I know there must be hundreds and thousands of tales like this to tell or to read. Our world seems to get so much smaller with the web.
But here’s one I wanted to share because it sort of made my jaw drop and maybe it spread a little happiness.
Recently over Skype I was writing back and forth to a woman in Libya. She was talking about the arrival of a very special person that many people all over the world will celebrate. A child of a man who made a difference but was then taken from us brutally. A small life in return is a happy and grave thing at the same time. We chatted about the practicalities of trying to buy baby clothes in a city that is overwhelmed with disruption. Trying to find something so regular for a small light in a wilderness.
At some point in the conversation she referred to the expected baby as “the bub”. I paused at my keyboard. Then said, “You’re Australian?” The way we ‘speak’ online fascinates me. Outside of the 140 character missives we shoot across the web, the way a person writes can tell you a lot about them, education, style, choice of words. As an Australian, to see that word “bub” appear, I found that I could suddenly hear her voice across the words that appeared on my screen. Many Australians have the wanderlust. You can probably go to the ends of the earth and hear a cheery hoo-roo from the only other person there. She laughed that she was writing Australian. To have a conversation of this type with someone in a place of tension is a good thing.
Besides the banter on accent and baby clothes, we also talked about communications. She pointed me toward a site where people are banding together to buy a satellite. You read right. A massive structure in space for telecoms, our own satellite. It is hoped that when funds are raised, it will be positioned over Africa to help people access the internet and instigate some change. It sounded wild to me. We closed our conversation and I looked up the satellite site.
Indeed, we can all put together and buy a satellite. But who started this? I looked further to find the person responsible.
A young man who had many projects on the go it seemed. I browsed his personal website and something stood out more than the others. He was also associated with a project run by a friend in Canada. Not an every day web project either, he had apparently been working on the Eyeborg project.
I should explain. Rob Spence is an eyeborg. He has a camera, packed into a false eye, that can transmit what he is looking at to a screen or maybe at some point, to the web. After many years now of chatting with Rob online, I think I take it for granted, but in retrospect, I guess it does sound pretty extreme. I think it’s pretty cool.
So I raise Rob on Gtalk. “Hey, do you know a guy who’s trying to buy a satellite?”.
“Yeah, he slept on the same couch that you did when you came to stay last year”.
I was a little agog. My world, spread across continents is small.
From a woman who left my home country to communicate with others in a frightening place, to a man who wants to buy a satellite for the greater good and a guy who puts a camera in his face, right back to my computer in London. It’s not the first time that these connections have amazed me, and it is unlikely to be the last. But in the space of that two hour session online, I felt connected to some of the strangest and more amazing people I had met. When things like this happen, I look forward to what the web might show me in years to come and yes, in those moments, you can call me a Utopian. Surely it’s allowed sometimes.