Testing the Telectroscope

Telectroscope_1.jpgImage courtesy of randydandy via the Londonist Flickr pool

Right, so Gothamist isn’t returning our phone calls, and we can only assume that they’re not going to take us up on our Telectroscope dance challenge. Chickens. Dance-off or not, we wanted to check out the Telectroscope for ourselves. Would it be awkward to stand there gaping at people on the other end? Is it worth leaving behind the webcam and the comfort of our own homes to communicate via this “Victorian” invention? To find out, we sent an expat Londonista and her Brooklyn-based brother on a Telectroscope test run. Her experiences, some favourites from the Flickr folk, and a Telectroscopic event to knock your Victorian socks off follow…

My brother and I live some 3,000 miles apart. Between busy schedules and a 5-hour time difference, we don’t talk nearly enough. Meanwhile, revelling in the ridiculous is a shared family trait. So when we learned that the Telectroscope installation would connect our respective cities, even, nearly, our respective neighbourhoods, we thought, yes, brilliant, obviously we’re going to have to check this out. We can’t often schedule a time to talk on the phone, but we will schedule a time to talk via placards at some gimmicky public art project.

Telectroscope_2.jpgImage courtesy of j_bary under the Creative Commons Attribution license

We’re both there at the agreed-upon time, and I jump when I see him. Though not life-size, he seems close by – as though through binoculars I’ve just spotted him on the banks of the Thames not far from where I stand. Except that that’s the Brooklyn Bridge behind him. He waves. I wave. He waves again. I wave again. We stop and stare at each other. So I wave some more. We’ve been communicating in some form or another for 24 years, but this renders us ineffectual. Unable to talk to him, I turn to the crowd of strangers on my end and do something I don’t usually do and in retrospect find deeply disturbing: I talk to them. “That’s my brother over there!” This elicits the appropriate “aw” I had been aiming for. Now they too wave at him. I become aware that I’m talking (and probably gesticulating wildly) at the Telectroscope even though he can’t hear me. He’s shrugging at me and shaking his head. Finally, he pulls out his mobile and motions for me to call him. I do, and we have a good laugh about how ridiculous the whole thing felt.

Telectroscope_3.jpgImage courtesy of cowfish via the Londonist Flickr pool

Afterwards, the man standing next to me tells me that this is the most worthwhile public art project he’s ever seen and that he hopes the installation will be extended or even made permanent. Most public art, he says, is the work of “twats”. The former sentiment, at least, is certainly echoed by a number of the visitors who have left comments over at the Telectroscope site.

Telectroscope_4.jpgImage courtesy of Noah Jacquemin under the Creative Commons Attribution license

Our assessment? Kind of silly, a bit gimmicky, nice scenery and, yes, rather awkward. Especially without the erasable boards we’d read would be available to write messages to each other. It also feels a bit like being in the zoo or a laboratory. Look – New Yorkers! In their natural habitat!

Still, it’s oddly fun. The fun’s on for only another 10 days, though, as the installation is scheduled to close on 15 June. Head here for the full details.

Telectroscope_5.jpgImage courtesy of crowbot under the Creative Commons Attribution license

And if you’d like a bit more activity to enrich your Telectroscope experience, consider showing up this Saturday at 7pm. Alternatively dubbed as the International Telectroscope Wave or the Trans-Atlantic Inter-Era Telectroscope Steampunk Conference, Victorian vintage-wearing revellers on both sides of the Atlantic will convene to wave wildly at each other. London’s participants will then retire to White Mischief’s Around the World in 80 Days for a full night of vaudeville performances.

Happy viewing!

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  • paulcox

    The lack of whiteboards is upsetting. I wonder if there were too many incidents of impropriety.

    Are they still charging a pound on our end? It looks less enclosed than I’d imagined. I thought there was a turnstile.

  • Julie PH

    Yes, it costs Londoners a pound. You’re right about it being fairly open. I imagine there are times when it wouldn’t be too difficult to walk right in without paying (not that I’m advocating that). Although there are a few people there to monitor the queue and shuffle people along when crowds are heavy, there isn’t actually someone there collecting money. You feed your pound (note, must have coins!) into a Victorian-looking mechanical ticket booth, and a pair of disembodied hands write you out and dispense the ticket.

    More pics of the tickets and the ticket booth here and here. It’s interesting…

  • Hazel

    I got a little bit choked up when I read this… that’s what public art is supposed to be about.

  • Kira

    ha! I went on a rainy afternoon and scooted right up to it, no pound necessary. It was weird, and slightly awkward, but also kind of thrilling. So, how many more days, do we think, until the Marriage Proposal Via Teletroscope Story??

  • Julie PH

    Ah ha, I stand corrected about the price of entry.

    This from a Gothamist interview with the Telectroscope creator, Paul St George:

    The telectroscope is free in Brooklyn but in London they have to pay a pound to look through, right? No, in London there is an automaton with two hands and the people in London can pay a pound and they get a signed and dated certificate that shows that they were there. We weren’t allowed to do that in Brooklyn. We wouldn’t turn anyone away in London; you can contribute if you want to and you get a certificate.

    Also, this in response to your question, Kira:

    Any wedding proposals yet? I haven’t seen one but I’ve heard it’s happened. There are also people who’ve seen new additions to their family for the first time.