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What does m27590 know that you should know?

By Stewart McBrideStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 12, 1980

San Francisco

These days meetings seem as necessary as taxes and the weather, and sometimes one can get "meetinged out." What we wouldn't give for our own private clones who could leave us at home in an overstuffed chair while they dashed about the country, eavesdropping on the future, crashing important conferences, filtering through the boring babble, and sparing us from information overload.

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All in favor?

The EIES have it

EIES, which is pronounced "eyes" and translates without much poetry as the Electronic Information Exchanged System, is a "computer conferencing system" created at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. At this moment, some 700 people and institutions ranging from musicians to legislative assistants, from a neighborhood self-help center in Washington, D.C., to a French multinational corporation in Paris are "meeting" via the EIES network. They are discussing everything from nuclear war to family cornbread recipes.

Each member of an EIES conference types comments into a breadbox-size computer terminal attached to a telephone which connects to the "host computer" in New Jersey. The computer stores the message and delivers the electronic letter to whomever it was addressed. But EIES goes beyond this simple electronic mail system: The user can send a message to any or all of the system's 700 users.

Meetings "inside the computer" can go on for days, weeks, even months. You can join or leave the discussion whenever you like, and "listen" only to those comments that interest you. It is possible to participate in several conferences simultaneously and to have several people talking at the same time.

Sending an EIES message costs less than teletype, mailgrams, long distance phone calls, and, somtimes, even an ordinary letter. To participate you need a "dumb" terminal (one that hooks into the computer) which can be built from scratch for $200, or purchased secondhand for $500 or new for $2,000-$3,000. Monthly membership is $66, and a long distance telephone line costs $3.75 per hour (compared with about $24 an hour for regular coast-to-coast telephone calls).

And you needn't be a computer whiz. In half an hour anyone can learn enough to start wandering about the "hallways" of EIES and snooping in "meeting rooms" for a "public" or "private" conference. If you're bored with the "menu," introduce yourself to other EIES users, pick a subject, and begin brainstorming:

M27590 Rhoda Lela Epstein (Rho, 217) 8/28/79.m

It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Paul Holman. Paul creates holistic communications environments. Calling himself a visual musician, Paul's recent work includes the New York State Fair videosphere, 80 feet by 60 feetby 30 foot high inflatable dome equipped with three General Electric large-screen color video projectors/multi-image video projection theater/17 minutes presentation called "The future is hear." Paul will be messaging you directly. You can send to him, too.m

The EIES system, designed by computer specialist Murray Turoff, was originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a network of "invisible colleges," geographically dispersed academics and scientists whi wished to exchange research findings rapidly among themselves. EIES is now self-sufficient, but the NSF still funds the LegiTech project within EIES. This project allows workers in 25 stale legislatures to exchange questions and leads on scientific and technical matters of interest to the legislatures. For example, a legislative assistant in Massachusetts could send out an inquiry or quickly convene an EIES conference on: "Have any states tried the 'energy stamp' approach to assist low-income persons in paying their energy bills?" or "What are the alternatives to rock salt on highways?" or "Has your state passed any laws restricting the construction of nuclear power plants?"