Video Bridge / Global Utopias /
|Report Lithuania 2007
Franz, Thank you for recommending our Minciu Sodas laboratory for the GlobalUtopias project. I share my report on our work. Andrius Kulikauskas, Minciu Sodas http://www.ms.lt, mail: ms(AT)ms.lt, +370 699 30003
Franz Nahrada speaks of global villages as centers of learning unbounded by time or space. He champions video bridge technology as key for his vision. We let his intuition guide us and our own enthusiasm for video bridges steadily grows.
We purchased two sets of video bridge equipment and conducted thirteen experiments in what we might achieve with video bridges.
We learned that the flexibility of this technology allows us to open up a new discourse, a fundamental and universal discourse, in marginalized areas and cast-off a provincial mindset. We are excited to report that our first steps in rural Lithuania have led us to take on endeavors with truly global impact in Kenya, Mexico, rural Missouri and inner-city Chicago.
When we proposed this series of video bridges, we did not foresee that the city of Vilnius would take over the Atzalynas club's community center and close it for renovation. The center has yet to open. This forced us to be truly flexible and to reach out far and wide to find partners. I opened up such contacts through my laboratory, Minciu Sodas, for independent thinkers in Lithuania and around the world. The video bridge activity allowed the Atzalynas club to stay vibrant even without a physical base.
I first approached folk artist Algirdas Juskevicius in the small town of Varena where he leads the Varena Tourism and Business Information Center. The center has a meeting room with a projector. Algirdas gave me information about his projector. I showed him how to use the center for a video bridge using Skype. I called up Eric Britton of Paris, France. Eric is a visionary for the future of transportation in large cities. He spoke about his values and also gave us some tips on video bridging, such as caring about the lighting. That was on July 4, 2007.
On July 10, 2007 we again organized a video bridge with 14 people at the center. Five of us drove up from Vilnius and the rest were local. Our topic was Algirdas's question, How can I find for myself and others an activity that integrates creative work and making a living? We first visited an exposition of Algirdas's lifelong work as a folk sculptor. We then engaged Joy Tang in Taiwan by video bridge. Joy was working as vice president of marketing at Accton. She gave us a tour of their facility. We spoke about the value of a creative culture and a global story as opposed to creative works themselves. The video bridge opened up a contact for work by Minciu Sodas to perhaps work with or for Acction to develop an email device, Includer [ http://www.includer.org ] http://www.includer.org for emerging markets. We also spoke with Samwel Kongere by audeo bridge with him in Mbita Point, Kenya. Later in 2008 our Minciu Sodas team helped save Samwel's life when he was suffering an allergic reaction that covered his throat with sores so that he could not eat for more than a week. We also engaged Sasha Mrkailo in Serbia who spoke about his work as a craftsman and our online assistant. This video bridge was reported in the local newspaper Merkio krastas.
On July 17, 2007 we held a video bridge for Mudis Salkauskas with his five friends on the question, What is information? We did this from his home in the village of Riese. We had an audio bridge with a distinguished panel of speakers on the subject, including microbiology graduate student Asif Daya in Florida, physicist Geoff Chesshire in New Mexico, and chemical engineer Tom Wayburn in Texas. We also had a video bridge with Sasha Mrkailo of Serbia. We received a paper on the subject from semiotician Ronald Stamper. We were able to make deep progress in the subject but the main obstacle was I was unable to encourage Mudis to take up this opportunity and explore deeper his own ideas, how the various approaches fit with his own?
We had another video bridge in Riese on July 21, 2007 in the home of Alfredas Gabrijolavicius. His question was How to organize a system of help? Sixteen people gathered at his homestead. We drew on paper various community currencies that represented different things that we might value and exchange, such as time or learning, and we practiced awarding them to each other. Then we had an audio bridge conference call with world experts on the subject including John Rogers in Wales. We used a fast broadband connection (ordered just for the day) to have a video bridge with Sasha Mrkailo in Serbia. We also had a video bridge with Aldute in Alytus who is bound to her wheel chair and we discussed how we could help her overcome problems she had with her neighbors. Rytis Umbrasas, our member in Alytus, was able to help there. I spoke with Alfredas that we made progress on his question and yet at the very point when we were about to address it, he became impatient with the technology. We spent eleven hours talking about the day and concluded there was a need for a third person to mediate the pressures on the learner who leads us with their question. I note that in 2008 our Minciu Sodas team devised a community currency based on sharing cell phone airtime that helped Kenyans get food, medicine and transport and saved lives during the post-election turmoil.
