The Hole in the Wall: How Humans Connect No Matter What


In 1980, on a November evening in Los Angeles, pedestrians who walked past the glass windows of the Broadway Department Store noticed something strange…they did not see their reflection. There were other people walking by, just not them. They ended up talking with the alien reflections and realized that they were in two different locations, indeed, on other sides of a country: the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City and the Broadway Department Store in Century City in LA. This work, called Hole-in-Space, was created by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz.


Last year I was recruited to a group to consult on a project for the Australian communications company Telstra. I recommended that Telstra, given their core brand is (I believe) enabling people to communicate with each other (not tourism!), that they install a contemporary version of Galloway and Rabinowitz’s work. Using their substantial communications infrastructure they could link together two key and important communities: rural Australia with urban Australia; and Australians in the street with people in the streets of the online virtual world Second Life. The project has been put on hold indefinitely and since the future of the project is unknown and I wasn’t compensated for my advice, I’m sharing it here. But recently I came across a different iteration on the theme, and one that bypasses the corporate and art world.


A few years ago Dr. Sugata Mitra, head of research and development at an IT firm in India, installed a computer in the wall of a slum area in India. He put it in to enable the children to use the computer and the Internet for free. He wanted to see what the children would do if they had unlimited and free access to these technologies. He called it the Hole in the Wall experiment. Within minutes, a Frontline segment explained, the children taught themselves computer literacy. Dr. Mitra has installed computers in many areas now and revels in the response. He is quite conscious of the immense impact of his cybernetic seed:

“If cyberspace is considered a place,” Mitra tells FRONTLINE/World, “then there are people who are already in it, and people who are not in it … I think the hole in the wall gives us a method to create a door, if you like, through which large numbers of children can rush into this new arena. When that happens, it will have changed our society forever.”

The segment told the story of the first boy to teach himself the computer and Net: Rajinder. He creates things using paint programs, plays games and browses the Disney website. His teacher notes that ‘he has become quite bold and expressive’.

When Dr. Mitra asks Rajinder to define the Internet, the doe-eyed boy replies immediately, “That with which you can do anything.”

And so, we move from people connecting with each other, to people tapping into possibility. The continuing theme, whether it is enunciated by artists, the corporate world or a single person who wants to heal the rift of the digital divide, is that of creating portals where once there where walls. It doesn’t matter if the wall, the ostacle is financial, cultural, geographic or technological, we’ll find a way to dissipate it. I’m so happy to have front-row seats to one of the most amazing times in Earth’s history.

Check out full Hole in the Wall article and video by journalist Rory O’Connor, and the amazing collection of Social Entrepenuers videos at Frontline/World. Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for posting about it.

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