I just walked into a shipping container and took a selfie with three strangers in Gaza, all without leaving Australia. The experience was all thanks to Portal -- a hybrid tech-design-art experiment that consists of gold-painted shipping containers plonked in cities around the world, all connected by video chat software. I stepped into the Australian Portal while visiting the Hybrid World Adelaide tech conference in South Australia. We talked about the weather in Gaza. Asmaa is a developer, and I work as a tech journo. We asked them what the big news was in Gaza. They asked us about Australia. WeChat, Twitter, all sorts of social media, depending on whether it's with colleagues or friends. Five tech nerds in South Australia, getting a selfie with three equally nerdy people in the Gaza Strip. I just can't believe I met her in a shipping container.
I just walked into a shipping container and took a selfie with three strangers in Gaza, all without leaving Australia.
It was a thoroughly surreal experience. But it was also an awesome example of how tech has the power to connect people across geographical, political and language barriers.
The experience was all thanks to Portal — a hybrid tech-design-art experiment that consists of gold-painted shipping containers plonked in cities around the world, all connected by video chat software.
Every shipping container is set up with cameras, speakers and a projector beaming a live video feed onto the interior wall. We chatted via Zoom teleconferencing (Zoom is one of Portal’s corporate partners).
The whole thing is kind of like a room-sized video call, but instead of dialing your family from your laptop, you’re speaking with a stranger on the other side of the world. Or as someone in our shipping container described it, “It’s kind of like a safe version of Chat Roulette.”
Created by SharedStudios, the Portal project was the brainchild of Amar Bakshi and Michelle Moghtader, two former journalists who wanted to re-create the kinds of conversations they had with locals when they were reporting as journos around the world.
When I spoke to Moghtader outside the Portal in Adelaide, South Australia, she said the magic is actually created by fairly regular consumer tech, but it’s made as invisible as possible. The idea is to make people feel like they’re in a real portal, straight from a sci-fi movie, without seeing the gear…