Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (Winter, 1997). A History of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace - Part I The Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter 14(1).



Richard Catlett Wilkerson

The Cyberphile this issue includes the first of two Historical Notes on Dream Sharing in Cyberspace with references, an update on the ASD Web Site from Jayne Gackenbach, information on how to cite documents you find on the Internet.

A History of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace - Part I

"OK, you've seen the heavy groups,
now for some Morning Maniac Music!"

Grace Slick

In the past year the focus of information in the cyberphile has been on getting connected to the Internet and exploring the tools of this new communication revolution. We've slowly shifted the emphasis from the technical aspects of web browsing, e-mail and listserv's to specific examples of their use as in the empirical research of Content Analysis and the ASD Homepage. This shift from the physical structure of the Internet to the psychological ecology of Cyberspace now continues in a two part series with one of the most prominent and more controversial areas of dream related cyberspace, dream sharing and dream work.

Because of the dense interconnectivity of the Net, the dozens of online dream networks are able to each serve multiple functions including news gathering and dissemination, study groups, resource listings, literature archiving, message boards for discussions and other functions. Still, dream work continues to be a major thread and this issue column will cover the early developments, message boards and e-mail dream sharing. The next issue will focus on the explosion of the dream sharing sites on the World Wide Web and other new forums.

Caution: ASD does not endorse nor support any of these sites or practices. The purpose of this article is informational and educational.

Pre-(Net)Historic Dream Communications

Long distance communications have been available for quite awhile and have been used by dream concerned individuals in various ways. Phone calls to fellow researchers, 900 dream interpretation numbers, calls to friends and family about "The nightmare I just had!" and pre-cognitive dream fears are all well known (1), as well as talk shows on Radio and Televison.

With the advent of modems, devices able to connect computers via telephone lines, there arose regional Bulletin Board services (BBS). Now people could leave messages and communicate with others who weren't directly connected to the Bulletin Board at that particular moment. John Herbert, for example, used this system to conduct a study on the difference between dream groups that met only by posts to bulletin boards, and those meeting Face-to-Face (2). But to connect to a BBS you have to call that phone number directly. If you don't live in the same Area Code, it can get very expensive. And so one BBS would be somewhat isolated from other BBS's.

When USENET became popular among the USA University crowd in the late 1980's, the idea of the Regional Bulletin Board was expanded nationally (and in some cases, internationally) and the discussion of dreams could be found in various Usenet Newsgroup topic boards. Usenet was organized like a real bulletin board, where one could post a note and others could read and post replies. Group discussions may them develop over time. Because of the popularity of BBS's, the Usenet bulletin boards were called "Newsgroups". By the 1990's all but the most wild of the Newsgroups were accessible via the Internet, and it was clear that dreams needed their own Newsgroup. "alt.dreams" was formed (3).

The Newsgroup alt.dreams was originally suggested by Jack Campin as a way to study contemporary culture. He wanted a snapshot of dreams in the late 20th Century much in the same way that The Third Reich of Dreams (4) gives a snapshot of the society in Nazi Germany. But it was soon apparent that the real appeal of alt.dreams was to share dreams and discussions about their significance and meaning.

Although alt.dreams provided a global gathering spot and spawned other related newsgroups like alt.dreams.lucid and alt.dreams.castaneda, the un-moderated venue lacked something essential for those used to face-to-face dream sharing. Individuals that did want more formed smaller private e-mail groups away from the alt.dreams newsgroup.

Electric Dreams and other Dream Communities

One of these groups distributed a collection of the dreams and comments between the subscribers and then published the comments and replies in a weekly format. When I found the community in the fall of 1994 they had grown to about 60 members and the dreams and comments were shared in a bi-monthly E-zine, (an electronically distributed magazine via E-mail) which they called Electric Dreams. Interest in this format grew and Electric Dreams grew from 60 to 500 subscribers in the following year and added news, articles and experimental dream events, but remained primarily focused on dream sharing in cyberspace. Concerns about this free speech forum now include a). the potential abuse of interpretive authority (anyone can comment and pretend they are someone they are not and some feel that *any* comment is abusive), b). lack of support for dreamers who submit dreams (what if a dream interpretation unlocks psychological instability?) and c). context or set & setting confusion (5) (What if someone thinks this is psychotherapy, what if children joined a group with adults? ).

