~e; "A World at Your Fingertips" (fwd)

From { brad brace } <bbrace@eskimo.com>
Date Mon, 3 Jun 2002 16:36:12 -0700 (PDT)

A World at Your Fingertips
By Lakshmi Sandhana

2:00 a.m. May 29, 2002 PDT Imagine strolling along the
waterfront with the city skyline behind you. Stopping at a
"global interactive tourist node," you peer at a couple
sharing a drink in front of the Eiffel Tower, or someone
waving hello from in front of the Sydney Opera House.

The Worldview project, an exclusive venture of Pletts Haque,
a British architectural interaction design firm, plans to
open real-time windows around the world. Bringing together
three familiar concepts -- Japanese "puri-kura" photo
booths, webcams and the holiday snapshot -- the project
consists of establishing installations at landmark locations
around the world, using city skylines as the common

Designed as an urban attractor, the device will have two
faces: a "mirror" side that encourages people to become
players on the urban stage and a "window" side that connects
in real-time to Worldview locations in other cities.

The project was the brainchild of architects Josephine
Pletts and Usman Haque, who hope to encourage the use of
technology in a playful and novel manner while connecting
the people of the world through windows into each other's

"It would allow ordinary people in different countries to
interact, perhaps for the first time," says Haque. "It can
create direct, serendipitous connections into each other's
public lives. Particularly in light of recent events on the
global stage, this digital connection would have an added
significance in allowing individuals in each country to view
the other in a way quite different to that traditionally
offered by global news media."

Each Worldview device will contain two computers: one
controlling the functions of the mirror side and the other
the window side. On the mirror side, visitors will find
themselves reflected, with the city skyline behind them.
They will be able to record their experience with both an
instant-print postcard and a video clip, which can be
retrieved and sent on from the Worldview website.

Through the window side, onlookers will be able to see
cityscapes with both locals (who are looking at other
cities) and visitors (who are sending images of themselves
back home). The idea here is to evoke a feeling of sympathy
with and curiosity about the global community, as people see
others interacting with the same device in ways that are
both similar and culturally distinct.

"It's more about connecting spaces as part of an urban form
and looking into other cultures' public lives," says Haque.
"It is similar to the Global Interactive Video Column in
William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties; it's not just a
video phone."

Pletts says that with their emphasis on human interaction,
Worldview devices would encourage critical exploration of
the impact of technology, travel and tourism on both local
public spaces and trans-global cultures.

"It explores the hierarchies of social space and
communication -- from intimate to personal to public to
urban to global -- and encourages the public sharing of
personal experience," she says.

A prototype of the Worldview device, funded by the
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, was built in Italy last
year. Plans are to place one in New York and one in Lahore,
Pakistan, with the long-term goal of installing one in every
major city. The project is only one of many on the roster of
Pletts Haque, which uses conventional technology
unconventionally to investigate the ways that people relate
to each other and their surrounding space.

One project, known generically as "electric poetry," is live
and can be seen at stations in London's Underground. Using a
Web-based interface that will come online later this year,
visitors can construct poems on a virtual page, which will
then be submitted and published on a website. The poems will
eventually be projected on empty building walls and other
city surfaces.

Another project, called Sky Ear, was inspired partly by
whistler hunters, people who travel to remote locations to
listen to the sounds of the Earth's natural electromagnetic
fields. It consists of a floating cloud that listens for
electromagnetic radiation in the sky.

Sky Ear, which explores the invisible environment of
electromagnetic waves, is a hovering structure made up of
hundreds of sensor-equipped, helium-filled balloons that
will make a grand entrance over the skies of eastern England
in late August. Visitors to the performance and others
watching a simultaneous webcast can phone directly into the
structure (which contains embedded cell phones) to create
atmospheric disturbances inside the cloud and listen to the
sounds of the sky.

Asked about the motivation behind Sky Ear, Pletts said,
"Often we worry about the effects of electromagnetic fields
and how they relate to our bodies. There has been a lot of
concern about the damage that mobile phones and other
microwave technology might be doing to our brains and
bodies. Here we're trying both to demonstrate the presence
and the prevalence of electromagnetic waves all around us
and also to use them constructively."

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