On August 10, 2007 we held a video bridge in the Pavilnys public library because the Atzalynas club was closed. We helped young poet Tomas Taskauskas consider What is creative work? We had two guests from Italy including Juan Carlos de Martin, coordinator of the European Union thematic network COMMUNIA for the Public Domain (Indeed, Minciu Sodas went on to become a founding member of COMMUNIA and host the third workshop in Vilnius on March 31, 2008.) Eight other guests included local musicians Algirdas Zokaitis and Alvydas Cepulis who shared their songs. The library does not have an Internet connection so we had brought a 3G modem which uses the mobile phone system. However, it turned out that 3G was not available in this rural neighborhood of Vilnius, but only GPRS, which was sufficient for audio but not video. Even so, we made connection with John Rogers in Wales and with Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota in Japan to get their thoughts on creativity. We added a video component by having them send us pictures of what they thought was creative. Much of our discussion was amongst the participants in Pavilnys, but the inclusion of guests from Italy, Wales and Japan made us realize that our ideas are deep and not provincial. This event also kept the Atzalynas club going strong even without having our headquarters.
The next day, August 11, 2007, five of us traveled to the village of Eiciunai where we met four adults and a mixed group of youths from the inner city and the village. I asked the question which came out of my reflections with Alfredas Gabrijolavicius, How to pray in twos or threes so that we might appropriately hold one to account for oneself? and is that important in creating a culture? Benoit Couture of Alberta, Canada assisted me because of his keen interest in God. We managed an audio connection with him and he was delighted to hear the songs of faith sung by the youth. They also sang for Tom Wayburn in Texas who is of a scientific, atheistic background. And we managed a video connection with Alfredas Gabrijolavicius and his three friends in Riese, with Rytis Umbrasas and his two friends in Moletai, with Aldute in Alytus, all of whom enjoyed the songs. My discussion with Benoit and with the participants in Eiciunai helped me get a sense of how praying in twos and threes might help us tune into the "person-in-general" who can live through us, which is how I think of Jesus Christ's role that he offers us. Eiciunai is the village of Zenonas Anusauskas who provided excellent technical leadership for the video bridges, has developed video streaming and archiving at www.kaimotv.lt and has brought these technologies to Lithuania's parliament, Vilnius's city hall and the ELTA news agency. We are envisaging Eiciunai as the new headquarters of Minciu Sodas and as a center for alternative technology.
September 9, 2007, we pursued sculptor Algirdas Zokaitis's question, How can Lithuanian artists without money show their work in other countries? This was an outing for the Atzalynas club and friends in Pavilnys (seventeen people) to go the the Europos Parkas sculpture garden near the geographical center of Europe. The day in the park ended with a discussion with Dennis Kimambo of Nakuru, Kenya who we met through the Act ALIVE discussion group for HIV/AIDS and the arts. Dennis makes a living as a professional theater actor and director, but he is also active in community theater by which he acts along with audiences in prisons and elsewhere on subjects such as HIV/AIDS and violence. The latter activity is what allows him to travel to other countries. We tried out our newly purchased projector (rather than borrow or rent equipment from others). We managed only an audio connection yet we were able to see various websites and we were encouraged by Dennis to think that we might travel one day to Africa. We thanked Dennis by sending him ten USB flash drives for his fellow Kenyans who frequent Internet cafes. In January 2008, when the Kenyan post-election turmoil started, our relationship with Dennis led to the Pyramid of Peace [ http://www.pyramidofpeace.net ] http://www.pyramidofpeace.net In Nakuru his theatre REPACTED brought together people from the different tribes to meetings commit to peace. This kept Nakuru calm so it was possible for us to send money to Dennis, which he distributed as cellphone airtime, which isolated people could barter for food, medicine and transport. Public Radio International did a report on our work together [ http://www.theworld.org/?q=node/15386 ] http://www.theworld.org/?q=node/15386 Amazingly, on March 28, 2008 we hosted our first visitors from Africa, ten drummers and acrobats from the Nafsi Afrika Acrobats who performed on Lithuania's television, in Eiciunai, and in Uzupis, a neighborhood not far from Pavilnys.
September 19, 2007 we traveled to the town of Sirvintos where teacher and parent Danute Luksiene asked, Is the school system's fostering of students in accord with family values? Three people in Sirvintos were joined by three visitors from Vilnius had audio connections with another team in Vilnius (led by Sarunas Bagdonas from Lithuania's Parent's Association) and with Franz Nahrada in Austria. Discussion with student Jurgita Lalyte of Sirvintos led to the question, What can motivate students to learn? We tried to use the wireless Internet (Zebra) using prepaid cards but the connection was too slow for video. But this was a success from the organizational point of view as we had two strong teams that could have a meaningful dialogue at either location and across locations. Zenonas Anusauskas made his film of the video bridge in Sirvintos available through [ http://www.kaimotv.lt ] http://www.kaimotv.lt
I then received a stipend for a two month journey which brought me to Mexico and the United States of America. Our team in Lithuania was strong enough to conduct some video bridges with me as I traveled. My travels brought me to a retreat in Oaxaca, the poorest state in Mexico, where the government had violently put down the residents who had taken over sections of the city of Oaxaca. On November 10, 2007, Rosario Serrato, the head librarian of Oaxaca's main library, asked, What expectations do the youth have? and what do they want for the future? Even as a government official she was willing to open up this dialogue to include people such as Mark Beam who are sympathetic to the protestors and who want to create new spaces in the city for co-working. Together they discussed the possibility of holding events at the library. We organized the video bridge with the work center for the disabled in Zirmunai, a neighborhood of Vilnius. The interaction included songs by the Lithuanian youth which reached into the shyness of the Mexican youth who were using the Internet in the room where the video bridge took place. Technically, the video bridge went well on both sides, and socially the discussion led afterwards to an hour long consideration of possibilities by Rosario Serrato and Mark Beam.
