The context of the concept of the 0+network

In the fall of 1989 we discussed what an AIDS network might entail, as can be seen from the message we sent out in November to Lee Felsenstein. Rolf Pixley, Gert Hulstein, Hans Bronkhorst and Matthew Lewis all connected to the Center for Innovation and Collaborative Technology (CICT) at the University of Amsterdam and Michael Polman from Antenna, and Rop Gonggrijp from Hack-Tic, had already met each other at the Galactic Hacker Party. All their ideas contributed to the 0+net that was eventually set up. We had shared and witnessed the variety of new mediated presences together at the GHP and discussed these at length. When starting to discuss the possibility of an AIDS network, the CICT embraced this idea at once and facilitated its members to work on the project.

The CICT was a centre where insights from cybernetics were combined with insights from critical theory and knowledge about technology. It was founded and directed by Professor Gerard de Zeeuw. The CICT was internationally oriented, so the latest insights from a variety of sources were utilised: from various academic disciplines, different regions in the world, the latest technological developments. Issues were discussed philosophically, as well as real demos being made. The work carried out was conceptually very profound, and this may explain why the 0+Network, and the concepts underlying it, still reflect issues that are relevant today in the design of social applications for technology. The principles that underlie the functioning of sites like Amazon, Wikipedia and MSN had already been conceived of at this time. Even the idea of the graphical interface for the Internet (the World Wide Web did not exist in 1990) had not been conceived of earlier. Rolf Pixley, the developer of the 0+Network, was deeply involved in the thinking that took place at the CICT and in its circle of international scholars. The notions for the design of new technologies that the CICT was exploring at the time were: self structuring, feedback, trustworthiness, reliability, easy access, intuitive interfaces, conversation, orchestrating chaos, entropy and others.

With hindsight, I realise that at the time I took the work that was being carried out for granted. We were 'just' pushing the limits. Professor Gerard de Zeeuw, who founded and chaired the CICT, had been the first professor I studied with 12 years earlier in the department of Andragology, and I was a student assistant under him in the early 1980's. Strangely enough, I never made the connection to the work of professor de Zeeuw during the GHP and the 0+Ball. It appeared coincidental that Gert Hulstein facilitated access for the Amsterdam hackers, and that he and his colleagues got involved in the GHP. I got to know Gert Hulstein through Rop Gonggrijp, who was occasionally working with Professor Herschberg in Leiden at the time. I got to know Rolf Pixley, Matthew Lewis and Hans Bronkhorst through Gert. Naturally, they became the group of people that was also involved in the 0+Ball and the network as well. But they did not only get involved; they conceptually shaped our, and my, understanding of what was happening and what was possible. They were accustomed to having conversations about these issues and were used to making things work. Matthew Lewis, who was ultimately the person who founded HIVnet following the 0+Ball, was also part of this circle.

During the GHP and the 0+Ball other people connected to the CICT spoke to professor de Zeeuw. I considered the contribution of the CICT to be a given, and I thought it coincidental that I worked with people who were working with the same professor as I once studied with. I just enjoyed the ideas and the work that was carried out. Much later, after the 0+Ball, the CICT presented the 0+Ball as part of their work to the international committee that had to judge this work's quality. I was not involved in this presentation but learned about it through others. In 2004 at the London School of Economics I met professor Patrick Humphries who was part of the committee and clearly remembered the work as well as its outstanding quality. Reading and reflecting upon the way Anthony Giddens describes the 'double hermeneutic', I realise that I could have analysed what took place in a different way if I had taken the perspective of the 'double hermeneutic' as Giddens defines it. In the glossary of terminology Giddens defines 'double hermaneutic' as "the intersection of two frames of meaning as a logically necessary part of social science, the meaningful social world as constituted by lay actors and the meta-languages invented by social scientists; there is a constant 'slippage' from one to the other involved in the practice of the social sciences." (Giddens 1984). All these facts only transpired because I, and others, were thinking in a certain way which determined our perception and determined what we thought was possible and therefore determined our actions, and vice versa our actions have influenced the work of the social scientists involved.

