Did J.G. Ballard and avant-garde artists use an analogue form of twitter?

12 11 2009

JG BallardThe following passage from a 1984 interview with the writer J.G. Ballard is fascinating reading for anyone who likes the broad range of specialist information that Twitter provides:

“For years, Dr. Christopher Evans, a psychologist in the computer branch of the National Physical Laboratory literally sent me the contents of his wastebasket. Once a fortnight, a huge envelope arrived filled with scientific reprints and handouts, specialist magazines and reports, all of which I read carefully. Another close friend, Dr. Martin Bax, sends me a lot of similar material. The sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi is a restless globe-trotter who culls Japanese and American magazines for unusual material. Vale, the San Francisco publisher of the Re/Search series—with excellent volumes on Burroughs and Gysin, and the latest Industrial Culture Handbook—is a one-man information satellite beaming out a stream of fascinating things. Readers of mine send in a lot of material, for which I’m grateful. The leader of the rock group SPK, who visited me a week ago, told me that he believes that there is a group of some two or three thousand people in Europe and the States who circulate information among each other. Sadly, modern technology, which ought to be so liberating, threatens all this.”

The cross-fertilization of scientific investigation, different art mediums, and different cultures, provided these writers, artists, and scientists with countless new ideas and insights. However, technological limitations meant that the only way to share was literally to send the contents of a wastepaper basket. Now, each piece of wastepaper is a link on twitter, each referral a re-tweet. Such access to information was a faraway dream in 1984, and, interestingly, Ballard is sure that technological change is (in practice) a threat to such information-sharing and collaboration.

The post-bureaucratic age is absolutely not confined to government. As so often, art, culture, and science lead the way, only for government to labour behind, digging in its heels. Ballard and his (global) circle recognised and profited from the practice of sharing information cross-discipline and cross-continent. Hopefully government can follow their lead.



One response

8 12 2009
william perrin

and while you are at it, see Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and the later Jagged Orbit as arguably the first use of hypertext (in the 1960s)


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