On April 6, 2021, Gene Youngblood has died. I had the honour to edit with Simonetta Fadda the Italian edition of his seminal essay Expanded Cinema, published in 1970, in <mediaversi>, a book series coproduced by Noema. I remember when I asked him for the rights of his books, he gave me for free, and we have been staying in touch for some years. In 2020 he sent me the “Introduction to the Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Expanded Cinema” before the book was on the market, in order to publish it in Noema. It was a honour for us, as well as it is a honour now to celebrate Gene Youngblood’s fundamental work proposing that essay again.
Pier Luigi Capucci, Noema President
[This text is the Introduction to Expanded Cinema Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, New York, Fordham University Press, 2020]
The way out is via the door. Why is it that no one will use this method? (Confucius)
Expanded Cinema was written by a twenty-six-year-old former crime reporter with only a high school education. It was based on articles published between 1967 and 1970 in the Los Angeles Free Press, the first and most influential of the underground newspapers that flourished in countercultural America at that time.
I wrote 148 articles for the Free Press, in six categories: film, music, theater, cultural commentary, new media, and Buckminster Fuller. The new media columns were printed under the headings Expanded Cinema or Intermedia, depending on the subject. They used the same logo, a fish-like bull’s-eye eyeball, which became iconic and could have served as my byline.
The phrase “expanded cinema” was coined in 1966 by the American experimental filmmaker and pioneer multimedia artist Stan VanDerBeek. A passionate visionary and a longtime friend, VanDerBeek anticipated the Internet decades in advance with his poetic notion of a “culture intercom” – a worldwide communication network whose multimedia transmissions would be displayed in hemispherical “movie-dromes” like the one, made with the top of a grain silo, that he built at Stony Point, New York, in 1966 for expanded cinema performances.
The Intermedia columns in the Free Press took the title of a landmark 1966 article  by Dick Higgins, an avant-garde provocateur, philosopher, and key player in the legendary international community of artists, composers, designers, and poets in the 1960s and ’70s known as Fluxus . Higgins derived “intermedia” from “intermedium,” a term he discovered in an 1812 lecture by the British poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who borrowed it from chemistry to use as a metaphor. Higgins coined “intermedia” to describe an emerging interdisciplinary direction in midcentury art that included improvisational happenings, multimedia installations, and performance art. Higgins characterized Fluxus not as a movement but as “a shared attitude” among postmodernists.
I researched and wrote additional pages of Expanded Cinema in 1969 and early 1970, living for a year and a half on $80 a week from the Free Press. I submitted the manuscript to E. P. Dutton & Company at the end of May 1970, and the book was published five months later, on November 12. I thought maybe four hippies would read it, but it sold nearly 50,000 copies in seven years, going out of print at the end of 1977.
Expanded Cinema marked the beginning of the end of medium specificity that would happen decades later in the great digital convergence. That’s why the book’s cover was an image from Scott Bartlett’s 1967 16mm film Offon, the first film to incorporate video graphics as an aesthetic element.
The idea of a communications revolution entered the countercultural imagination as I wrote Expanded Cinema. Before I finished the book, I wrote a “call to arms” for the inaugural edition in 1970 of the now-legendary journal Radical Software. It was the beginning of my lifelong commitment to media-centered radical political theory. In nearly 400 lectures around the world in the ensuing years, I never once spoke about Expanded Cinema as such. It was always this idea of a communications revolution – the decentralization and pluralization of the social construction of realities. It seemed perpetually about to happen, so I called it “the utopian myth” until the enabling technological infrastructure – digital convergence and the Internet – was in place at the millennium. Ever since the myth became reality, I have called the communications revolution “secession from the Broadcast,” exhorting all who desire it to leave our manifestly lethal culture as the first step toward creative destruction of the audience-nation. The door stands open before us.
The Challenge to Create at Scale
I turn these ancient pages across the most eventful and portentous half-century in human history. We live in futures that have come to pass. On the one hand, there’s the geological epoch known as the Anthropocene, the willful integration of human and natural ecologies down to molecular and subatomic levels. For forty years I have called it “the global ecosocial system.” Mind in nature, yes, but it’s our mind in nature. That’s the problem. It has generated the planetary ecosocial crisis that looms on the horizon of our uncertain future.