When I ask myself what influenced my thinking at the age of 19, I see it was the way De Zeeuw defined and explained processes of change as a methodological issue in social science and social practice. For change to occur a direction needs to be formulated, and on the bases of this formulated direction an analysis can be made of the current situation, after which steps can be formulated. When the first steps are taken, the effect of these steps is analysed from the perspective of the formulated direction as well as the formulation of the direction being evaluated in the light of the effect brought about by the steps that were taken. The direction will possibly have to be re-formulated, the next steps will possibly have to be adapted. It makes sense to me now that the notions that were at the heart of the work of the CICT in 1990 derive from this thinking about change. At the CICT, scholars were well aware that when designing technology one is actually designing social structures between people.

Just like the contributions of others, my personal contribution has been significant in the coalescing of these events and I realise that the same academic circle had apparently inspired some of us. Not everyone. Patrice Riemens, Rop Gonggrijp and David Garcia did not have links to the CICT. Patrice Riemens came from a critical tradition within the field of social geography and had specialized in the effects of globalisation. Rop Gonggrijp was influenced by the hacker community of the 1980's (2600, Datenschleuder, Bluf!) which nurtured curiosity towards the technology as well as critical thinking about technology and the responsibilities one has when understanding technology.note 197 David Garcia came from an international tradition of art criticism, which also used new technologies. Apparently, we were all part of this 'critical' tradition.

Critique in the social sciences is quite a different thing than critique as it is applied in the natural sciences. "Theories in the natural sciences which have been replaced by others which do the same job better are of no interest to the current practice of science. This cannot be the case where those theories have helped to constitute what they interpret or explicate. The 'history of ideas' may perhaps justifiably be regarded as of marginal importance to the practising natural scientist, but it is more tangential to the social sciences. (É) theories and findings in the social sciences are likely to have practical (and political) consequences regardless of whether or not the sociological observer or policy-maker decides that they can be 'applied' to a given practical issue." (Giddens 1984, XXXV).

When I was writing stories in the text laboratory, I found that I could not initially tell the stories without revisiting the framework of the social sciences that I'd done at the time. To be able to tell what had happened, the 'frameworks' of the social sciences as I had learned them in the 1980's unavoidably surfaced. The "double process of translation or interpretation" was triggered because when describing what happens, it is not possible to not address the meaning that is produced (Giddens 1984, 284). In my case, where I have switched between a social scientist and a lay person who makes things happen, the double hermaneutic, as formulated by Giddens, surfaced in a very literal way during the writing of the stories in the text laboratory. It was revealing and confusing as regards the value of the work carried out at the time, and it also confused me as to the value of the work carried out now.

The creation of the 0+Network was the result of thinking from the perspective of the critical tradition in the social sciences, the arts and political movements. I realize that my evaluation so far is also coloured by this critical thinking, which may also influence new things that come as a result of the current study. In this study I have developed 'second-order' concepts and it is in the nature of the social sciences that these become 'first-order' concepts by being appropriated within social life itself (Giddens 1984, 284). How the results of this social science study will find their way into the concepts that lay people work with, cannot be dictated. However, it is interesting to see that the work carried out at the time has found its value partly in other traditions than were foreseen at the time. After seventeen years most of the work of the CICT has now become part of organization and management theory. The University of Amsterdam disbanded the CICT in 1991, its academic contributions were not considered satisfactory. Some of the scholars from the CICT have since become attached to the Social Psychology Department of the London School of Economics (UK), one of them being Professor Gerard de Zeeuw himself. In regards to the 0+Network, as legendary as it is today in certain circles, I must conclude that the concept of accessibility, which is executed on the interface level by adopting human values and capacities as a starting point for design, has been proven to be valuable and used in many practices today.