The Telectroscope is, of course, the "secret tunnel" under the Atlantic that for the last few weeks has connected Londoners and New Yorkers via webcam. A lovely bit of steampunk art, for the past three weeks the screens let people in both cities wave at each other, hold up little placards and generally connected each city with the other.
In a week when George Bush's "farewell tour" of Europe has (fairly inevitably) been disrupted by anti-war protest, it seems to me a shame that the Telectroscope is coming down after connecting only London to New York. Few things seem so likely to advance the cause of peace and cross-cultural understanding than a permanent realtime link in every city on earth to every other, perhaps with an interface like the Telectroscope's but with the link at the other end shifting once a day or hour or minute to a new destination.
As Scott Adams hypothesised during one of his semi-regular attempts to win the Nobel Peace Prize,
"What I’d like to see is a pen pal web site designed to end war. The idea would be to connect citizens in different countries at such a high rate it would be politically impossible for the two countries to start a war.
You might support your government in a war against a country full of people you don’t know. But would you support a war that has a good chance of killing your e-mail friend Phlubanakawahaha and his entire family? There is some theoretical level of citizen-to-citizen contact that makes war between two countries virtually impossible."
A Teletroscope in every city seems like the easiest public implementation of this idea. Social networks eliminate distance and repersonalise otherwise distant others. Imagine for a moment a screen somewhere in a major public space in London that displays the daily lives not only of the people of New York but of Beijing and Ulan Batur and, yes, Kandahar and Baghdad. I have a theory that public opposition to The War Against Terror* would have been a bit more vociferous if Londoners had spent a few years watching its victims go peacefully about their daily lives on the Telectroscope and then had to watch them die in realtime on the same screen.
Update: I'm now wondering whether outdoor ads - the big posters you get in the street, the video posters on some underground stations - could be fitted with webcams and put to this very purpose during periods they were unsold. As outdoor advertising moves towards digital it should become fairly easy for unsold spaces to show the citizens of other cities going past their own posters - thus making the point that we're all just people going about our day in much the same way and probably shouldn't let our governments send us to kill each other. (Except it wouldn't work in Sao Paolo, where outdoor ads are banned.)
(Photo credit: cowfish)
*this is what it was really called for the first few hours after the 9/11 attacks until someone noticed the acronym