Van Dusseldorp's Future of events (7)

Screens are us, videophone dreams & quarantainment video presence

Dear 711 co-travelers,

Where shall we go today? I prepared a short trip to the past for you, followed by some first thoughts about today’s screens.

  • Before we do so, I have to tell you about the Sangria & Secrets experience we discussed last time: it was delightful! Intimate, interactive, funny… and a real business. Our fabulous host Lexa Black told us Dragtaste can run more than 30 shows per day from their studios in Lisbon. And as for the mood: most of the participants in our group were celebrating a birthday. So this is really a thing: people buying each other tickets for a live interactive experience together with strangers from across the globe.

  • Also: do you want to join me for another platform exploration? No need to dress up for this one! Audio events are the new new thing.. Join @davidmattin and me this afternoon (Friday 5 February 16:00 CET) on Clubhouse, if you can, to kick off the new NewWorldSameHumans club.

As always, I would love to hear from you.

Here we go!


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Once upon a screen

What was the very first screen in your life? In my case, it was the black & white Philips X24T751 TV. Our cat sitting on top of it, enjoying the warmth of the cathode ray tubes, his tail swinging back and forth in front of the screen. Me hiding behind the couch, truly scared of Orimoa1, a Dutch children’s series.

While I sit here reminiscing, let me tell you there is a wild world of Philips aficionados out there - all Philips TV brochures from 1953-1992? Check!

Around the time we got that TV, Philips was also experimenting with videophones. The technology was there, the vision was clear, and the phones look great. I especially love this feature: the phone has a real small fold-out mirror for showing documents on-screen. (The video link below starts right when they demonstrate the mirror).

From the Teletroscope to Hole-in-space and CU-SeeMe

The dream of ubiquitous videotelephony starts 150 years ago with the imaginary Teletroscope (1873), and we have gone through many concepts, pilots, and services since. It took decades to make it real. It still feels like magic to me.

Just two more examples for you! An art project from 1980 and an education project from 1994.

In 1980, artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created a "Hole in Space" by linking bigger-than-life displays in New York and LA with a NASA satellite feed. (I include this one because I want to show you something about the newly discovered size of the screens for events.)

Suddenly head-to-toe, life-sized, television images of the people on the opposite coast appeared. They could now see, hear, and speak with each other as if encountering each other on the same sidewalk. No signs, sponsor logos, or credits were posted -- no explanation at all was offered. No self-view video monitors to distract from the phenomena of this life-size encounter. Self-view video monitors would have degraded the situation into a self-conscience videoconference.

[…] Hole-In-Space suddenly severed the distance between both cities and created an outrageous pedestrian intersection. (Source: Ecafe)

The Hole-in-Space project was only available for three evenings, dependent as it was on costly satellite links. Video call services for the longest time failed to reach a mass market. They were expensive to run and needed dedicated hardware. There were not that many people you could call.

In 1992, twenty years after Philips’ failed videophone, the University of Cornell put out CU-SeeMe, the first free videoconferencing program for personal computers. No need for expensive hardware anymore!

requires only a Mac or PC with a screen capable of displaying 16 grays and a connection to the Internet. (CU-SeeMe info page)

What did it look like? Cisco supported this education project in 1994. Ah, Zoomish, right?

Omnipresence is an eternal human dream. We have had decades of experiments with video communications. And we have had all the tools lined up for a while as well: broadband networks, video compression, smartphones, social networks, high-quality digital cameras…

Just add a global pandemic to the mix! Now, let’s jump to the present to see what happens with the screens.

Screens in the age of quarantainment

The day after the Biden/Harris inauguration, James Cordon invited poet Amanda Gorman onto the Late Late Show. You can see the scene if you click on the image below. He introduces her like this:

‘‘And I am so honoured to say that she is here on the show, please welcome the incredible Amanda Gorman, everybody! …[applause]…. Amanda I am so ridiculously happy to talk to you tonight on the show, how are you?’’

There she is, across from him, Amanda on a huge vertical screen, her head four times the size of his. What struck me in this: he does not inform the audience they chose this solution - he knows they will understand. She is really there, and he will talk with her. No problem.

Another example, last week on Dutch TV. The Voice is a talent show with four judges, who turn their chairs after listening to the contestant singing a song. Just in case you did not know! (Duh! The show is in its 11th year, 20th season, in 145 countries.)

One of the Dutch judges is Anouk. There she is - on the right. She is on screen, the same size as the other coaches, interacting with them as if she is present. No problem.

If you accept that someone present on screen is as present as you need them to be, anybody can be anywhere.

What does that mean for events? And what kind of screens do we need to make this work? Three quick observations connected to different types of screens and their role in our lives.

Screen presence for delegates

How can an event bring together delegates on screen?

Venues with big screens are now home to new kinds of hybrid experiences. Some entertainment companies are already exploring this and are selling tickets for the experience. Different types of business events are also looking into this, to get people more involved. These are mega productions!

Delegates want to see the show and they want to be visible on the big screen and be part of the show. Will we see new types of screen presence for both audience and performers? Some early signs…

Lean back/background screens at home

The screen situation is also changing at home. People are getting used to putting their internet streams on the main screen in the living room, and at the same time, they are also adding widescreens and second screens to their desks.

Both setups influence the experience of an online ‘‘event’’. For a live stream consumed as a lean-back experience, you need all the qualities of a TV producer.

At the same time, live events can also become something enjoyed in the background, the video stream as a companion to other activities. Or just the audio! A very different experience for a different type of event.

Vertical screens?

When I talk on the phone, my kids mock me - I still move my arms and hands to underline what I am saying. To experience a space, widescreen screens are wonderful. But humans are vertical.

TikTok has a point: the vertical video format gives us a much better feeling for the people on the other side of the screen. Anouk and Amanda, in the two examples above, are both visible on vertical screens for a reason.

Let’s have a look at some examples?

Uh oh! Substack tells me this newsletter is too long. So you will get two issues this week! Yes, yes, I will hone my editing skills and be as succinct as a poet soon. Expect a haiku of a newsletter someday.

Window-to-the-world share of the day


Van Dusseldorp’s Future of Events is a newsletter by me, Monique van Dusseldorp. I am a freelance curator and moderator of tech and media conferences (more here). I love to hear from you! Mail me or connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

And tell everyone to sign up for my newsletter! :-)

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p.s. Cat Klaas, who could wail like a baby. Whenever I sat down on the floor to read the newspapers, elbows to the ground, he’d jump on my shoulders and sit between my shoulder blades. Just my memory offering a small window to my world there.