On the other hand, we’re entering a new technological epoch I call The Build. Eighty-six years ago, in his book Technics and Civilization , Lewis Mumford referred to the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century as the Paleotechnic era. Fifty years ago, in Expanded Cinema, I characterized emerging electronic technologies as the Paleocybernetic era. Today, with artificial intelligence spreading rapidly, and with quantum computing on the horizon, the Paleocybernetic begins again beyond anything previously imagined outside of science fiction. It offers the only possibility of our meeting the unprecedented challenge that faces humankind – the challenge to create at the same scale as we can destroy. Three words capture the essence of the new technic: the verb “to world,” its inflection “worlding,” and the noun “worlder.” They do not refer to online games. More about that later.
For the remainder of this Introduction I want to remember three ideas and five people associated with them who influenced my thinking and my life profoundly across these fifty years. Each offered potential solutions to the ecosocial crisis – Buckminster Fuller’s comprehensive anticipatory design science, Heinz von Foerster and Humberto Maturana’s second-order systems theory, and the telecollaboration models of Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. These people were mentors and role models, but our friendships were something deeper. They made me who I am.
Among readers of the Free Press was a young man in New York City named Edwin Schlossberg, who was earning two Ph.D.’s simultaneously at Columbia University, in Literature and in the Philosophy of Science. He was a key player in my life at that time. He introduced me to something called World Game and, through that, to the universe of R. Buckminster Fuller. He was the go-between when I asked Bucky to write the Introduction to Expanded Cinema in the spring of 1970. Bucky was a counterculture hero at the height of his fame. He was seventy-five years old; I was twenty-eight. I was thrilled to be in his presence, not daring to imagine we would be friends for the next thirteen years, until his death in 1983 at age eighty-seven.
Nation states are blood clots in planetary metabolism.
Working is proving your right to live.
The birth certificate is the only credit card.
Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses us.
There is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance.
You either make sense or you make money.
“Reality” should always be in quotes.
Bucky’s words never fell upon more receptive countercultural ears. I was on fire. I wanted to be Buckminster Fuller. I wrote five lengthy articles about him and World Game for the Free Press. I gave a Bucky-style three-hour extemporaneous lecture about World Game in the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture and published it in four installments. Nine articles total, between December 1969 and May 1970. They were the most extensive account of World Game in a public forum to that date .
World Game and its associated World Resources Inventory were Bucky’s way of doing what he called “comprehensive anticipatory design science” at a planetary scale. He devoted his life to “making the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” It was a grand failure in his lifetime, as was the counterculture that nourished the idea. That’s actually an honor, because one grand failure is worth a thousand banal failures. And anyway, neither one failed completely. The legacies of the World Game concept and the lived experience of 1960s counterculture remain with us. Bucky’s vision has influenced generations of designers, architects, scientists, and artists working to create a more sustainable ecosocial system.
World Game today is about far more than resource management. It’s a visualization of the global ecosocial system as an integrated, dynamic whole. That’s an essential technology if we are to effectively address the ecosocial crisis at scale. As I write this, it appears that evolving World Games will be played with an “immersive” Internet, newly under construction. It is intended to support spatial computing with AI-assisted “reality” technologies (VR, AR, MR, XR) that reside in what is being called at this time the decentralized AR Cloud. Developers assure us the Cloud will be a democratic public commons, not controlled by the centralized tyrannies of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. For me, reality technologies are the new expanded cinema.
The currently embryonic AR Cloud is a three-dimensional, 1:1 mapping of the physical world. In that sense, the real world itself is the operating system. Everything will run off it. Future World Games will be played not on Dymaxion maps but on virtual real-world locations. When World Gamers log in to this map-as-big-as-the-world, it is said they will interact with an “enabled” landscape wherein every addressable, two-square-centimeter component will be a portal to massive datasets that will increasingly reveal and explain whatever one wants to know about its physical properties and its structural couplings with the world, including human culture. One might fancy, then, that in their endless becoming, each smart virtual-world module will evolve into what Jorge Luis Borges might call a “Cyber-Aleph,” a digital point in space that contains all other digital points in space. If all this actually comes to pass, it seems reasonable to assume that we are building what will someday be, for all practical purposes, a sentient parallel world that will pass the ultimate Turing Test.
Publication of Expanded Cinema wasn’t the only important thing that happened in the eventful year of 1970. I also joined the founding faculty of California Institute of the Arts and got married. At my wedding dinner, Bucky, evidently overcome with joy, suddenly arose from his chair and danced a surprisingly accomplished Irish jig.
Second-Order Systems Theory
One day in 1977 I received from Heinz von Foerster a package of scientific documents published by his Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Heinz had read Expanded Cinema, which references the pioneering first-order cybernetics of Norbert Wiener. The BCL documents argued that Wiener’s first-order systems theory – the cybernetics of observed systems – was incomplete. The observer was missing from the equation. A cybernetics of observing systems was needed. Second-order cybernetics completes the picture through an operational closure that includes the act of observation as part of the system being observed.