Another of the problems faced by the Electric Dreams community was the two week delay in the dream being presented and the return comments. A solution was found when I met John Herbert and participated in his ALL SeniorNet Dream Bulletin Board. John Herbert's groups used a variation of some of the Ullman/Zimmerman techniques (10), which he had worked out on the WELL and ALL. A dream was selected, the group asked non-interpretive questions, then each person took the dream as their own. During the process, the dreamer could respond or reply as he or she chose.

The process was modified for e-mail and the first Electric Dreams Dream Circles (6) were created. A dream was passed around in round-robin style from one e-mail address with questions and replies added by each participant. The ED Dream Circle was great for sharing dreams, but an administrative nightmare. Jay Vinton suggested we use a Mail List style approach and the problems seemed to disappear. In a Mail List approach, all the members send all comments to everyone in the group, even if the comment is directed to just one individual. This process creates a feeling of group identity and cohesion.

These new mail list dream groups, the Dream Wheels (No connection with the Ramsay Raymond Dreamwheel), have evolved in several new creative directions. Generally the process has been refined and newer sharing and distribution methods have improved (For more on the technical aspects of Mail Lists, see the Dream Cyberphile pg 26 in the ASD newsletter 1996 13.1, 26-27.). However, while the technical & methodological procedures have developed quickly, the resolution of concerns about the safety and appropriateness of dream sharing online seems to be taking a little more time.

Cyber-Dream Sharing Goes To School and Gets International Attention

Both Jayne Gackenbach and I felt that combining education with the experiential groups represented an advance over just offering experimental groups. Several projects followed. Jayne developed a program with Grant MacEwan which now includes e-mail classes and bulletin board dream sharing.(8) . When I expanded the DreamGate classes to include the community beyond Electric Dreams subscribers, we incorporated many of the safety features that Jayne created and implemented in her classes including the post-session questionnaires and the pre-session clarifications about the context and rules of group.(9)

When the Dream Cyberworld Project for the ASD XIII conference was proposed, the ASD executive board foresightedly accepted and supported the project. The only concern was that dream sharing via computers at the conference might be confused as promotion or endorsement when in fact we were all still wondering as a group just exactly what it really was. The Conference XIII programs thus provided no online dream sharing, but did provide plenty of examples and samples, giving interested individuals a chance to see the spectrum of possibilities .

During the Berkeley Conference XIII, Sarah Richard's brought together in a panel the many of the more active of individuals involved in online dream sharing, including Jayne Gackenback, Jeremy Taylor, John Herbert and myself. Fred Olsen and Linton Hutchinson also participated in sharing their collective experiences. Not one of these people reported any problems with online dream sharing in any of the groups or sessions. There were some who were confused about the procedures at times, and some who didn't participate who didn't like the *idea* of what was happening, but no reports of unhappy participants or incidents requiring crisis intervention.

The idea of dream sharing on the Net continues to bring to peoples' minds a myriad of possible disasters. Why haven't these disasters shown up?

Herbert's study suggests that online dream sharing provides more insight than face-to-face dream sharing. His results were not statistically significant but reveal an observation that in the cooler, non-confrontive atmosphere of writing e-mail at one's home computer, the responses and questions to and from the dreamer are more reflective and less emotional. This also points to a weakness in e-mail dream sharing scheme for those who like more emotional interplay. It appears then, that while dream groups online may not yet be appropriate for many psychotherapy, they do provide a safe and anonymous venue for adults to meaningfully explore meaning and value.

As these dream sharing groups evolve and more studies are done, we will have a better picture of the scope, range and relevancy of e-mail and bulletin board style dream sharing.

