Electric Dreams

Reflections on Online Dream Groups

John Herbert, Ph.D. 

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Herbert, John (2001 November). Reflections on Online Dream Groups. Electric Dreams 8(12). Retrieved December 28, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

The advent of global communication via the Internet has brought many changes to the extent to which information can be shared, and it has also changed our sense of community. We are no longer bound by geographical constraints but are linked by communal interests. Electronic communication provides us with many ways with which to share these various interests, and dreamwork has been one area that has proven to be very suitable for this emerging medium.

I would like to share my personal experiences in conducting online dream groups. I was a student at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco, in a program leading to a Ph.D. in Psychology. My interest has been focused on studying the viability of conducting "Group Dreamwork Utilizing Computer Mediated Communication." The dreamwork was based on the "If it were my dream" approach.

Initially, a face-to-face group's sharing was recorded at a Saybrook conference, where a breakfast group met for dreamwork. Posting an inquiry to the alt.dreams news group, I recruited members who were willing to join in a pilot study. I sent them the dreamer's dream and asked them to pretend it were their own and share thoughts and feelings.

I tallied the group members' responses to the dreamer and the dreamer's comments back to the group, subjecting them to a chi-square analysis. The results confirmed that the communication of the e-mail computer mediated group produced more meaningful comments useful to the dreamer than did the face-to-face group.

None of the computer group were experienced dreamworkers. To me, this was especially significant, because in many cases, both groups used similar language, but the volume of responses for the computer group was much larger. The results have to be viewed with caution, because I think one major advantage of the electronic communication is time. A face-to-face group is always limited by time, but communication by e-mail allows members a much longer period to reflect before responding.

Assured that dreamwork was possible by e-mail, I designed ways of working with dreams online, and studied electronic group dreamwork using bulletin boards, e-mail, public forums, and chat rooms, both public and private.

Categories Of Electronic Dreamwork

There are four broad categories for electronic group dreamwork:

DELAYED : Bulletin Board E-Mail/Dream Wheel
REAL TIME : Auditorium/Chat Chat Room


After the protocol for online group dreamwork was developed, all postings followed the general pattern of a call for the formation of a dream group, a call for a dream to be shared, and the establishment of an agreed-upon schedule for the various segments of the dreamwork: posting the dream, questions and answers needed to clarify dream content, group members' sharing their "if it were my dream" comments, the dreamer's feedback (voluntary) to the group, and additional discussion if the dreamer wished to have it.

Bulletin Board Format: Delayed Public

The first groups that were formed were in response to postings on commercial services such as GEnie, Delphi, Prodigy, the WELL, and Compuserve. The majority of the dreamwork, however, was conducted on America Online, and particularly on Seniornet, a subset of AOL.

A major advantage of bulletin boards is that they can provide an educational function. One can set up sub-classifications for different interests, the topics usually remain visible for a some period of time, and those new to group dreamwork can read sequential postings and get an idea of how the process works. Lurkers can learn about the protocol.

Disadvantages of a bulletin board are that there is no privacy, and one has little control over what is posted. Periodic reminders were necessary about NOT using "I think your dream means" attitudes. In addition, the postings are subject to the software whims of the host. On several occasions the AOL software swept away postings on the bulletin board, and special efforts were required to reestablish the topics.

All the dreamwork followed an "If it were my dream" approach, and it always took a little more work to guide newcomers through the steps. The initial groups took a few sessions to become comfortable with the process. The task of a moderator was similar in both groups, except that it was always a delicate task to get new participants to be aware of the importance of using the "If it were my dream" approach.

It was necessary to provide anonymity and to establish timetables. Organizational effort was required. The groups needed about 12 days for the whole process, generally allowing 2 - 3 days for most segments. Although all the dreamers were comfortable with the provided anonymity, occasionally sensitive issues required special handling. At such times, I acted as a go-between for the dreamer and re-posting his or her remarks under a pseudonym.

Anonymity did not matter for most members, but was of concern to members who frequently posted to other AOL topic areas. Apparently their personal situations were occasionally known to members in the other topic areas (where they posted under their regular logon names), and they therefore preferred anonymity for the dreamwork. AOL's members could choose up to 5 screen names, and if a name was "unprofiled," there was no published information associated with it.

Within the groups, however, group members shared their real or "regular logon" names by private e-mail communication. Group members were therefore known to each other. Dreamer feedback information was also often shared by e-mail.