Among the BCL documents were two by the Chilean neuroscientist and epistemological philosopher Humberto Maturana: the seminal Biology of Cognition (1970) and Autopoietic Systems (1975), co-written with his student and colleague Francisco Varela. Heinz had been working with Maturana since 1962 as the neuroscientist developed his groundbreaking work on the autopoiesis (self-creation) of living systems. Heinz incorporated autopoiesis into his own already advanced constructivist epistemology, influenced by Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Gordon Pask, and others. He generalized the notion of autopoiesis philosophically and became the inventor of second-order cybernetics. Today, with second-order systems theory extended to social systems (including, importantly, mass media) by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, we finally have an all-encompassing general theory of truly whole systems that will be critical in understanding and addressing the planetary ecosocial crisis.
Maturana used the Greek autopoiesis to characterize the operational closure, or recursive circularity, of cellular metabolism. This notion of operational closure as the foundation of autonomy struck me instantly, and from it I derived a central figure in my political–economic critique of mass communication. As I noted earlier, a communications revolution is the decentralization and pluralization of the social construction of realities. It is enabled through operational inversion of The Broadcast – from centralized, one-way mass distribution to decentralized, two-way group conversation. For decades I have called such groups “autonomous reality-communities,” a phrase I derived from Maturana’s statement “We can talk about things because we create the things we talk about by talking about them.” 
I failed biology in high school, so when I received that package of BCL publications, I bought a basic biology textbook and a dictionary of biology in order to understand what Maturana was saying. I was thrilled. I understood I was witnessing the dawn of a revolutionary new way to think about the autonomy of life and mind that had profound ontological and epistemological implications. It was especially important to me, having lived through the rise and fall of 1960s counterculture. Why did it not last? What social dynamics impeded the communication and maintenance of that cultural autonomy? Was the counterculture ever truly autonomous to begin with? I had intuited that objectivity – understood as cognitive access to a reality independent of an observer – was somehow not biologically possible, but I didn’t know how to say it.
Second-order cybernetics represents an epochal turn from the cybernetics of observed systems to the cybernetics of observing systems. In other words, from information “out there” to cognition “in here.” It seemed to me that this inversion of an other-referring epistemology to a self-referring one was comparable to the Copernican inversion of a geocentric universe to a heliocentric one. I wanted to learn everything I could about second-order thinking, so I decided to write a book about this man I thought of as the Copernicus of Cognition.
Humberto frequently visited the United States from Chile to lecture at his alma mater, Harvard University, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. In California he stayed with Heinz and his wife, Mai Sturmer, in the coastal farming community of Pescadero, just south of Half Moon Bay. Heinz arranged a two-day conversation there between Humberto and me in August 1985. It was the first of many six-hour drives I would make north from Los Angeles through Santa Barbara to the village of Pescadero. Heinz and Mai always welcomed me like family. “May I sit in on this fascinating conversation?” Heinz asked, as Humberto and I began talking on the first day in 1985. “But you know all this stuff, Heinz,” I said; “you’ll be bored.” “I won’t be bored,” he replied, “because I’m not boring.” I never forgot that. I never forgot that an interesting person is an interested person. The messenger is the message.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. (R. Buckminster Fuller)
By far the most important media art career over this half-century has been that of Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. In 1979, Sherrie coined their credo, “We must create at the same scale as we can destroy.” I and many others adopted it immediately. It captured the essence of everything I was trying to say as a media theorist, and I’ve used it ever since as a central figure in my political writing. It’s what World Game is about. It’s as momentous, in my mind, as Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message.” Taken together, those sixteen words say it all.
I met Kit and Sherrie in 1980 through Heinz von Foerster, who had met them at a NASA conference in Silicon Valley. They moved to Los Angeles that year. Soon after, Heinz was at a conference at the University of Southern California. He insisted that the three of us be there: “You’ve got to know each other.” He put our hands together and said, “Do great things.”
Kit, Sherrie, and I recognized ourselves in each other and became lifelong friends. We lived together for four years, 1984 to 1988, in a Streamline Moderne house on Cedar Street in the beach community of Ocean Park, between Santa Monica and Venice. Those four years were among the happiest and most inspiring in my life. Our passionate late-night talks were fertile cross-pollinations of ideas that drove our career vectors forward.
