straight up

Multimedia is emerging as the defining medium of the 21st century. The World Wide Web, CD-ROMs, virtual reality arcade games, and interactive installations only hint at the forms of multimedia to come. Yet the concept of integrated, interactive media has its own long history, an evolution that spans over 150 years. Remarkably, this has been a largely untold story. Discussions of the development of the personal computer and the Internet tend to focus on a few highly successful entrepreneurs, neglecting the less known work of the engineers and artists who first sought to craft a medium that would appeal to all the senses simultaneously – a medium that would mimic and enhance the creative capacities of the human mind. Here, then, is a "secret history" of multimedia: a narrative that includes the pioneering activities of a diverse group of artists, scientists, poets, musicians, and theorists from Richard Wagner to Ivan Sutherland, from Vannevar Bush to Bill Viola.

Beginning with Wagner, subsequent generations of artists sought, and found, integrated forms and interdisciplinary strategies to express their concern with individual and social consciousness and extreme states of subjective experience.

In the years since World War II, scientists have pursued personal computing and human-computer interactivity as vehicles for transforming consciousness, extending memory, increasing knowledge, amplifying the intellect, and enhancing creativity.

The idealistic and ideological aspirations of both groups have resulted in a new medium that emphasizes individual choice, free association, and personal expression.