Life in pix­els: The his­tory of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion

New ex­hi­bi­tion at the Onas­sis Cul­tural Cen­ter in Athens pro­vides in­sights into how and why tech­nol­ogy pushes cre­ative bound­aries

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIOULI EPTAKILI

There are few ar­eas of our lives that haven’t been im­pacted by dig­i­tal me­dia since the tech­nol­ogy first started to be­come widely avail­able in the 1970s, and the arts are no ex­cep­tion. From to­day un­til the be­gin­ning of next year, the Onas­sis Cul­tural Cen­ter in Athens will be invit­ing the pub­lic to see how vis­ual artists, film di­rec­tors, mu­si­cians, ar­chi­tects, de­sign­ers and game pro­gram­mers have em­braced this tech­nol­ogy and used it to push their cre­ative bound­aries. The tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion “Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion” was first pre­sented at Lon­don’s Bar­bican Cen­ter and is im­pres­sive in terms of vol­ume – the show fea­tures over 110 ex­hibits – as well as sub­stance, as it nar­rates the his­tory of the dig­i­tal arts while also an­tic­i­pat­ing what the fu­ture holds.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion traces rather prim­i­tive en­vi­ron­ments and ma­chin­ery all the way through the incredible pos­si­bil­i­ties of to­day’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence as well as ar­eas cur­rently in the ini­tial stages of dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ment,” said Chris­tos Carras, ex­ec­u­tive man­ager of the OCC. “Each ex­hibit gets vis­i­tors in­volved, al­low­ing for a cer­tain level of in­ter­ac­tion, even for those with no prior ex­pe­ri­ence in the dig­i­tal world. This makes the show ac­ces­si­ble to all age groups, to the en­tire fam­ily.”

Fol­low­ing are some high­lights from the show. The ex­hi­bi­tion, which marks the Greek cul­tural cen­ter’s first col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Bar­bican Cen­ter, runs to Jan­uary 10, 2016.

1975 – No prod­uct ad­ver­tis­ing

In 1975, Ed Roberts of Mi­cro In­stru­men­ta­tion and Teleme­try Sys­tems (MITS) came up with the idea of de­vel­op­ing a com­puter as­sem­bly kit. Be­fore the prod­uct was fin­ished, Pop­u­lar Elec­tron­ics mag­a­zine hit the news­stands with a pho­to­graph of the project’s empty case on its cover. An ad pro­mot­ing the Al­tair com­puter – named af­ter a “Star Trek” planet – at the price of 397 dol­lars also fea­tured in the same is­sue. Roberts re­cruited two Har­vard Univer­sity stu­dents to ad­just the BA­SIC pro­gram­ming lan­guage to Al­tair. The stu­dents were Paul Allen and Bill Gates. Six weeks later, the two of them cre­ated the Al­tair BA­SIC. It was the spark that set off the en­su­ing dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion.

1977 – Here comes Ap­ple II

Af­ter de­vel­op­ing Ap­ple I, Steve Woz­niak came up with a color com­puter in or­der to play Break­out, a game he had de­vel­oped with Steve Jobs as a fol­low-up to Pong. The re­sult was Ap­ple II, the world’s first ever per­sonal com­puter. The fu­ture of video games and com­put­ers had just con­verged.

1978 – ET phone home

Speech syn­the­sizer Speak & Spell, the work of pioneer engi­neer Paul Breedlove, was the first of its kind, an at­tempt to sim­u­late the range of the hu­man voice through a com­plete com­puter cir­cuit. While gen­er­ally speak­ing syl­la­ble games are not par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar, it’s a dif­fer­ent story when th­ese in­volve a com­puter that speaks. What bet­ter proof of this than pop cul­ture’s warm re­cep­tion of Breedlove’s in­ven­tion? Bri­tish syn­th­pop group Depeche Mode bor­rowed the de­vice’s name for its first al­bum, while ET hacked it and used it to call home.

1980 – What’s in a name?

Had its US dis­trib­u­tors ig­nored their fears of ma­li­cious folk van­dal­iz­ing the ar­cade games by re­plac­ing the P with an F, to­day we would still be talk­ing about the leg­endary Puck-Man, as the game was orig­i­nally known in its home­land, Ja­pan. In any case, Pac-Man be­came the ar­cade game with the high­est earn­ings of all time. By the end of the 1980s, Toru Iwatani’s mas­ter­piece had sur­passed “Star Wars” in terms of rev­enues. A com­pletely new game, which at­tracted both fe­male and male play­ers, Pac-Man turned into a pop cul­ture leg­end, demon­strat­ing the power of videogame char­ac­ters.

1985 – Par­ty­ing with the mouse

Steve Jobs gave Sean Len­non an Ap­ple Mac for his 9th birth­day. Andy Warhol was also at the birth­day party and at one point, Jobs be­gan teach­ing the pop artist how to use the mouse. Less than a year later, Com­modore pre­sented the Amiga 1000, billed as the first mul­ti­me­dia com­puter, at the Lin­coln Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in New York. The evening’s high­light was the cre­ation of a live work of art on stage by Warhol, who used Amiga’s ProPaint soft­ware. The work’s sub­ject was singer Deb­bie Harry.

2009 – An­gry Birds

When Steve Jobs un­veiled the iPhone in 2007, he promised this would be a de­vice way ahead of the rest. He kept his word. The smart­phone gen­er­a­tion that fol­lowed per­fectly in­cor­po­rated the dig­i­tal world into ev­ery as­pect of our lives. Th­ese are not just phones: They pro­vide our en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem and our so­cial net­work; they are our link to the rest of the world. The ap­pli­ca­tion which best cap­tures this mon­u­men­tal change is Rovio En­ter­tain­ment’s An­gry Birds. As bil­lions of peo­ple be­gan launch­ing flight­less birds against en­raged pigs, dig­i­tal cul­ture turned into cul­ture.

2013 – A dress for Lady Gaga

Cel­e­brated for its in­no­va­tive and provoca­tive ap­proach to fash­ion and wear­able tech­nol­ogy, fash­ion tech­nol­ogy com­pany Stu­dio XO co-founded TechHaus with Lady Gaga dur­ing the cam­paign for the launch of the singer’s “Art­pop” al­bum in 2012. The para­met­ric, sculp­tured, fly­ing dress, known as Volan­tis and com­mis­sioned by the singer, was in­spired by the al­bum’s cover, ex­e­cuted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with ac­claimed pop artist Jeff Koons. In­spired by a verse in Gaga’s song “Ap­plause” – “One Sec­ond I’m a Koons, then sud­denly the Koons is me” – the curvy, made-to-mea­sure long black dress was printed on the world’s largest 3D prin­ter, Ma­te­ri­alise’s Mam­moth Stere­olithog­ra­phy.

fea­tures over 110 ex­hibits trac­ing the his­tory of the dig­i­tal arts, while pro­vid­ing a glimpse of what is yet to come. The show, which opens at the Onas­sis Cul­tural Cen­ter to­day, was first pre­sented at the Bar­bican Cen­ter in Lon­don.

‘Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion’

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