magazine called Marge, a monthly magazine about social work, community work and social movements (feminist, gay, squatting etc). That year the research institute where we had our office had bought a word processing system (not even MS DOS, it was a dedicated Dutch word processing system, with huge 8 inch floppies, on which you could store I think 30 pages). The system was meant for just the secretaries, to type reports, but we, the three magazine editors, went with the secretaries on a course to learn it. We had the idea that with this we could publish the magazine without the expensive, bureaucratic and tiresome steps in between the editing and final printing (manual copy editing on typescripts, sending it by snail mail to the typesetter, getting strips back by snail mail, proofreading, sending it back again, doing the layout with the returned corrected strips, sending it back again, and then final proofreading – and always fights with the publisher about delivering to much typesetting work). So we started to do the typesetting by ourselves in-house – that indeed did save us money we had to pay to the publisher, and it was big fun, but of course it increased tremendously our working hours… First mistake 🙂
Nevertheless, I was completely in love with those word processing machines – magical typewriters, which enabled bypassing intermediary institutions by doing-it-yourself, hands-on (I still consider PCs that way). The same year I organized a conference and a special issue of the magazine about ‘The electronic social worker – Information technology and welfare’. The issue was about what would happen when computers would enter the field of social and community work. The issue and the conference addressed computer democracy, community building, client-registration systems, privacy issues, Orwell’s 1984, new labour relations, changes in quality of labour, social and cultural impact etc.
To write the general overview article I visited several clubs and institutions, among these an open day of the Utrecht School of Arts, which showed the latest stuff in the field of computer aided design and games. It was impressive, color screens, moving images (I had never seen that before), proud technophilic teachers giving demonstrations. But the most impressive moment was when three boys sneaked in (I guess 14-year old, clearly not the intended student target group, they had the wrong age, the wrong coats and the wrong Utrecht accent). They asked if they could show their stuff, because they had ‘some problems with sequencing’ they could not figure out. The teachers allowed them to put their cassettes in a computer, and at once all the other CAD-stuff in the room looked bleak and dull: this was the real stuff, very professional funny animations and games, including music. Homebrew! The embarrassed teachers immediately pulled the plug. The boys left, and I now regret forever that I did not talk to them. But that was the moment I realized: there must be a whole subculture out there, doing things with computers which will amaze the world…
Later at my work MS-DOS computers with WordPerfect and 5 1/4 inch floppies replaced the Océ proprietary system, and we started to use telephone modems to send the magazine completely laid out to the publisher. I started working as a copy editor at a weekly magazine, the Groene Amsterdammer, and because I had a little bit more knowledge about computer systems I also became the system manager (teaching the editorial team Windows and e-mail!), and now and then I wrote articles about computer culture, and later about the Internet.
Marianne really took time to reflect on what she thought when she first encountered computers, and I note that for her as well there is an idea that they can confer some kind of freedom; freedom from layers of control, freedom from the constraints of some other medium. Also, like Sher and Erna, Marianne had the experience of being the most knowledgeable in a community or workplace, and so sort of fell into the role of tech expert, and in her case actually gaining a title of system manager. I have a tone of material for this interview, so tomorrow I’ll post another entry but try to make it a little more of a digest.