Telecommunicating Emotion: From Hole in Space to WiFi in Cuba

cubawifi0600 hole in space
Written by Larry Press

Cubans can now video chat with loved ones abroad via public WiFi hotspots. Larry Press finds this oddly familiar. Remember Hole in Space? You should.

aNewDomainlarry-press-anewdomain cuban internet — Cuba is one of the least connected nations in the world. But that’s changing — an annoucement of 35 public-access WiFi hotspots around the island is just the beginning of Cuba’s venture into modern telecommunications.

The Internet has been abuzz since the announcement, but most articles are redundant or lackluster, making large headlines out of small news. However, the Miami Herald recently published an excellent article on the human and emotional impact that these new hotspots are having for Cuban citizens.

Miami Herald photo cuba internetThe article describes people in Cuba communicating over WiFi with parents and loved ones in and outside of Cuba — like a family showing people a new baby, a woman speaking with her husband in Miami or a young boy telling his father he loves him. It’s very touching, and a proponent for the basic goodness of technology.

Ted Henken, Baruch College Professor and Cuba scholar, is quoted in the article:

Cubans are living out some of their most personal moments — family reunions and introductions to new babies and spouses — not in the intimacy of their own homes but in public plazas and parks.”

I think Raúl Castro can relax for once — his people are using the Internet to communicate with loved ones, not organize political rallies.

A Hole in Space — and Cuba

This reminds me of an often overlooked, pioneering project that took place in 1980 called “Hole in Space.” Artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created the mother of all video chats by connecting larger-than-life displays in New York and Los Angeles with a satellite feed and broadcasting one to the other.

Hole in Space demonstrated that electronic communication could convey presence and emotion and, more than anything, connect people across a great distance.

Check out the following five-minute excerpt from a video documenting the event:

If you enjoyed that, here’s the full half-hour video:

Hole in Space was created more than a decade before we saw the first, simple version of the World Wide Web. Rabinowitz and Galloway were artists, not computer scientists. Products begin with a vision. In this case, Rabinowitz and Galloway had the vision and built the engineering prototype demonstrating its value. As the saying goes “demo or die.”

Hole in Space was only one of their projects. For an overview of a quarter century of Rabinowitz and Galloway’s work, see the Electronic Cafe International archival Web site. It’s good stuff.

Today, video conferencing is ubiquitous — it has even reached Cuba — but our video chats are on small screens. I’d love to see “Hole in Space, 2015,” using today’s technology. Large, public advertising displays are common and can be linked over the Internet. Wouldn’t it be cool to punch a lot of holes in space?

Where would you put the displays? For a start, how about one between Gaza City and Jerusalem or between Havana and Miami? Kickstarter anyone? Let me know in the comments.

For aNewDomain, I’m .

Featured Image: Courtesy of Houston Chronicle

Body image: Screenshot courtesy Miami Herald