Multimedia Early Days

I was recalling those early days at VFS Multimedia, when it was one of the first schools in North America to teach interactive media skills – in a specifically-designed building with low light and tons of machines. It was, I think, 1995 or so, and I joined the teaching staff there just after its first year of operation. David Baker’s vision established this school, and we saw many of the early visionaries pass through the doors to give talks and share their take on things. I can recall Jaron Lanier, John Perry Barlow, Bruce Sterling, Eric McLuhan, and Stelarc were there – over time. People from the local industries came to give talks and presentations and there was an artist in residence program that had included Jim Cummings, Nardwuar, and Elizabeth Fischer, and others, like New York composer Stefan Tischler. Instructors had incredible freedom to come and go, to expand and learn, to experiment and develop.

We communicated by email all the time and it was impossible to explain to people outside of the place just what exactly the whole program was all about. It was exciting and it was hot. It was a real pressure-cooker for the students who were breaking new ground, and the instructors who were keeping up with new software and opportunities at every new term. Now we take all that interactivity for granted, but then it was all new, all innovative. This whole entity shifted as the medium became more established. The school began to see the need to connect with industry, as there now was an industry fully established, and the dot com boom was in full swing. We renamed it New Media, and carried on, riding the bobsled through the crash and out the other side – no more space for the artistic side – ROI rules, give industry what they want, train for skills, phaseout.

I remember David Baker’s vision had included the Web Cafe, to be the first cyber cafe in the city (design inspired by the film Brazil.) Not like the wifi cafe setups we expect now, these cafes were the only places to get highspeed access (whatever qualified as fast for those days, that is.) But by the time the cafe opened, the moment had already passed.

Still, I remember the excitement of those early days, seeing Cyberia, the first cyber-cafe in London. I think it was 95 (or 96?). (I was still working in media distribution at that time, and we were there before going to a television market in Cannes.) This scene was considered hot hot hot. Just a hole in the wall with people in faded clothes sitting at computers, but the site of fashion shoots and other photo ops. Downstairs in the grotty basement we had a look at a chill zone private party space Greg Rosselli was setting up. Old (very old London basement) walls painted white, small bar, lounging spaces. I thought, wow, this is amazing! Outside I saw a well-groomed tall grey-haired man in an impeccable pinstripe suit going into the building. He looked like he didn’t belong to the whole scene. “Who’s that?” I asked. The reply: “The owner.” That’s when I got the picture: it’s all about business. (Oh, and theatre.)

Since then, the software and hardware have all changed and the processes are easier. It’s hard to imagine a time when life wasn’t mediated in this way. Now we have the ubiquity and connectivity that was being first forged in those days.

Another a small memory note here: those Voyager CD-ROMs.

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