Zippy Cybersafari to Africa

a report by Freddie Bell for Sub-link, Calgary Canada.

On June 24, 1995 in a warehouse in Woodstock, a light industrial area of Cape Town, a stone's throw from the Atlantic Ocean, Vortex Productions were in preparation for one of the greatest rave-related events to take place for a while. The stage was set, high-tech icon lighting hung from the roof girders, a 38K sound kit and 2 m speaker stacks were in place. In a small room adjacent to the dance-floor big enough to accommodate 2500 happy ravers, a circa 1995 videophone stood linked up via sophisticated ISDN lines to Johannesburg 1600 km's away and from there back to the coast and via the undersea cable to Amsterdam, across the puddle to Boston and on to a video phone at the United Nations 50th Anniversary celebrations at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

The idea for the linkup originated from David Robert Lewis in S.F. on May 12. The message to me was "Get Africa On-line..." The project was quickly dubbed the "Zippy CyberSafari to Africa". In the ensuing 6 weeks to June 24, negotiations with telecommunications companies took place almost exclusively through E-mail on the Internet. It was truly a project conceived in Cyberspace. Several local "electrofricans" were invited through E-mail to experience the event which was to be hosted by Vortex Productions prior to the 'UFO's and things' rave on the same night.

By June 21, PictureTel and Telkom (S.A.) had agreed to sponsor the linkup. The videophones were lugged to, and installed at both venues simultaneously. Ground crews and technicians installed the lines and tested them. The excitement was tangible and overwhelming.

On Saturday, June 24, at about 10:30, the rave doors opened. Ravers streamed in. At first in small numbers and then in their hundreds. The connect time had been shifted to 11 p.m. Cape Town time (2 p.m. S.F. time). A rather bored looking tech. in Boston appeared on the screen. We tested the sound (clear) and the picture quality. All systems go. The video image was projected onto a 2 x 3 m screen in the chill-out room. At 11:30pm S.F. came on-line. On screen a Tibetan Monk in long robes and hair, surrounded by 10 or 15 really cool, hippie looking people chanted "World Peace Now!" And we chanted with them! We could see and hear each other. We connected a cameraman to the video phone and sent him out into the venue to film the scene so that the S.F. people could see the ubiquitous African Drummers and talk with Cape Town ravers. Just then the sound failed, (possibly because impatient DJs had started spinning disks in the background) so we just wrote notes and held them up to the camera and waved things at each other. In Cyber-Space we were no more than 3 meters apart!

What did we achieve? The very first transatlantic event-to-event video- conference link. The first such link to Africa. The first rave-related video conference installation. In the past video-conferencing has been the exclusive toy of multinational executives. We made the technology accessible to... RAVERS! Several local (but largely unknown) shamanistic Cyber-Africans were present to herald a new age in Global Communications and to think about Science Fiction as experience.

Ifelt like was in an unreleased part of Wim Wenders 'Until the end of the world' movie. Perhaps, 5 years from now, video phone equipment will be smaller than a midrange computer and ISDN lines as accessible as voice-lines. On Jan 1 in the year 2000, ravers on continents separated by 1000's of Kms of ocean will rave in the same conceptual space, to the same DJ so that the concept of National Identity and War is truly a non-starter.

It is much less likely that we will have the opportunity to get into space and be transformed by the experience of seeing the golf- ball we live on. Rave is truly the first subculture to embrace technology, forward thinking the peaceful resolution of conflict to the benefit of present/future generations.

Freddie Bell July 14, 1995


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