Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Looking for kindred spirits on the Internet

The rise of cell phones seems to be bringing about the fall of phone booths. The above 3-minute video "Disappeared Phone Booths" was inspired by a real incident of my life, when the Dean's Food Store pay phone, a few minutes walk from my house, was removed by the phone company instead of being repaired. I found that I was not the only person in my neighbourhood that missed it. This loss stimulated thought about the quiet reduction of the number of accessible phone booths throughout my daily travels, and I decided to do a playful video piece about my desire for rescue from this trend and post it to YouTube.

As you might be able to tell by my previous postings, vanishing pay phones are an accessibility issue. During my online research I felt validated in this interest when I found The Payphone Project, a website devoted to that subject. It is moderated by Mark Thomas, a New York photographer.

The message of this site has not always been one of a call to social action towards resisting a change. He began it as an art project publishing the telephone numbers of pay phones around the world. The idea was random conversations: one could dial a telephone booth in some distant corner of the world, with the hope that somebody passing by would answer the ringing phone. There are now few phones that are still set to accept incoming calls, possibly as a deterrent to the percieved use of pay phones for "off the radar" activity. But in the meantime Mark had gotten interested in the overall meaning and "look" of pay phones, and in how they are increasingly becoming a scarce resource for people who still want to use them. He is now observing the worldwide progression of this disappearance, and is collecting news stories and photos from around the world. He invites interested people to send material or links, so there is a community aspect to this essentially personal site.

I think this site is a good example of how a single person can sponsor a nexus for opinion on the Internet and, through the investment of time and effort, foster a resonating response regarding a subject of personal passion. Through forums like exhibitions, artists frequently put their creative activity out for public view without any guarantee of payoff, other than a possible gratification at being given attention. Thanks to user-friendly self-publishing umbrella sites on the Internet (such as Blogger and Youtube), an individual does not need to be granted the status of "professional" in order to self-publish text, photos and videos.

Recognizing that the essential payoff for the person doing a posting is the sense of being seen and heard, most distribution sites show information about how many "views" were made and usually provide an opportunity to open a posting to comments and rankings. There are simple software tools that can be embedded in a blog or website to give genera source information about the "hits".

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