Professor Michael Meimaris
I arrived in Paris in June 1968; therefore I do not belong to the group of people who created May of ’68. The street Gay-Lussac, where a lot of the protests and riots took place, was by then stripped of almost all of its pavés –the big rocks that once constructed the road and were later used by students as ammunition in their battles with the French police. You can see these pavés in the pictures taken after the riots. By the time I arrived in Paris, the street had been laid with asphalt concrete and tar –goudronné is the French word. Despite that, I managed to find and “steal” one such piece of pavé from this historic street, which accompanied me for a long time during my life in Paris, until I finally lost it due to the continuous moves from apartment to apartment I had to make as a student.
The University Pierre et Marie Curie or otherwise known as Paris VI is a part of the Faculté des Sciences and is situated at the Jussieu, former Halles aux Vins, which means “wine market”. I was fortunate enough to have as my teacher, maitre we used to call him and we meant it, Professor Jean-Paul Benzécri, one of the founders of Data Analysis, or more precisely, of the Multidimensional Data Analysis. I chose my expertise to be in Correspondence Factor Analysis and Cluster Analysis –the English terms for Analyse Factorielle des Correspondances and Classification Automatique.
My personal history follows a somewhat parallel path with the history of the technological evolution of the computer, and that is the reason, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and students, why I chose to narrate it to you in the form of a digital story at this opening session of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi.
As postgraduate students at Paris VI, in trying to tame, to control the amount of data that consist the basis of every descriptive statistics method, we had to use the gigantic IBM 370 mainframe systems, which were isolated in the University’s basements, so that they would not be contaminated. To me, a theoretical mathematician who had graduated from the University of Athens and had to deal with the fact that the unknown variables x, y and z of the differential equations had inevitably lost any sense of awe since they were now associated with height, weight, population, colour etc., the only way to communicate with these monsters of technology was a small window with the label “dispatching”, through which I would put boxes with thousands of punched cards. And just a wrong comma or a full stop was enough to make me return to the machine the next day with my boxes and wait in a queue to start over.
What made me later on, at the beginning of the ‘80s, turn to the study of Communication and the Media was a job I took at the French newspaper Liberation in order to earn my living. Liberation at the time was a fresh, leftish newspaper. We see, for example, that when Hergé, the creator of Tin-Tin, died, the paper used pictures from his comic throughout the whole issue, to cover all sorts of news. Given my knowledge in computers, my post at Liberation was to work with projects involving the Videotex and its terminal, the minitel. In the late 70s, Videotex in France was something like today’s Internet, a two-way medium which operated using the telephone lines. Later on, I was there when the personal computer revolution took place –especially the one involving Apple’s Macintosh and the Graphical User Interface (GUI) system.
As my personal history continues, I find myself in 1990 at the University of Athens, the oldest (founded in 1837) and largest in numbers (with one hundred twenty thousand 120000 students) Greek University, where along with a number of colleagues we establish the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies. Our ongoing relationship with your University already counts 15 years. It started when, in collaboration with the late Seppo Liljeström, we implemented the European Master in Multimedia and Audiovisual Business Administration. A number of other programmes followed, that educated a lot of professionals in the field of the New Media.
And the course of technology continues. We at the Laboratory of New Technologies that I direct follow its steps, undertaking projects involving digital games-based learning, blended learning, usability and adaptability issues, locative media, and VR applications, through which the collaboration between our two institutions continues -let me mention, for example, the projects E-mobilArt and EMACIM.
Today every Human Computer Interaction (HCI) system should be characterized by usability, accessibility, and, of course, the sense of omnipresence. But in a time when, and Finland is a country in the frontline of such advancements, the mobile phone connections have surpassed in numbers the land line ones, Digital Nomads and Permanent Connectivity are notions in our everyday life. Our world is now characterized by computers connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the new services offered are both communicational and participatory.
According to Marc Prensky, in our digital world, we all fall under one of the categories: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, or Digital Foreigners. I personally, by having my emails printed out and by turning off my computer, obviously have an “accent” in this world, being an immigrant like my ancestors at Ellis Island in the port of New York in the last century.
At these times, more than ever, we should ask ourselves the 6 questions Neil Postman posed in his book Building a Bridge to the 18th Century concerning the implementation of any technology. These questions are:
*What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?
*Whose problem is it?
*What new problems might be created by solving the original problem?
*Which people and what institutions will be most seriously harmed by this new technology?
*What changes in language are being forced by these new technologies?
*What sort of people and institutions gain special economic and political power from this new technology?
In light of these advancements, the concept of Being Digital, proposed by Nicholas Negroponte in 1995, should be transformed to Being Human and the Human Computer Interaction should now be conceived as Human Computer Human Interaction. Computing nowadays must be ubiquitous, pervasive, ambient and disappearing, and the four stage model of product design should incorporate yet another phase, that of understanding.
I have always been interested in life stories, like the one I tried to briefly tell to you today. From my articles in the Liberation in 1983 and the short stories in my book “Two eras in a third one” that was published in 2008, we are moving on today to the implementation of digital storytelling through research, academic courses, seminars and other applications such as the creation of a usable platform, called “the Apple Tree”, where you can upload, create and share children stories –and not only. In fact, in approaching the issue of intergenerational communication through specific projects and events, we have produced stories put together by young and not so young anymore people, exploring also the role new technologies could play in this area. But while technology creates or uplifts the gap between the generations, we all, men and women, young and old, still face the same problems, and we are forced to fight for their solution, sometimes even in the streets.
So the question posed by Norman Cousins already in 1966 “whether the computer will make it easier or harder for human beings to know who they really are, to identify their real problems, to respond more fully to beauty, to place adequate value on life, and to make their world safer than it now is” still stands. In my opinion, the only answer, the only hope, and let’s say it out loud, here at the auditorium of the University of Lapland, where you made me the honour to attend my speech, following the gracious invitation of my friend, your rector, Professor Mauri-Ylä Kotola, our only hope for the future, my dear friends, lies in education, παιδεία in greek.