May 17th, 2011

The purpose of my trip to Amsterdam was deliver a lecture at Immovator, a school for media students. I prepared a lecture on “The Future of the Computer as a Medium of Expression”. I had two secondary objectives: to visit my dear friend Veronique and to lecture at a school in Cologne.

I won’t bother you with all the vicissitudes of the journey. Suffice it to say that the air travel was, as always, screwed up, and that the security hassles were irritating. One security guy at the beginning of the X-ray machine tells me to put my laptop back into my luggage; the guy at the end of the X-ray machine tells me that he has to remove the laptop from the luggage and re-run both separately. At the Frankfurt airport, I have to pass through three passport checks and four boarding pass checks. It took me 65 minutes to get from my arrival gate to my departure gate — and that was with no stops for food, toilet or anything else. Those were the salient points of the trip. In the future, I really don’t want to fly unless I absolutely, positively must do so.

I met with my old friend Veronique and her fiance Jim in Amsterdam; it was great seeing how happy they are together. We visited the Anne Frank museum. By itself, it’s not much: just the house where they lived in secrecy. But I realized the significance of Anne Frank: she puts a human face on the Holocaust. We should be able to realize that six million murders is one of the most monstrous crimes in human history, but the raw numbers lack emotional punch. The actual face of a sweet girl with girlish dreams brings home the enormity of the crime at the gut level. In that sense, Anne Frank accomplished more in her short life than I have accomplished in my entire life.

Amsterdam is the most civilized city in the world. The people are impeccably courteous, if not quite as gregarious as Americans. The trams and trains appear to operate on something close to the honor system; I can’t recall anybody ever asking to see my ticket — although they do have a snazzy computerized ticket system in which you simply slap your ticket card against an electronic sensor, which reads it and beeps in acknowledgement. This means that the tram system operators have complete knowledge of loading and arrival times in real time.

However, there’s such a thing as being too civilized. There are no large dogs, and when dogs are on walks they politely refrain from reacting to others: no sniffing one’s leg, wagging tails at strangers, and so forth. I’m sure that these dogs would have no idea what to do with a squirrel; they’d surely be terrified by a deer. There are no forests near Amsterdam, just grids of trees. Even the weeds seem to know where they’re not supposed to grow.

On Monday, I traveled by train to Cologne and delivered two lectures at the Cologne Game Lab. They were well-received, and I was impressed by the cogency of the questions from the students. Most of them are graduate students, so they had a firm grip on the fundamentals. It was a pleasant visit. On Tuesday I spoke at the Immovator facility outside of Amsterdam. These students were undergraduates from a variety of backgrounds in media design, and their backgrounds were mixed. I was able to spend time chatting with a number of students, a few at a time, and found them to be eager and energetic. Some were quite bright, but I was surprised on two occasions when I made reference to some well-known tidbits from history and was met by blank stares. There are no free lunches; the time spent on learning all the complexities of modern technology reduces the time that can be spent on traditional subjects such as history.

The lecture was recorded and can be watched here.

making a point during my lecture at Immotivator

explaining the previous point after the lecture

still trying to make my point understandable