Monday, November 6, 2017

Portal to Palestine

"High-tech shipping container Portal links Harvard students, Gaza youth" by Jeremy C. Fox Globe Correspondent  November 06, 2017

CAMBRIDGE — When the Palestinians in Gaza City, a Palestinian metropolis, realized that the Harvard students spoke Arabic, “all of a sudden, they were like, ‘Whoa!’ ” said Rosi Greenberg, a Kennedy School student from Philadelphia. “There was kind of a spark, and a joy.”

From there, the conversation continued mostly in Arabic, as they discussed popular American exports such as “Game of Thrones.”

“They were more up to speed on shows than some of us were,” said Ziad Reslan, 31, a Kennedy School student from Lebanon.

Conversations like this one are made possible by Portals, spaces that use live video and large screens to connect people around the world for exploring shared interests, working on projects, practicing language skills, or doing just about anything people can do in the same room.

Because when people step into a Portal, they feel very much like they are in the same room.

“The goal of this is to create a space that people can use to build their own experiences and create their own meaning, with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet,” said Amar Bakshi, 33, the founder of Shared_Studios, the art and technology collective that developed Portals.

In a Portal — usually an adapted shipping container painted a striking gold on the outside — people on the other end of the connection appear on a rear wall, life-size and in real time.

Video cameras are embedded in the screen so participants see each other much as they would in the same space; it even feels possible to make eye contact.

The first Portal opened in December 2014 as a public art project connecting New York and Tehran. People were supposed to enter one at a time and talk for 10 minutes about what would make their day happy, but some stayed for hours, Bakshi said. “They came out giddy and weeping,” he said.

The conversation at Harvard on Sunday was full of laughter and warmth, despite the participants’ geographic distance and disparate backgrounds. As the Harvard students and the Palestinians ended their conversation Sunday morning, they made plans to connect on social media and stood to take selfies with the new friends projected on the wall behind them.

Afterward, they recalled the Palestinians’ warmth.

“They made us comfortable,” Reslan said, “not the other way around.”

“They were very welcoming,” added Kim Quarantello, 27, a graduate student at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies from Ridgefield, Conn.....


It's all meant to rouse an international community that has stopped paying attention to them, other than the jeering (how rotten).