Friday, June 20, 2008

The Telectroscope

Once a technology has been invented, the real fun starts. How are people going to use it? We all know that in its earliest days, the telephone was touted as a great way to listen to concerts. It never took off as people rushed to talk instead of simply listening. Failure can often illuminate what truly matters to people. Consider the case of video conferencing. Remember the efforts of telcos to take this technology mainstream? A large screen in a shopping mall linked to another screen in a different city so that people could look at each other and chat. It was all a bit sad. After a few months of desultory waving (and worse), the mostly young audience moved on. The problem? There was no experience, no engagement, no conversation, no entertainment. It was simply dull. A screen in a box in a mall.

But get that same screen technology together with an idea, an artist, an epic story and a great name, and you’re on a different planet. Planet Telectroscope as devised by artist Paul St George. The Telectroscope is a steampunk-inspired viewing contraption. St George has constructed one at each end of a tunnel between London and New York, enabling people to see down the tunnel via a complex series of mirrors across the Atlantic. The device offers sight and motion, no sound. St George relates that the tunnel was started by his great grandfather a century ago and has only been completed this year. The Telectroscope is supported by interviews, technical details, videos and a mission: to prove that St George is neither a fraud nor a madman.

Do you believe in the Telectroscope? I believe in the Telectroscope because I believe in stories and imagination, engagement and fun, sparked by a real sense of community. The Telectroscope accelerates past the Attention Economy limitations of a screen in a box in the mall to the delights of the Attraction Economy.

Why do I think the rather cumbersome Telectroscope is such a great name? Because it was what the first TV set was called. For all its retro design, the Telectroscope reminds us of the continuing power of emotional connections, whatever the technology.