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Amiga 800XL circa 1984, EZTV's first graphics computer

Digital Dinosaurs

February 2, 2020
Written by Michael J. Masucci

In the long march to digital mobility and the rise of social media, a number of evolutionary ‘dead-ends’ should be noted. A kind of techno-paleontology must be written, to preserve the memory, no matter how fleeting, of the ‘also-rans’ in the development and wide-spread acceptance of the tools which we now find ubiquitous.
The rise of the independent video artist, as a career category, by the mid-1980′s resulted a number of hardware technologies, some useful, others pretentious and over-rated. High among the later, was the Fairlight CVI (Computer Video Instrument), a device, which when integrated with video cameras and/or decks, would modify and add various filters and feedback loops. Few, in any serious artists used the CVI, at least not for very long. An exception, and perhaps among the best of the CVI artists was Rademas Pera. He and his partner Marsha Mann in addition to their stand alone work, collaborated with the San Francisco music group Freshly Wrapped Candies.
More interesting were the various ‘triggering’ devices, which performers, especially dancers, could employ, to either create music or lighting effects. Afred Desio was especially adept at the use of such devices, and he would create sonic landscapes to accompany his tap dancing.
By the time the first CyberArts International Conference took place, in September 1990, all the talk was around the soon to be inevitable rise and proliferation of VR (Virtual Reality) Various ‘experts’, declared that by 1995, VR would no doubt, entirely replace much in home entertainment, as art, movies, performances and other cultural achievements would be created and distributed on large, clumsy devices which you would attach to yourself and install in your living room. None of these ‘experts’ discussed the technological obstacles of computer bandwidth, throughput of storage. People like myself , who were stating that by 1995, maybe we would have viable digital video editing, were pushed to the side, and the ‘experts’, or should I say charlatans, took center stage.
It should be noted here, that when correct, but less dramatic information, is under-publicized, at the expense of the more fantastic, albeit less accurate hyped speculations, that a quicker advance of development is greatly inhibited. Futurists have often suffered a lack of credibility because of the more highly-publicized, but less accurate predictions of the near future (think- flying cars, moving sidewalks and food in a pill diets, as predicted in the early 2oth Century).We must strive for more accurate form of futurism, as opposed to what makes the best ‘copy’.
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001″ is to me, among the greatest achievements in film history. But it is, in retrospect, a work of fiction, and not futurism. It is a glimpse of what could have been, rather than what we became. It used high-ranking ‘experts’ to predict, back in the late 1960′s what the world of 2001 would offer. Multiple on-going bases on the moon, commercial flight to enormous orbiting space stations, equipped with its own gravity creation, and an exploratory manned mission to Jupiter. Today, 12 years after 2001, we haven’t been to the moon in many decades, our ‘space station’ is little more than some buses welded together, artificial gravity seems many years away. And the thought of a manned mission to Jupiter is so out-of reach that it is not often even discussed. Commercial space flight has happened, a few ‘space tourists’ have paid enormous sums to stay at the space station and soon, the wealthy will be able to take a several hour flight into sub orbit. Just like Virtual Reality, this is all a far cry from what the ‘experts’ predicted.
Obviously, someday VR will proliferate, but 1995 has come and gone, and we seem no nearer to that goal, outside of still limited university, military and corporate applications
Despite, all the premature predictions of a world of imminent and immersive VR, the most world-altering and soon to be innovations were rarely anticipated., Curiously, almost nobody at these conferences, discussed the next actual major innovation (other than digital video), the Internet. An exception worth noting should be Kit Gallaway and Sheri Rabinowitz, known collectively as “Electronic Cafe International”.
Also, by the early 1990′s a new, and seemingly promising medium, the CD-ROM, was over hyped and the realizations never even came close to the widely-reported expectations. At a time when ‘record stores’ still existed, places such as Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood, a massive multi-floor venue, dedicated an entire wing of its floor and shelf space, to these over-priced products.
Some artists jumped on-board to take the CD-ROM ride, but seldom were any of these experiments noteworthy.