On November 30, 2007, Jeff Buderer of One Village Foundation and I visited Marcin Jakubowski and his partner Brittany on their "Factor e Farm" in Missouri. Marcin is a practitioner of "open source farming" and is a great inspiration to Franz Nahrada, who gave birth to our video bridge efforts. We wished to link up with Franz and understand how we might align our visions and coordinate our efforts. Marcin and Brittany live happily and apply enormous innovation, but do not have most of the basic comforts of the modern world. The "last mile" of their Internet connection was several hundred feet of wire across their field that unfortunately got chewed up by rodents and stopped working just before we came. We therefore traveled to the house of their friend, an organic baker. We managed to see Franz, but he couldn't see us, because we couldn't use our web camera. Yet the conversation was very helpful in encouraging us to consider how we might work together. Marcin has selected sixteen fundamental technologies which are building blocks for an open source farm and might even be combined as an open source tractor. With Franz's encouragement we considered how we might support each other's online venues.
My travels then brought me to my friends John and Julie Harland in Carlsbad, California. On December 5, 2008, I asked the question, How can one create songs? We set up a video bridge with Irena Buinickaite and six others in her office Vilnius including sculptor and songwriter Algirdas Zokaitis. Algirdas and John played some of their music. I tried to create a song based on empathy for my friend David Ellison-Bey on the South Side of Chicago whose car was towed by the city which kept bullying him to pay his traffic tickets. I vocalized my feelings and then tried to find words to sing along. I myself was happy with the song that resulted. They could see us (not too well) but we could not see them.
On December 8, 2007, I was at David's home in Chicago and we discussed with Gryte Miseviciene and four others in the town of Skaidiskes her question, How to stay connected with children and grandchildren in the 21st century? David Ellison-Bey gave very straightforward and touching advice how to give children simple rules for behavior to hold them accountable to, such as "if you open it, close it", "if you break it, fix it", "if you can't fix it, tell somebody". Such rules are much more helpful then any kind of abstract teachings. David is a Moorish-American and it was quite surprising to learn that Gryte's son-in-law is a Moor and thus so is her grandchild in France. She was very happy with what she learned. The video bridge succeeded technically as we could see each other quite well.
That was twelve video bridges, but I organized a thirteenth from Chicago which shows our ability to teach others this skill. David is quite frequently depressed and he needs help from others, but also technical help with his computer and Internet connection. On December 10, 2007, I invited Anita Gousman to visit him and perhaps help him. I showed her how we do video bridges using Skype. We conversed with Tong Zhu and his family in Saskatchewan. (Tong is originally from China.) His son Paul showed us the pictures he draws. We were able to see each other quite well. Tong is an epidemiologist and so we also spoke about how the Minciu Sodas laboratory might help with a flu pandemic. This video bridge was an encouragement for Anita that perhaps she might be able to communicate with this technology and that helping David might open up a new world for them both.
These video bridges that we have done with Atzalynas and Minciu Sodas have confirmed Franz Nahrada's good intuition. We have found that video bridges stimulate local discussion. They show that our ideas can be relevant across time and space. Thus they help people locally appreciate each other's good ideas and shake away any sense of provinciality. For Lithuanians, this is evident in linking up with the "more developed" world, but also it has proven healthy to realize there is so much gain from the "less developed" world, especially a real life concern for helping others. These events have helped us build a team in Lithuania that can perform as technicians, organizers and mentors. We applied our skills by hosting a workshop in Vilnius for the European Union network COMMUNIA which included a video bridge with Sasha Mrkailo in Serbia, a live video feed of the event, an online chat channel, an online social networking site, and wireless Internet access for all participants. Our work has been lauded by the press and television. But perhaps the most encouraging sign is that online discussion in Lithuanian has risen from one group with one letter per day to four groups with a total of seven letters per day. Link to Lithuanian Minciu Sodas Group
Video bridges have helped as events to bring us together and appreciate the significance of our global friends and share in that friendship. Such a friendship is at the heart of any utopia and is much valued in the developing world.