As I pen these words, this past weekend here in the USA we celebrated Memorial Day on Monday. Since this was also the weekend of my one hundredth birthday (base-8) or one millionth birthday (base-2), I decided to take Friday off also, thereby making a rare four-day holiday weekend (see also Eeek! It’s My 100th Birthday!)
I’d been looking forward in great anticipation to this four-day extravaganza for months. I remember closing the office down on the Thursday evening… and then I blinked, and now I find myself in the middle of the following week with my precious four-day retreat quickly fading away in my memory, which is the rear-view mirror of my life.
I didn’t check my email once while I was out. When I returned to the office on Tuesday, it took me all morning to wend my weary way through the maelstrom of messages. Happily, amongst the dross and the requests for me to do things I really don’t want to do, there were little gems containing nuggets of knowledge and tidbits of trivia. For example, my chum Charles Pfeil sent a message saying, “To me, this is fascinating,” accompanied by a link to an article What Happens When You Combine Famous Paintings and Pop Culture: Artist Creates 40 Collages to Answer That Question.
In a separate email saying, “Well, it’s kinda like science fiction,” Charles pointed me to an article about a Futuristic Portal Bringing Unity to Vilnius and Lublin. Created by Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (Vilnius Tech), the idea is that two mirror-like “portals,” which look like circular doorways into another world, have been installed in the cities of Vilnius in Lithuania and Lublin in Poland. Check out this video to see them in action.
This reminds me of all sorts of things, like the Stargate in the movie of the same name. Also, the time portal in the All Our Yesterdays and the archway in The City on the Edge of Forever episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.
It also reminds me that there’s nothing new under the sun because I’ve seen something like this before. It’s called a Telectroscope. As we read on the Wikipedia: “The telectroscope was the first conceptual model of a television or videophone system. The term ‘telectroscope’ was used by the French writer and publisher Louis Figuier in 1878 to popularize an invention wrongly interpreted as real and incorrectly ascribed to Alexander Graham Bell.” (‘Wrongly’… ‘Incorrectly’… Hey, you can’t win ‘em all.)
In 2008, London-based multimedia artist and sculptor Paul St. George created his incarnation of a telectroscope in the form of two steampunk looking portals — one located in London, the other in New York — that, as depicted in this video, were purportedly connected via a transatlantic tunnel whose digging was commenced by the artist’s fictional great-grandfather, Alexander Stanhope St. George.
The Vilnius Tech portal has much better resolution and video bandwidth than did Paul St. George’s telectroscope, but I love the latter’s steampunk aesthetic. I would also love to see a modern incarnation of Paul’s portal upgraded with Vilnius visuals.
All of this makes me think of all sorts of things. For example, when you look back at the 2008 telectroscope, it’s hard to remember how revolutionary this was. The fact that you could visually interact with someone located at the far side of the Atlantic Ocean in real-time was amazing to most people at that time.
Although 2008 was only 13 years ago as I pen these words, I’m reminded that it was around that time that a multi-billion-dollar company flew me from Alabama (where I currently hang my hat) to the West Coast so that I could take part in a video call with Europe (my role was to act as the “techno-geek translator” — I was magnificent, of course).
The point is that pretty much the only way to have video calls at that time was via dedicated (and extremely expensive) hardware and software platforms. The initial release of FaceTime hit the streets in June 2010, while the first roll-out of Zoom didn’t occur until September 2012. Now I come to think about it, I venture to guess that the vast majority of the population hadn’t actually availed themselves of Zoom or its kissing cousins until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Following on from my previous point, another thing that strikes me is that — now that we are all Zooming around like crazy — it’s pretty amazing that something like the Vilnius Tech portal still seems so cool and attracts so much attention. Is it just that it’s big and size does count, or is it that we like making contact with mysterious strangers, or is it that we all secretly hope we will one day come across a real portal, leap through it, and escape?