Kristin OFriel
Mitchell Said


Interactive Telecommunications for Strangers


Metaforms,Networked Objects

Operator is a physical installation that puts the user in the role of a switchboard operator. Presented with a patchcord the user can bridge a connection by selecting a node from a grid of locations and placing a live conference call with the respective location’s public telephones.

We looked at a broad range of 'telephone art' projects, from Jim Pallas's 1970's "Phoneyvents" to contemporary uses of VOIP and payphones in the work of Ryan Holsopple, Brad Templeton and Jeremy Liu.

People interested in telecommunications, chance, contingency and spontaneity in the context of public space.

User Scenario
You approach the wall mounted installation and encounter a stark metal panel with a grid of nodes, each labeled with a geographic location. At the top of the panel are three simple instructions:
1. pick up the handset
2. place a phone call by connecting the cable(s) to the desired location node
3. if no one answers, try a different location

Simple enough - you think you can handle this. You pick up the telephone and plug a cable into San Francisco, CA - the phone begins ringing on the other end. Your heart speeds up with anticipation, is this really making a phone call? You plug another cable into Sydney, Australia and sure enough, the phones are answered and you find yourself in a conference call with two people on opposite sides of the world! The guy in San Francisco is hysterical but the kid in Sydney is drunk and confused, so you bid him farewell and plug a third cable into Paris, France. The three of you end up talking about foreign etiquette and have the funniest conversation you think you've ever had!

Etched anodized aluminum, plexiglass, patch cable, audio jacks, labels, analog phone handset, arduino microcontroller, XPort, ethernet connection, Asterisk server, Linksys SPA1001

switch > arduino > export > http > asterisk > phone call

From our preliminary calls we discovered that spontaneous conversation between strangers is very difficult, but surprisingly rewarding. In the face of open-ended interaction, the conversation benefits from scripted prompts and instructions.