End of Part I

Up and Coming on the ASD Web Site - From Jayne Gackenbach

I wanted to let the visitors to the site know some of the things that are planned for the web site and to ask you all for suggestions for things you would like to see online in the future. Look for the full detailed program from the 1996 annual conference. It includes brief summaries of all the papers/workshops as well as summaries of all the presenters. It was an exciting meeting. The version of the program that is in place now is an older version with the paper titles but no details. Also the journal editor, Don Kuiken, is planning to have more journal articles to give a flavor of the content of the journal. This will be coming sometime in the future. We plan to have links from the site but need to get a consensus on this rather "hot" topic so this won't happen till later.

ASD Homepage

"Richard, I can't wait for the next issue and want to know everything that is happening about dream sharing in Cyberspace!"

OK, drop me a line at richard@dreamgate.com and I'll connect you to the dream community online.

" Richard, how do I reference all these documents I'm finding on the Net?"

The rules keep changing, but here is the most commonly used reference manual online:

Harnack, A, & Kleppinger, G. (1996). Beyond the MLA Handbook: Documenting Electronic Sources on the Internet. Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY

If you find a better reference manual, or have other essential cyber-dreaming information, be sure to tell the rest of us by leaving a post on the ASD Online Bulletin Board

note 1/1/99: ASD now has a Research Request section on the site with links to Electronic referencing APA, Chicago Style, MLA and others.

Next Issue - Not all of cyberspace is filled with message boards and e-mail! DreamLink and other Web sites have exploded onto the scene with highly graphical interfaces, sounds, pictures and exciting new ways to explore and share dreams. Chat shows & IRC channels have adding whole new dimensions to group dream sharing. Online programs that will sample millions of dreams each day will produce dream weather reports for a whole region or segment of the population. See you there!


(1) Dream Phone services have been used, for example, by the Delaney & Flowers Center for the Study of Dreams, Fred Olsen's Reentry line and the Hotline of Tony Dubetz, among others.

(2) Herbert, J.W.(1991) "Human Science Research Methods in Studying Dreamwork: Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Face-to-Face and Computer Dream Work Groups" Unpublished Manuscript, Saybrook Institute, San Francisco, <http://users.aol.com/john0417/HuSci/Greet.html> (25 Nov. 1996)

(3) Herbert, J. W. (1991). "Notes on the creation of alt.dreams." In "Human Science Research Methods.. (see above) <http://users.aol.com/john0417/HuSci/ApI-AltD.html> (28 Oct. 1996)

(4) Beradt, Charlotte (1966). The Third Reich of Dreams. Translated by Adriane Gottwald. Chicago: Quadrangle Books

(5) Richards, Sarah (1996, April 22). "RE: Dream Interpretation: The significance of set and setting." ASD Web Bulletin Board. <http://www.outreach.org/cgi-bin/dbml.exe?template=/asd/thread.dbm&threadid=171&messages=26#373>(25 Nov. 1996)

(6) Wilkerson, Richard C.. (1995). "Dream Circles: A Sample Session of Dream Sharing using E-mail Round Robin.". Electric Dreams. <http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/~mettw/edreams/circle>(28 Nov. 1996)

(7) Wilkerson, R. & Hicks, C. (1996). "Dreamwheels: a Sample Session of Dream Sharing Using Mail List Formats." <http://www.dreamgate.com/asd-13/2lb12.htm>(28 Nov. 1996)

(8) Gackenbach, Jayne (1996). Unlocking the Secrets of your Dreams. Grant MacEwan Community College. <http://www.outreach.org/dreams/> (25 Oct. 1996)

(9) Wilkerson, Richard C. (1996). From Ancient Thrace to Cyberspace: The History & Practice of Dream Sharing. DreamGate Classes. <http://www.dreamgate.com>(28 Nov. 1996)

(10) See Herbet's paper for the similarities and differences between Ullman and Herbert.

This article may be slightly altered from its original form on the ASD Newsletter to conform to Web Format.