“The human condition, as this millennium draws to a close,” I wrote in Expanded Cinema, “is one of decreasing intervals between increasing emergencies until nothing but emergency exists.” The Great Sorrow was on the horizon, confronting civilization with an unprecedented challenge to create at the same scale as we can destroy. The choice, in Buckminster Fuller’s famous phrase, was between utopia or oblivion.
A communications revolution was the only way to meet the challenge, but it was perpetually about to happen, and Kit and Sherrie weren’t willing to wait. It was time to act. They embarked upon the archetypal utopian vocation, the builder of models. It wasn’t a career; it was a calling, a lifelong mission that would take them out of art to a place where art would be redefined. For twenty-five years they operated like a two-person Bell Labs, manifesting their vision of telecollaborative art in what they called “models” that remain unequaled in media art history.
The Satellite Arts Project
They conceived an initial agenda of three satellite-based models and one multimedia network. One of the satellite ideas, the haunting Light Transition, was never realized. First on their schedule was the Satellite Arts Project, also known as Trans-Continental Choreography. They produced it in 1977, in collaboration with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Menlo Park, California, and Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Kit and Sherrie superimposed two lens-captured, analog video transmissions from those outdoor locations to create what they called an “image-place”  – a tele-immersive virtual environment that was co-occupied by four dancers, two each on the east and west coasts of the United States. The mix was displayed on screens that surrounded the dancers, so that they could see, hear, and appear to touch their distant partners as they moved together improvisationally. The lens-captured image-place enabled facial recognition between the performers. That’s an essential emotional dimension of co-occupied virtual environments, which, to this day, remains unachievable any other way. 
Hole in Space
The Satellite Arts Project merged two outdoor performance spaces. Three years later, Hole in Space (1980) merged two sidewalks. The idea was a surprise public encounter with someone in another part of the world. “You’re walking down the street,” Kit prompted, “and you turn and say ‘Hey, how’re you doing?’ and the person you’re saying that to is across the continent.”
Kit and Sherrie installed video cameras, projectors, rear-projection screens, microphones, and loudspeakers in the glass-walled foyer of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and in a sidewalk display window of the Broadway department store in the Century City district of Los Angeles. The nine-by-twelve-foot screens filled the windows, facing the sidewalks. For three evenings the screens were connected by satellite, creating a life-size, full-figure “hole” in space/time through which people 3,000 miles apart could see, hear and talk with one another as if they were standing on the same street corner having a casual conversation.
Hole in Space was an anonymous guerrilla action. There was no advance publicity. At the sites there were no identifying signs, no explanation or instructions. Camera crews documented the event at both ends, but they didn’t use artificial lights and remained as inconspicuous as possible. Pedestrians suddenly found themselves in this new environment without having been prepared, conditioned, or sold. It enabled a kind of social science. How would people react to Hole in Space? How would they receive it and acculturate it? How would they define this unprecedented social situation without familiar rules?
Kit and Sherrie wanted Hole in Space to occur over a three-day period because they wanted the public to become aware of it in three different ways. Encounters with Hole in Space were accidental on the first night, communicated by word of mouth on the second night, and on the third night a result of media coverage. There was a first evening of naïve discovery, followed by an evening of intentional word-of-mouth rendezvous and skillful organizing, followed by media-fueled mass migration of families and transcontinental loved ones, some of whom had not seen one another in person for decades. The human drama that unfolds across the riveting thirty-minute video documentation of Hole in Space is unforgettable.
Hole in Space is Kit and Sherrie’s most famous work, but it’s not the most important. Their next two projects – Electronic Café (1984) and Electronic Café International (1989–2000) – introduced the idea of open laboratories for public acculturation of communication technology. The vehicle of acculturation would be aesthetic experimentation. Art and technology would be combined for the transformation of both, revitalizing one while humanizing the other.
Commissioned for the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, the acculturation lab that Kit and Sherrie called Electronic Café was a seven-week model of public, toll-free, multimedia, multichannel social networking. It was a public utility in the most complete sense: Terminals were in public places so that personal equipment wasn’t required and transactions could be anonymous – virtual space as public commons, open to everyone, five years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
Electronic Café connected real neighborhood cafés in five ethnically distinct communities across Los Angeles using ordinary voice-grade telephone lines. It was an inspired masterpiece, vast with new paradigms of systems integration, combining teleconferencing tools that had never been interconnected before. Sitting side by side on a table at each café, the devices allowed people from five cultures and language groups to communicate through slowscan video (sequentially transmitted still video pictures), interactive handwriting and drawing, typewritten words, voice, and music. Any or all could be combined and layered in various ways.
