In the period between 1975 and 1979, the Agency convened a rare series of conversations between an eccentric cast of characters representing a wide range of perspectives within the contemporary social, political and cultural milieu. The ARPANET Dialogues is a serial document which archives these conversations. Even more unusual perhaps was the specific circumstances of the conversation: taking advantage of recent developments in telecommunications technology, the conversation was conducted via an instant messaging application networked by computers plugged into ARPANET, the United States Department of Defense’s experimental computer network. All participants in the conversation were given special access to terminals connected to ARPANET, many of them located in US military installations or DOD-sponsored research institutions around the world.
The following transcript presents an excerpt of a conversation between Governor Ronald Reagan of California, artist Marcel Broodthaers, cultural anthropologist Edward Said, and actress Jane Fonda. The session was moderated by Maeve O’Reilly. Please note that the respective computer terminals for each participant were identified by the names of gods from Roman mythology and have here been changed to reflect the actual names of the participants. The application, still in its early stage of development, had limited syntax capability, thus punctuation was limited to the full stop.
RONALD REAGAN: Im not clear on the point of this exercise.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: Well I think we are testing the possibilities of this device.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: I understand it is to be launched much more widely soon. I suspect Jane will be the celebrity endorsement.
EDWARD SAID: Marcel I hope there is more to it than that.
RONALD REAGAN: OK but why us.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: Well think about the implications. Imagine what something like this would offer to the world.
EDWARD SAID: What are the implications. This will revolutionize they way people do business. Culture perhaps. Someone from Japan can have a conversation with someone from California. What about China.
RONALD REAGAN: Wouldnt you rather pick up the phone and call.
RONALD REAGAN: All this damned typing.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: You get faster.
EDWARD SAID: Yes I would but if it were to be cheap and inexpensive.
EDWARD SAID: Free.
RONALD REAGAN: Free. Well who pays for it in the end though.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: The people of course.
RONALD REAGAN: You mean taxes.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: I assume you are in a military communication centre like me. Both of you.
EDWARD SAID: But for a young man or woman in Sri Lanka this might help them voice their ideas to people like a university professor from Michigan or an architect from Bahia.
EDWARD SAID: The rich should pay.
RONALD REAGAN: I do see the value in this tool.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: How do you think these kinds of stronger connections with the world will benefit you Ronald.
RONALD REAGAN: Personally. Oh maybe I could keep in better touch with people I know who are far away. But I prefer face to face conversations to really do my work.
RONALD REAGAN: Seems like an interesting business opportunity.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: And what about for your citizens in California?
EDWARD SAID: But if a student of mine wanted to go to Iran they wouldnt have the money but they could discuss issues with Iranian students using this thing.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: Students I think could benefit from this greatly.
EDWARD SAID: Yes I can imagine.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: Vast networks of students.
EDWARD SAID: Networks. What does that mean really.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: Youth must be provided with the means to grasp this opportunity.
RONALD REAGAN: Sounds a bit out of control to me.
EDWARD SAID: Sounds suspicious.
MARCEL BROODTHAERS: The young will grasp its potential in a way we couldnt imagine.