The Telepresent 

Stephen Wilson, 1997 

The present is a "magic" box with no wires that automatically sends images from wherever it is to others who are watching via the Web 

What is the Telepresent?

The present is a "magic" box with no wires that automatically sends images from wherever it is to others who are watching via the Web.

People carry it with them for a short period in their life and then they give it as a present to someone else. They carry it down the street with them. They take pictures of friends. They take pictures of strangers. They take it someplace special. They take it someplace ordinary.

Whereever they go, Web viewers can see whatever the telepresent sees.

What to do with this present. Each person who gets the present must confront the questions of what to do with it and then the question of who to give it to next.

Two way Communication

Communication does not just go one way. People on the web can also enter into the lives of the person who holds the present. They can send real time messages which will be spoken by the speech synthesizer inside the present.

Automatic Location Updates

The telepresent uses GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology to automatically update its current position. The host server then uses automatic Internet maps to show web viewers exactly where the present is in almost real time.

Artistic Investigations: Possibilities

Human Networks: Who do people give the present to and why? The electronic networks are an aid in understanding the web of human relationships. 

Access: The Internet and the Web reach only a very small proportion of the world's people. This gift allows anyone to have a telepresense regardless of what they know about computers and telecommunications. What will they do with it? 

Freedom: The present works anywhere. It doesn't need electricity or telephone wires. What possibilities does this open up? 

Mystery: Hisotry is full of stories of wanderers and explorers - of the mystery and romance of their journies. But the fear of being lost and out of touch with loved ones is also part. The telepresent lets everyone in the world know where it is at all times and even to see what it sees. Does this capability change the nature of the Odyssey? 

Artistic Investigations: Problematics

Surveillance: Privacy erodes and surveillance proliferates. Each person with the present must make ethical decisions: What to tell the people who come into its view? Where not to take it? 

Solitude: Perhaps some times it is of value to be lost and out of touch. 

Economics: World news organization such as CNN have long had remote capability. On one hand telepresent democratizes this a bit, but still it is dependent on sophisticated, not inexpensive equipment. 

How Does it Work?

The present version uses a portable powerbook, wireless modem, and an inexpensive chiip camera. It uses custom software to periodically take pictures and upload them via FTP to a web server. Similarly it downloads text entered by Web viewers. It speaks these words with a speech synthesizer voice.

A GPS locator determines present latitude and logitude and downloads into the computer. The computer sends this information to its host server which then accesses an automatic Internet map and places the map on the Web server so viewers can see the present location of the present.

A Small Window

Eventually the telepresent will unpredicatably wander the world through networks of friendships and gift giving. It will chronicle its travesl as it goes, showing whatever each recipient thinks is important or interesting - providing a small window on the world's diversity of personal lives and cultural niches.

<<View Telepresent Quicktime movie documentation >>
(Note this is a 33 mb file - not advised for low-bandwidth)

Contact Information: Stephen Wilson, Professor, Conceptual /Information Arts Program , San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway, SF, CA, 94132. USA

415 824-0792(h) 415 338-2291(of)

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