E-Mail Format: Delayed Private

It was a natural transition to move from bulletin boards to e-mail. Most members preferred providing feedback by e-mail, so groups were run using e-mail only. With e-mail, participation was expanded to more than just AOL's membership. It was at this stage that many ASD members joined the process.

There are two methods for a moderator to process e-mail communications. Individual group members can send posts directly to the moderator, who then assembles them and makes one collected post to all group members. A lot of work is required to act as the clearing house for e-mail postings, but the advantage is that a moderator can make suggestions to newcomers concerning revisions to phrasing before their final posting is made. This method is very supportive of new members. The usual method is for each member to send multiple copies to all other group members

E-Mail offers privacy. Anonymity was never a problem with e-mail. And obviously, anyone with an e-mail address can participate in a group.

Dream Wheels: Delayed Private

Dream Wheels are suitable for group dreamwork and utilize a Majordomo or Listserv type program where any posting to the listserv address is seen by all members. Usually a request to join a group is sent to a moderator who subscribes the member. Currently Richard Wilkerson's website at dreamgate.com hosts Dream Wheels.

Jeremy Taylor's Dream Show

America Online contracted with Jeremy Taylor to host a Dream Show. His Dream Show area contained open bulletin boards, topics of general information and a link to the hour-long live dream show, which, for the majority of the show's life (over a year and 3/4), was held in an auditorium, but it was later shifted to chat rooms. The real time dreamwork was entirely different. Jeremy, as the host, was always very busy.

Auditoriums: Real Time Public

As members joined the auditorium, they were placed in multiple electronic rows of approximately 10 members per row, and they could chat amongst themselves, that is, individual row postings were seen by all members in that particular row. Occasionally rows could discuss dreams submitted to the row by one of the row members.

Postings from the stage were seen by all members of all rows. Any member of the audience could communicate with the host by sending a question or comment to that host. The host had to decide which questions or comments were to be made visible to all the audience, and those were relayed for all to see.

The number of auditorium visitors varied substantially depending upon whether AOL had proper signposts directing members to the location. Initially, daily participation varied between 100 to 120, but when the signposts were missing, membership would drop. The location of the auditorium was changed and later the format was moved to a chat room.

Chat Room: Real Time Public

A chat room is different than an auditorium. Any posting by any member is seen by all, and the communication in a chat room depends upon the agreed upon protocol of that room. A formal protocol provides an orderly environment but requires that permission be obtained before posting a question or comment.

Formal protocol, however, would have undoubtedly restrained the spontaneity of questions and comments, so a "semi-formal" protocol was chosen. At first, participants were so busy greeting each other that it was difficult to get down to work. Once the members became familiar with the protocol, it was easier, but it still took a lot of work for both the host and co-hosts to maintain order.

The second chat room was a very difficult location to work with, because it was scheduled for a specific hour between two other topics. One therefore had to contend with left-over members from the first show, and early arrivals for the second show. In spite of the administrative difficulties, excellent dream sharing still took place.

Chat Room: Real Time Private

A wonderful example of successful continuing online group dreamwork sprang from Jeremy Taylor's Dream Show. Immediately after the show was terminated, 16 participants decided to continue dreamwork and created a private room on AOL where real-time meetings were held once a week. That group is still in existence now, although the numbers have dropped, core members still meet twice a week, on Wednesday mornings for one hour and Sunday evenings for two hours. As one might expect, they are all remarkably good dreamworkers.


There are also many dream related websites available for inspection and/or participation using a browser such as Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Explorer. There is a wide variety in the quality of postgings on different websites. Links to many of these sites can be found at Richard Wilkerson's <www.Dreamgate.com>.


I believe that the emerging ISP communities such as Yahoo's Clubs, Geocities' Neighborhoods, or Sixdegrees Channels will be able to provide excellent operating locations for group dreamwork. Accessible to anyone with a browser, communities can be set up to provide either delayed public areas for posting general information, or private delayed BB areas or real-time meeting areas, similar to AOL's private chat rooms.

One can conduct or join in remarkable dreamwork online. It takes work, but I'd encourage all to support, participate in, or create areas for responsible dreamwork.

John W. Herbert, Ph. D.


Reprinted with permission from ASD Dream Time 17(3) (2000). Reflections on Online Dream Groups. John W. Herbert, Ph. D.

Also, see John Herbert's Dissertation on this subject: