Frequently Asked Questions

Doors of Perception 4 (1996)

1. What is happening at this year's event?
2. So what's on the programme?
3. What do you mean by Doors of Perception 'on speed'?
4. But is speed not exactly what we want in the information age?
5. What does speed have to do with the info-eco question of Doors 3?
6. What do you mean by "selective slowness"?
7. What's this session on 'Europe at Speed' about?
8. Why look at information technology in India at a design conference in Europe?
9. What has speed, information and design to do with each other, for example in future Internet developments?
10. What's the topic for Doors 5?

1 : What is happening at this year's event?
This year we have designed a two-day conference. The theme is 'Speed'. Surrounded by the red plush of the 19th century City Theatre of Amsterdam we will examine the cultural power of acceleration. For two days 840 people will be confronted by a rich programme of lectures, discussions, visual presentations, images and sounds intended to inspire new thinking on the future of information technology and design. As in previous year, the Doors meeting brings together designers, planners, social scientists, media people, industrialists, policy makers and artists. Unlike last year, there are no workshops planned as part of the Doors 4 meeting. We do intend to follow up the ideas and issues raised at the conference in a variety of ways later on.

2 : So what's on the programme?
We have an impressive list of speakers, among them city designer and architect Rem Koolhaas, super-fast computer expert Danny Hillis, social thinker Ivan Illich, cultural trend and leisure analyst Juliet Schor, designer Jogi Panghaal, cultural historian Stephen Kern, durability expert Jacqueline Cramer, philosopher Hans Achterhuis, design researchers Ezio Manzini and Marco Susani, environmental scientist Wolfgang Sachs, telecom policy advisor Sam Pitroda, transport geographer John Adams, global economist Susan George, Father Gaston Roberge of the Jesuit Order for social communications, and WIRED editor Oliver Morton. Designers and artists will present design scenarios involving different speeds. We also have a piano piece performed at dazzling tempo by Ivo Janssen, TV commercials from the thirties, forties and fifties from the famous archives of Rick Prelinger, and four artists' installations with the title 'The speed of light, the speed of sound'. For further details have a look at the conference programme.

3 What do you mean by Doors of Perception "on speed"?
Speed is the icon of the 20th century. Today speed is everywhere. Speed thrills; speed kills. By design or not, we are surrounded by speed - from advertising to the information highway, from tourism to throw-away products. And yet, in this 'ocean of speed', as McLuhan once said "the fish is the last creature capable of understanding the water". Thinking about the so-called information revolution, we were struck by how much our desire for ever-higher speeds is just taken for granted. True, nothing is more frustated than waiting in the slow lane, but is faster always better? And following up on Doors 3 we began to ask, does our obsession with speed prevent us from living more lightly on the plane? Perhaps fast information technologies can help us slow down our consumption of energy. If speed is of the essence, maybe it is time to start thinking about the essence of speed. And we ask: should we continue to design with speed in mind?

4 : But is speed not exactly what we want in the information age?
Well, yes and no. It is ironic that in a world so committed to saving time we feel increasingly deprived of the very thing we value. With all our technologies and modern designs we have quickened the pace of life only to become less patient. In transport we are approaching the end of the road: as more and more people demand travel at higher speeds, we all end up going slower. As even Lufthansa proclaims in one of their ads, "mobility is beginning to backfire'. So even if we decide that we need ever-faster computer systems and high-speed trains that is not the whole story. We should at least ask what price we may be paying for the continued acceleration of production, information and daily life.

5 What does speed have to do with the info-eco question of Doors 3?
Quite a lot, actually. Certainly Wolfgang Sachs (one of this year's speakers) and others of the Wuppertal Institute in Germany, would say that speed is a critical factor in the ecological crisis. To avoid an ever-growing gap between the energy needs of the industrial economy and the biophysical limits, he sees only one option: to slow down. But when we think how information technology can contribute to ecological sustainability (the focus of Doors 3) it's not all about slowness. 'Slow matter' may require 'fast info'.

6. What do you mean by "selective slowness"?
That's a good question, one that we like to turn back on you. When we speak of living in a world ruled by speed, what we really mean to say is that things increasingly go faster (or appear to go faster). How we can build more 'slowness' into our designs is, we feel, an important question. Not because slow is necessary better than fast, but precisely because we hardly ever ask that very question. We speak of 'selective slowness' in order to provoke questions about design for different speeds. As we increasingly feel the 'downside' of what some have called our 'nanosecond culture', we ask: what could it mean to design processes, products, environments that are geared at less rather than more speed? So we're not giving answers here, merely putting questions of slowness and fastness on the design agenda. How can we imagine a world where some things go ultra-fast, whilst others deliberately go at slower pace? What could it mean to go for 'slow products', 'slow environments' 'slow experiences' and 'slow information'?

7. What's this session on 'Europe at Speed' about?
High speed railway lines and high-speed electronic highways are currently conquering Europe. Fast trains, fast networks and fast communications. High-speed rail travel, according to Paolo Tuminelli (in a recent Domus dossier), looks set to be the great turn of the millenium European project. In 'Europe at Speed' we look at speed and mobility, trying to explore the implications of this speed revolution. Does fastness imply bigness, as the scale of the European high-speed rail project seems to suggest? And where does that leave airports and air travel? How will it change Europe?

8. Why look at information technology in India at a design conference in Europe?
We're looking at global phenomena here. And what's interesting is that in India we see many of the cultural dilemmas of speed, perhaps even more so. The Indian case amplifies for us what's at stake in the current debate about designing information technology for social needs. And speaking about fastness and slowness as design criteria, modern India has always been a society where more than one speed reigns. We do well to learn from the world's largest democracy, which is now linking all of the 600.000 Indian villages to the telephone, within a cultural context that is essentially low-speed.

9. What has speed, information and design to do with each other, for example in future Internet developments?
That is exactly the question we will address in the final panel discussion at Doors 4. The initial hype about the promises of Internet has now settled. And we're beginning to see who the key players are in shaping the future. As the attention begins to shift from hardware and economics to software and social needs, we can discuss what this means for the design agenda. In the final debate we will draw together what we have learned about 'fast' and 'slow' design and we formulate some pointers for the future.

10. What's the topic for Doors 5?
Well that's a) a secret and b) a rotten question to ask before we even got to Doors 4. We'll announce our plans for Doors 5 during the last session of Doors 4 so if you want an answer to this question you'll have to come to Doors 4 and sit through the whole thing. Which won't be such a burden: it's going to be amazing!

Do you have more questions about Doors of Perception 4: 'Speed'? We will answer them if you send them to .


updated 1996