Intelligent Mailman (Linz, 1994)

The fall of the Berlin Wall was five years ago and Germany has only regained full sovereignty since three years with the coming into operation of the Two-Plus-Four contract, while the last Soviet tanks, jet fighters and tons of ammunition will only be transported out of East Germany at the end of the year. The Eurofighter Jet completes its first successful flight and the Eurotunnel, which connects France and England, opens. During recession in Germany, accompanied by daily headlines about the steadily rising unemployment, the Talk Show is established as a television format and dominates the morning and afternoon air times on private television. The oldest private television channel RTL is on air for ten years now. The politically interested German citizen is particularly in demand. With 20 elections, the year goes down in history as Superelectionyear(Superwahljahr). The development of the Internet is also particularly advanced this year: the very first Sony Play Station and the concept of the style sheet language is published with Cascading Style Sheets or better known as CSS, one of the basic requirements for the triumph of the Internet. With CSS the visual design of websites becomes possible without in-depth programming knowledge. The Netscape Navigator is also released this year and quickly becomes the Mozilla Firefox of its time. Intelligent Mailman is developed for the Ars Electronica titled Intelligent Ambiente and is performed by an actor in the streets of Linz. This year the festival revolves around architectural-electronic media, i.e. the computer city, intelligent products and life on the Internet. The concept of Intelligent Mailman reads visionarily today: a postman in the uniform typical of Austria walks through Linz, equipped with a GPS system that at that time just barely fit in a messenger bag and digitally reports his way in real-time to a computer in an showroom on the Ars Electronica site. His path can be followed in real time on a digital city map. What seems naturally integrated on mobile phones today, at that time still requires a very specific mobile phone, the reservation of an own frequency for data transmission, a plug-in modem and an additional portable GPS device. However, a more subtle cultural tendency was exposed here alongside the technical challenge: the work that arose as a reminder of the potential of GPS technology as a governmental monitoring system, has prefigured the general social tendency, to share and like everyday habits through social media and may those be as common as cooking, playing, training and working. The fascination with the human media carrier, the postman, who in real-time delivers himself to an unknown public, or at least his position, every second he pursues his task, prefigures social services like Instagram and TikTok. These services of self-sharing today are as intrinsically tied to our society as was the fear of being surveyed and spied on in the last decade of the last millennium.

The Motorola Traxar portable GPS device is connected to a Nokia GSM cellular phone with the U.S. Robotics Worldport plug-in modem. At that time, the rental fees for the telephone and fees for a 45-hour private data transmission frequency were DM 2000 or 1000 EUR in total. The wearer’s movement data is transmitted as GPS data to a modem and an Intel i486 computer in the exhibition room, where it is interpreted by custom made software and blended over a digital city map. The resulting image is projected onto a screen.

Paul Kenig