As if walking into a golden box didn't feel magical enough, once I stepped through the draped center part of its wispy black curtains, an enchanted travel nostalgia fell over me. Immediately I had been transported from the sidewalk of my Colorado University campus to Berlin, Germany. Three gentlemen sat across from where I stood, their bodies so closely to scale that it felt like we were in the same room. Shared_Studios had set up one of its portals next to the Library, but I felt like I was in a German cafe. With starstruck and giddy emotion, I joined another student from my city whom I had never met. Soon after, another peer joined us. The quality of the audio-video technology made the conversation effortless, because it was as though our parties were face to face.
According to Shared Studios’ founder Amar Bakshi, “the idea is to create a global network of these publicly accessible one-on-one booths”. Imagine that! Once facing your opposite number, you can more or less do what you want – aided by a curator/translator staffing each Portal, you can talk about your day, the weather, your childhood, or if you like just sit there in silence … the beauty of Portals is that the interactions are essentially pressure-less. There is no agenda other than to spend time with each other. To exchange ideas. To learn from a stranger precisely because of everything you don’t know about them. And, best of all, to genuinely engage with somebody in a way that most other social networks – for all the vastness of their reach – actively discourage.
WASHINGTON, DC - Despite the horrific visuals coming out of Syria's civil war on a daily basis, it's easy to feel as if the conflict, and the associated refugee crisis, is a world away. But new technology is helping to connect Americans to Syrian refugees, in a way that puts people face-to-face, despite the distance.