For all our spontaneity and unexpected outcomes, like any dynamic system ITP also has its guiding principles. And they have remained the same since the effort was first conceived as the Alternate Media Center in 1971. A pioneering center for application development and field trials, the AMC initially focused on exploring the then-new tool of portable video made possible by Sony’s introduction of the Portapak, as well as opportunities offered by fledging cable networks and new access to computers. By single-mindedly pursuing social applications that put the needs of the user first, Red Burns soon concluded that a new kind of media producer would need to be developed: one capable of applying ethics, inspiration, and social issues to emerging technologies.

Thus, ITP - a graduate school dedicated to training and nurturing these individuals - was born. And the guiding principles have remained constant for over thirty years. As Red puts it on nearly a daily basis: “Enough with technology. How are you helping people?”


So while creativity and applications ideas may grow from the ground up as a genuinely grassroots phenomenon, this activity is all pulled towards the strong and single sunlight of our principled approach to making media that works for people and the public. That’s what allows us to generate so many projects that help people walk, dance, talk, have a voice, meet, learn, reflect, or even just laugh. Unique to so-called “technology” schools, whose purpose changes with every new gadget to hit market, ITP simply looks at each new technology to emerge as a new opportunity to do what we have always done. Our media may have progressed from telephone bridges to video cameras, token rings to 802.11g, punchcards to cd roms, and the Internet to cellphones, but our mission remains the same: to help people live better, more productive, and more meaningful lives.

As technology and society change all around us, our mission at ITP remains remarkably steadfast. Just as a moving background calls attention to static subjects in the foreground, the more the media landscape and cultural priorities shift, the more it underscores our fidelity to our core values. The tools we use might change, but our commitment to enhancing the relationships of real people through technology, improving their ability to tell their stories, and expanding their access to the tools of gathering and dissemination, remains the same from decade to decade.

This adherence to core values combined with our collaborative and open-minded approach to our community’s ideas, has led to an unparalleled history of focused innovation at ITP:

  • We conducted four-way split-screen videoconferencing trials as early as 1975, retrofitting and reversing the transmission direction of decommissioned cable TV networks.
  • In 1979, we asked an IBM programmer in Vermont to program an application on Apple II computers for children with cerebral palsy who were excited to communicate via text - e-mail - before it became an accepted norm for communications.
  • In 1980, we exploited the vertical blanking interval of Washington DC PBS station WETA-TV’s broadcast transmissions to conduct the first public trial of Internet-style communication.
  • In the early 1990’s, we devleoped a platform called Window that allowed for pioneering trials in working interactive television for anyone with a telephone touchpad and television set. Dan’s Apartment let users explore an interactive environment, while YORB let up to four call-in users play games together on their TV sets while the rest of the viewing public watched along.

  • In short, we were working with two-way TV a decade before “streaming media,” creating interactive television prototypes before set-top boxes existed, and implementing real online communities before the Internet even became a publically available resource. By focusing on the prototype stages of these innovations and then moving on, ITP has rarely enjoyed the final credit for the technologies and implementations we develop. While we are always more concerned with what we’re doing than who knows about it, we do feel the time has come to find partners who can work with us to bring our work a few development cycles further along before we turn them over to the public and private sectors. By doing so, we should be able to better insure they are implemented in the people-centric spirit with which they were conceived.

    At ITP, innovation is never a result of pursuing the Next Big Thing, but rather the extension of a mission that is passed like a torch from class to class, year after year.