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TED Talks opens portals for attendees to make connections across globe

A gold-painted shipping container equipped with an immersive audiovisual studio rests on Jack Poole Plaza outside TED Talks in Vancouver, ready to link whoever goes inside for a face-to-face conversation with someone somewhere else on the planet.

It could be Mexico City, Mumbai, Berlin or the south-side of Chicago, but the device’s creator, American artist Amar Bakshi, is betting such interactions will help people step outside their social circles and start building communities in a more global way.

“At some point there is a value of breaking out of our own communities,” Bakshi said. “And that same technology that connects me to my mom, or me to my friend could be used just as easily to engage with a complete stranger around the world.”

That is something Bakshi learned as a journalist travelling the world.

It’s an idea that fits into the broad theme of this year’s TED Talks, “the future of you,” which is about challenging the 1,800 high-powered attendees to conceive of a shared future where people can, in the words of TED curator Chris Anderson, “collectively thrive in a world of change.”

And Bakshi’s Portals is one of a dozen exhibits that help make TED Talks a more interactive event beyond the passive experience of absorbing the inspiring talks given by the bright minds brought on stage. 

There were a handful of virtual-reality displays such as Tree, which, with goggles and earphones on, transforms the participant into a rainforest tree that grows from seed to full form and Life of Us, that flies people through a four-minute video-game version of evolution.

And Vancouver architect Michael Green’s firm MGA, with his school, Design Build Research, unveiled Pause, a wood-based structure designed by Russian architectural student Alsu Sadreiva, that invites people to take stools down from a wall to sit and talk.

The stark legs poking through represent thorny, challenging problems of the world that can only be smoothed out by guests taking them down to gather for a discussion.

“The objective is to find interesting, leading edge concepts that may cover any number of disciplines,” said Katherine McCartney, the Vancouver-based producer who put the program together. “Innovation, creativity, leading edge technologies, disruptive ideas are all considered.”

TED has learned to inject an element of “restoration and wellness” into the intense schedule of sessions, McCartney said, which included a “breathing room,” produced by the yoga apparel-maker Lululemon.

For Portals, McCartney said they worked with Bakshi’s Shared Studios staff to select locations to connect with to “provide unique experiences you cannot find easily without travelling across the world once again demonstrating how our world is changing”.

Bakshi spoke to a reporter as the TED portal was being set up to connect attendees with people gathering at Shared Studios’ portal in Mexico City.

Bakshi said portals can be used to let people make random encounters with people to expand their understanding of the world, or to make connections and collaborate on theatrical productions, music projects, language lessons or anything else that can be accomplished through face-to-face interaction.

“This is a way of thinking about integrating technology into public spaces to make a different kind of infrastructure,” Bakshi said.

depenner@postmedia.com

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