Connecting People Through the Digital World

 Lisa Kocay, '16       

            With developments in technology, people have been able to connect with others in ways that before they couldn’t. For instance, if one is in New York and wants to chat about his or her favorite television show with another fan, one could do so with somebody in Japan. Most of these interactions have been done on the internet, but Amar Bakshi took it one step further.

            Bakshi, former special representative to the US Ambassador to the United Nations, is the creator of Shared Studios, an art installation portal that allows people to communicate virtually. On Tuesday, September 22, he spoke at Lehigh about his initiative at a talk sponsored by the Global Union.

            Bakshi explained that in the installation the portals are made up of shipping containers which have been painted gold on the outside and grey on the inside and set up with audio/video technology. Each participant’s image is projected onto the wall of their shipping container, life-sized, as if they are in the same room with each other. This form of video chatting allows for virtual connection and collaboration throughout the world.

            The first two locations Bakshi picked for this Shared Studios portal were Iran and New York. People who wanted to participate then signed up online for a time slot. Bakshi said that the conversations that happen inside the portal are private and participants were enthusiastic about their experience. “People were more moved than I expected,” he said.

            Participants can also ask to collaborate with someone who has a similar interest. For example, rappers from Afghanistan collaborated with dancers from New York, combining their music and dance. Shared Studios even once made it possible for a band in Mexico to play live music while people in San Francisco watched.

            Bakshi said that he chose to do the portal as an art instillation because art is considered by some as purposeless, and if Google were to do it, people would view the portals as a commodity. He said he chose gold to be the color on the outside because it felt right and because it reminds him of a gold Hindu temple his grandmother had in her house. The gold, he said, also symbolized commerce; shipping containers are part of global commerce, and the gold color brings out the codes on the container of where it has been shipped. He also added that the gold is semi-reflective when people walk by it.

            Anybody can set up a Shared Space portal in their area, Bakshi said. People interested can visit the website sharedstudios.com for instructions on how to build the containers and how to coordinate with Bakshi. “The goal is to build an interconnect network of these around the world.”

            Bakshi believes that the idea needs to be used in a variety of ways, and he hopes to build micro-economies through it, by subsidizing the people who set them up so they get something out of the process. “There are distances all over the world,” Bakshi said. Through his creation of the Shared Spaces portal, he is helping to bridge those distances.