Internet as an Entity?
Channeling the Net Through
a Robotic Typewriter

2004-2005, Fang-Yu "Frank" Lin

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How It Works

Two major divisions comprise the technical underpinning of From the Great Beyond: a hardware sub-system, which consists of a typewriter and an electronic circuit, and a software sub-system that handles input/output, text processing and networking. The flowchart below shows the basic structure of the system.

The robotic typewriter serves as the communication channel between the user and the Internet. All conversations are conducted over keystrokes and prints on paper without the presence of any computer interface. Since it is a text-only device one can only speculate the identity and characteristics of the invisible partner between the lines. While intangible, the existence of an entity is suggested by the automatic typing and flowing responses spit out from the typewriter. The typing noise generated during the operation of the machine further reinforces that perception. As a result, something that is completely virtual and no more than an abstract concept is channeled into the physical world and presented as an entity.

A computer hidden from the audience's view is connected to the typewriter and is responsible for the actual input handling, Internet query, output composition, and control of the typewriter printing mechanism. It utilizes various online resources to generate text sentences and ASCII art, and by doing so sustaining the conversation with user. The resulting typed page is literally the transcript of the exchanges occurred; at the end of each chatting session, the user may remove the paper and bring it home.

To see the installation in action, please refer to the video clip included above or view the following two clips:

User-typewriter interaction | Printing ASCII art