Electric Dreams

A Short History on the Rise of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

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    Wilkerson, Richard Catlett  (1998 October). A Short History on the Rise of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace. Electric Dreams 5(9). Retrieved July 8, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

This article is a revision from The History of Dream Sharing

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 AOL. 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)

But the best safety-net seems to be education itself. Armed with a wide array of interpretive techniques, and individual is less likely to fall prey to an harmful single approach or person. I suggest finding classes and books with a full array of information. To correct the modern bias, studies of aboriginal cultures from around the world and from various ancient civilizations are recommended. The effect of axis religions on dreams is important. The full range of psychological schools from Freud to Jung, to Gestalt and Humanistic Existential approaches need to be explored. Many of the new trends, such as lucidity and mutual dreaming are recommended as well as the history of investigations into psychic dreaming. I feel that dreaming science should be included as well, to give the person a perspective not often included with most dreamwork but essential for an eclectic understanding of the field.

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, I asked Sarah Richard's to bring 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. In fact, everyone was wildly excited at the time about the possibilities of the Net and Dream Sharing.

Still, the concern persisted about people confusing dreamwork with psychotherapy and being vulnerable to abuse. 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. Peggy Coats will be the Chair for an ASD panel discussion of these topics again in Santa Cruz, 1999.

In the meantime, DreamGate, Electric Dreams and other organizations continue to educate the public about the variety of approaches to dreams and dreamwork that can take place outside of the therapeutic container. It is recommended that these groups make it very clear from the beginning that they are not offering psychotherapy and rather focus on the peer or partnership paradigm.

Richard Wilkerson


(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/thre ad.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.