There were live performances. People talked and sang together, wrote and recited poetry and stories together, drew pictures together, and collectively discussed their creations. All of this was supported by real-time multimedia documentation and keyword-searchable storage. For text, there was a computer bulletin board. For graphics, the network included the world’s first dial-up pictorial database – a public image bank – based on optical disc technology. Video pictures, hand drawings, and handwritten texts were stored in and retrieved from the image bank by anyone anywhere in the network. Users had access to one another’s multiple-media documents as they were created and could assemble customized views of the world from them. In today’s language it was the beginning of “convergence” as an artistic practice, resulting in compelling approximations of what we know today as websites, blogs, and social networking.
The End of Models
I began living with Kit and Sherrie at the Cedar Street house a week after Electronic Café closed. A year later, when we began recording our ritual late-night talks, they told me Electronic Café had brought them to a crossroads, a turning point in their career. They had reached the limits of models. Models were important – their limits are the limits of imagination – but they were also a dead end because they created only a false sense of improved conditions. It was time to leverage models into a prototype, so that a user base could be established for long-term experimentation and acculturation rather than for mere demonstration.
Four years of development followed that decision, and then Electronic Café International took them from the museal to the real. The scale of their work had led them out of the artworld into the lifeworld. More than seventy affiliates around the world joined the ECI networked laboratory for varying durations between 1989 and 2000. Under Kit and Sherrie’s guidance, they invented most of the telecollaborative art genres found on the Internet today. 
The Internet, artificial intelligence, and reality technologies are opening the door to the possibility of sociocultural transformation at scale, so I conclude this Introduction with an abridged version of Kit and Sherrie’s Electronic Café Manifesto, which called for it implicitly so many years ago: “The key dimension of our time,” they wrote in 1984, “is the scale that separates technological possibility from human imagination and understanding. The challenge – for the artist, for us all – is to reconcile the dialectical relationship between the quantitative capacity of technology and the qualitative desires of humankind. If we are to shape and control our destiny we must begin to see, to judge, to imagine in a new ‘scaled perspective.’ We must begin to create at the same scale as we can destroy. If we do not, art will be rendered merely decorative, and the human spirit and imagination will become impotent. The counterforce to the scale of destruction is the scale at which all people can communicate.”
Bruce Clarke conceived the idea of a Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Expanded Cinema and proposed it to Fordham University Press in February 2019. Clarke is the leading scholar of second- order systems theory, which I had not thought about for thirty years when this opportunity arose. He gave me the history of Heinz von Foerster’s collaboration with Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and offered descriptive language that I incorporated into this Introduction. I am indebted to him for the very existence of the book, and for his generous support whenever I needed it.
My wife, Jane Youngblood, participated in the writing of this Introduction in every way. She researched various subjects and histories, contributed language and phrasing, and provided expert technical support. Jane also improved the book itself. She updated the index to make it more useful for scholars and educators. She added references that were omitted from the original index and meticulously spell-checked and fact-checked the index and the accuracy of page number listings. But most important to me was Jane’s loving encouragement in every step of the journey. I dedicate this Fiftieth Anniversary Edition to her.
Gene Youngblood Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2019
1) Dick Higgins, “Intermedia,” Something Else Newsletter, no. 1 (February 1966), p. 3. [back]
2) Constituents of Fluxus invented experimental art practices that emphasized process over precious product – works in flux, like the expanded cinemas of today. Fluxus artists in Expanded Cinema are John Cage, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and Wolf Vostell. Speaking for his constituency in his famous Fluxus Manifesto of 1963, the original founder, self-styled “cultural entrepreneur” George Maciunas, declared that the highest form of human experience was the merging of art with ordinary life. [back]
3) Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1934. [back]
4) The first book-length history, Mark Wasiuta’s superb Information Fall-Out: Buckminster Fuller’s World Game, was published in 2019 by the renowned Lars Müller Publishers in Zurich, Switzerland. World Game finally receives the inter- national attention it deserves. [back]
5) “Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality,” in Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought, ed. George A. Miller and Elizabeth Lenneberg. New York: Academic Press, 1978, pp. 27–63. [back]
6) Steven Durland, “Defining the Image as Place: A Conversation with Kit Galloway, Sherrie Rabinowitz, & Gene Youngblood.” High Performance #37, Vol. X, No. 1, 1987, pp. 52–59. [back]
7) As I write this, it isn’t clear whether VR technology can meet the challenge. The so-called duplex problem (everyone wears headsets) and the cognitive complexities of verisimilitude referred to as “the Uncanny Valley” present significant obstacles to facial recognition. See Jaron Lanier, Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Picador/Henry Holt and Company, 2018. [back]