As I am locked down I turn to the cyberspace to regain a bit of freedom and maintain some sort of human touch. The use of Bluejeans, Skype, Teams, Zoom and similar has increased significantly, in synch with the epidemic, I would say.
That is fine, and actually I am grateful of the possibility they offer. However, I start getting a feeling of being overwhelmed as I move from one meeting to the next, pausing a few seconds to respond to some mails to tell that no, I won’t be available for a Skype ’cause I am already booked for a Zoom…
I am not alone, it seems. The cyberspace is making us “too” efficient and is killing the time we used to spend in frivolous talks with colleagues at the office. The coffee-break is something we are missing.
What about an on line coffee-break? Pronto! Two young entrepreneurs, Antonio Garbaccio and Andrea Giacchino, have just launched “Pausa Caffè” in Italy and in just a few days it is starting to gain traction. It provides ways to set up coffee gatherings every day letting people to cluster in the cyberspace and discuss whatever they feel like, as if they where at a coffee station.
It is not exactly like being at a coffee station though. It is a BYO coffee, you cannot offer coffee to other people nearby since you are physically alone and the muffled conversations are not muffled at all, plus they get recorded in a trail. That is useful in some cases but in others it carves in stones something that would be better forgotten as soon as said.
The Pausa Caffè idea is timely and I guess it will provide people with a surrogate of the real thing.
Actually, all cyber-meetings are surrogate and fall short of the real thing. I was talking in these days with few professors that are now forced to use cyber-tools for on line lessons and everyone is telling me they miss the physical presence. Seeing the faces and movements, position of students as you talk provides plenty of feedback on how effective, engaging, your lesson is, what is not clear and what starts to get boring. You are basically speaking to an empty hall.
New technology may solve, at least partially, this problem by taking the meeting to the cyberspace. We already experienced with Second Life (do you remember it? It is still around) but the excitement of the first years faded away. The problem with Second Life, at least to me and several people I spoke with, is that it felt, and it feels fake. Virtual Reality also seems fake but the goal of VR is to be perceived as real. The quest is not over, I have yet to experience a VR and get the feeling of something real. I am usually amused, I appreciate the progress being done but we are simply not there … yet.
However, I bet that in the next decade VR will be much closer to reality, to the point that it may become an acceptable daily alternative, whenever the real thing is not available. This is what the Venn Room is proposing (watch the clip). It has been created by two architects and presented at the Tallin Architecture Biennale in 2019. The idea is to make possible the creation of an ambient made up by the overlapping in the cyberspace of two physical spaces. Using a VR head mounted device you see the couch in your living room (and you can sit on it since that is where you are) and you see at the same time the couch of your friend (in her living room). This mixing of physical realities, according to the architects may be sufficient to trigger our brain into believing/feeling the physical presence.
They go as far as foreseeing that their Venn Room will become part of every home connecting it to any other homes/ambient. It seems unlikely to me but… never say never.