Radical Software, Vol 1 No 1

The Alternate Television Movement,
Spring 1970

In 1970, the height of the Nixon era, media activists saw TV as a sophisticated vehicle for social control whose broad purposes were to deliver the people to advertisers, and make public opinion easy to orchestrate.

Reading Teilhard, McLuhan, Bateson, McCulloch, Wiener and others, they developed the premise that if one could understand how our culture used information, one could devise a mix of strategies, using 1/2" video equipment, to leverage the rigid world information order of the time.

They thought reversing the process of television, giving people access to the tools of production and distribution, giving them control of their own images and, by implication, their own lives - giving them permission to originate information on the issues most meaningful to themselves - might help accelerate social and cultural change. Connectivity, the Videosphere as defined by Gene Youngblood based on an earlier idea by Teilhard, was an important part of the vision - an early stab at articulating the connected world, and a way to get there.

Part of the focus was on the psychological impact of the direct video experience itself, a process Paul Ryan called "self-cybernation." Ordinary citizens did not see themselves on television except very occasionally, and then were never allowed to directly address the broadcast audience, but were always mediated by a caste of television professionals who provided context - a 'wraparound'.

Perhaps it was a reaction only possible at that historic moment, but the experience of seeing and hearing oneself on videotape, unmediated, both alone and interacting in society, not once, but as many times as wanted, was startling and liberating. This 'feedback' process empowered many with new self-understanding and provided much of the impetus of early portable video.