Creating an Internet You Can Walk Through

Short thesis

Shared_Studios is a multidisciplinary art, architecture, and technology organization focused on grounding the connective potential of the Internet in physical spaces to create more secure, accessible, and meaningful encounters across distance. This talk by the founder of Shared_Studios tells the story of its first global initiative -- Portals -- and explains how the shared context of art, the presence of architecture, and the pervasiveness of certain technologies, creates a new opportunity to continuously connect diverse spaces from playgrounds and public parks.


Portals is a global public art initiative. Each Portal is a gold shipping container equipped with immersive audio-visual technology and placed in public sites around the world. When individuals enter one Portal, they come face-to-face with a stranger in a distant, identical Portal and can converse live as if in the same room. Each Portal is staffed by a Portal Curator who engages the local community and provides live interpretation. 

In December 2014, Shared_Studios launched its first two Portals connecting Tehran and New York. It invited strangers in each country to engage in private, 20-minute, one-on-one conversations around the prompt “What would make today a good day for you?” The idea quickly spread. Since then, diverse communities have set up their own Portals in Afghanistan, Cuba, Honduras, an IDP camp in Iraq, Iran, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and Rwanda. (And now, thanks to re-Publica, in Berlin too!)

More than 13,000 people have engaged in one-on-one dialogues around the world through Portals. In addition, thousands more have turned Portals into a global community space for hosting global classes, creative and entrepreneurial collaborations, and public performances. Portals have latched onto public sites, turning them into global squares.

This talk will tell the story of how Portals grew from a one-off art idea between Iran and the U.S. into a global undertaking. It will explore how the shared context of art, the physicality of architecture, and the pervasiveness of certain technologies create a unique opportunity to carve wormholes throughout the world. And it will lay out a vision for how physical spaces can be interconnected and networked this decade, from playgrounds to coffee tables. It will discuss the possibilities and perils of this undertaking, and suggest ways forward.