It has been four years since Gabriela Jaksa saw her younger brother Attila. She lives in the Bronx now; he remained in Hungary.
But, the two met - in a way -- on the
street in the East Village on a Sunday afternoon in
early August and talked for two hours.
"It was very touching," Jaksa said. "I'm going to remember it forever."
The long-awaited rendezvous took place over a live
public video conference created by a team of artists
and technologists in New York and Budapest. The
project allowed concertgoers at one of Europe's
largest music and arts events, the Sziget
Festival, to see, hear
and interact in real-time with passersby in New York's
East Village for five hours a day for nearly a week.
"Exchanges between New Yorkers and Hungarians ranged
from the raunchy to the sentimental to the avant garde
and super sweet. There were tense, sexist and racist
moments as well as hilarious ones," said Mathieu Borysevicz of Vizual Works
Contemporary Art Association in Budapest.
One local musician serenaded the Hungarians with a
tribute song about Budapest, another sang a Jamaican
hip hop song.
Constant questions about
the time difference and the weather seemed to convince
participants in New York that the sounds and images
were really coming from Hungary and not just somewhere
in Upper Manhattan.
"What we learned from this project is that there is an
inherent novelty of the technology. Once the novelty
wears off, people might begin to interact on a more
meaningful level," said Josh Tonsfeldt of
Harvestworks, one of the New York sponsors. For
example, several regulars who visited the live video daily began to build
relationships with their Hungarian counterpart.
"One of the most profound aspects of the project was
that for many people in Hungary it was the first
opportunity for them to speak with Americans, or better
yet Americans of color," added Borysevicz.
The project illustrates how the use of communication
technology in public spaces is transforming our
experience of the urban environment in New York City.
In the future, such interactions may not be confined
to the art world but instead could easily, cheaply and
quickly become part of the city's basic
Noemi Pataki, a 30 year-old hotel and tourism student
from Hungary, and her boyfriend Andras Miklos, a 30
year-old economist, visited the live public video to
talk to his sister Judit, and described it as, "the
greatest experience during our two-year stay in the
USA.We talked about everything, family, music, life &
people in NYC, even about politics (the upcoming
election) and a lot more," and say that they would use
the service even if it wasn't free.
For a limited cost-the whole project cost under $1000
in donated equipment-New York could set up multiple
live public video conferences with cities worldwide.
For example, Times Square could be connected to Shibuya
Crossing in Tokyo or Trafalgar Square in London. New
York already has a number of "sister-city"
relationships; why not further enhance these
partnerships with live real-time video interaction?
Technology and Politics
Those following the campaign for president lately speak early and often of Swift boats and Abu Ghraib. But to tech-savvy politicos, the more important words for the moment are a bit more obscure - Moport and TxtMob. They are both new mobile phone technologies.
TxtMob was first used at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, allowing
users to broadcast messages quickly and easily to groups of cell phones. This
enabled more than 200 protesters to get out up-to-the-minute information about
direct action and police reaction. TxtMob's
creator, the Institute
for Applied Autonomy (IAA), an art and
engineering collective that develops technologies for
political dissent, is currently working with activists
in preparation for the Republican National Convenion.
Moport, a new
mobile phone reporting tool, will allow anyone with a
camera phone or a digital camera to cover the
protesters and thereby provide an alternative view of
the events. The free service will allow people to
report collectively about important events in
real-time using mobile phones.
Laura Forlano is a doctoral student studying communication technology policy at Columbia University.
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