Title:Cybernetics, Modernism, and Pleasure in the MoMA Web Site
Authors:Greg Van Alstyne
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

This paper is concerned with the theory and practice of the MoMA Web site -- its design logic, workflow, and relationship to the Museum. As we will see in some detail, the site has remained focused through the application of specific tenets of Modernist design; it has been generated by the pursuit of pleasure in both the visual and the conceptual realm; and most surprisingly, it has evolved as a study in applied cybernetics. Originating in the 1940s alongside the birth of the first "ultra-rapid computing machines," cybernetics was conceived as the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine. The term, coined by mathematician Norbert Weiner and his colleagues, was derived from the Greek word for "helmsman," whose role was to provide adaptive control of a vessel. This state of control is understood to be determined by the flow of information. Cybernetics is thus concerned with the theory of information and with concepts such as feedback, entropy, signal, noise, medium, message, and homeostasis, the state of dynamic equilibrium. Always a transdiciplinary subject, cybernetics has application not only to the patterns and signals which comprise the Web site itself, but also the crucial system of social and professional communications which create and sustain the site as an enterprise. Although cybernetics lends its name to the popular term "cyberspace," the term is curiously absent from recent discussions in informatics. In seeking to answer some of the difficult questions facing museums as they develop an online presence, this paper will propose the return of cybernetics to the center stage of contemporary discourse about the Web. Greg's paper will be published in UNESCO's journal, Museum International.