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This article presents the ten dreams of technology that frame the author/curator's selection of ten new media artworks. The "dreams" or themes presented by the author have been developed and/or questioned by artists throughout the history of the intersection of art and technology. This history emerges through artworks that the author describes as containing a "compelling vitality that we must admire." The collection of dreams includes: Symbiosis, Emergence, Immersion, World Peace, Transparency, Flows, Open Work, Other, New Art, and Hacking. The author notes that these dreams of technology have a future, even if it is not yet determined.

Tom Stoppard, in his play Arcadia, states, " The future is disorder… It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong." From Richard Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk and Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto to Nam June Paik's "electronic highway" and Jaron Lanier's virtual reality universe to Roy Ascott's "vegetal reality," the history of the intersection of art and technology is one of the prognostications of an irrefutable, inevitable, and even immanent future that never comes to pass—at least not exactly as we thought it might [1].

This is not to deny that Douglas Engelbart or Alan Kay or Marc Weiser, or even Brenda Laurel and Purple Moon "predict the future by inventing it" [2]. Arguably, however, "technological art" is always less fulfilling than when the technology on which it is based becomes more or less invisible—a tool like a pencil, as John Baldessari would have it. The ultimate demonstration may have been Engelbart's mouse—a spellbinding vision of a future few others could even imagine at the time. But it is Perry Hoberman's Cathartic User Interface that is the most compelling and cathartic statement of where that future has dumped us [3].

In between the invention of a technology and its quotidian disappearance are the manifestoes, declaimed and implicit. Janet Murray has suggested the notion of "incunabular" media. In this stage we can imagine the outlines of Shakespeare and the very idea of a written literature in the magical, mechanical reproductions of the early printing press. We can also imagine something beyond the incunabular RPG and shooter video games.

In either case, these dreams of a certain future have such compelling vitality that we must admire them, even as we quibble about their navel-gazing mediumness and complain about how simplistic and complex they are. We must then acknowledge their inability to change humankind into the likeness of their vision.

Here, in no particular order, are ten dreams of technology that have a future, even if we do not yet know what it is and despite the certainty with which it is predicted [4].

3. The Dream of Immersion

Whereas the public, that representative of daily life, forgets the confines of the auditorium, and lives and breathes now only in the artwork which seems the wide expanse of the whole World.

—Richard Wagner, Outlines of the Artwork of the Future [14]

From Wagner to Daguerre's panoramic dioramas to James Turrell's Roden Crater, artists have dreamed of artworks in which the viewer is totally immersed. So-called virtual reality is one technological manifestation of this dream. One of the earliest pioneers in this regard was Myron Krueger, who created what he called "responsive environments" and coined the term "artificial reality." Regarding the efficacy of what came to he called virtual reality, Krueger had this to say in an interview:

It is true that today's virtual reality provides very limited tactile feedback, almost no proprioceptive feedback (as would be provided by walking on a sandy beach or on rough terrain), rare opportunities to smell, and little mobility. However, it is just getting started. Criticizing a new idea because it is not yet fully realized seems unreasonably impatient. On that basis, the caves at Lascaux would never have been painted because we did not have a full palette and could not animate in three dimensions. Give us a few centuries and then revisit this complaint [15].

Not quite a few centuries later, one of the most important and successful heirs working with immersive environments is Char Davies and her works Osmose (1995) and Ephémère (1998) [16]. For her, envelopment is core and at the same time anti-Cartesian:

For a long time, I have been interested in conveying a sense of being enveloped in an all-encompassing, all-surrounding space, a subjective embodied experience that is very different from the Cartesian notion of absolute, empty, abstract, xyz space [17].

In a sense, Davies is attempting to create completely non-technical feeling spaces and experiences with some of the highest technology available [18]. One way she does this is to use breath and balance as a means of navigation. It is not about gesturing or tracking or manipulating input devices. One uses one's whole body to float through the worlds of Osmose. Davies' dream of immersion is an almost literal one—dreamlike and enveloping—with no pretense at simulation and no mimetic worries about the computers ability to render polygons in order to create photorealistic environments.


1. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality (Norton: New York. 2001) is an excellent general resource for original documents related to the Ten Dreams of Technology.
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2. See http://www.smalltalk.org/alankay.html for context of this oft quoted remark by Kay.
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3. Perry Hoberman, Cathartic User interface, 1995. http://www.hoberman.com/perry. [May 2007: link not active. Visit http://www.perryhoberman.com/page30/index.html]†.
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4. Ten is an arbitrary number, and it should be clear that every referred project exceeds its particular category.
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14. Richard Wagner, "Outlines of the Artwork of the Future," in Multimedia [1].
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15. Myron Krueger Live, Interview with Jeremy Turner, CTheory, ARTICLES: A104, January 23, 2002; http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=328.
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16. http://www.immersence.com/immersence_home.htm.
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17. Char Davies, Interview with Carol Gigliotti; http://www.immersence.com/publications/2002-CGigliotti.html
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18. Davies is currently in the process of porting Osmose and Ephémère from high-end Silcon Graphics computers to the Playstation 2 platform. [Erratum: the works were ported to a PC platform in 2002, not the Playstation 2]†
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This article may include minor changes from the original publication in order to improve legibility and layout consistency within the Immersence Website. † Significant changes from the original text have been indicated in red square brackets.

Last verified: August 1st 2013.