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Lost Values

Talking Boxes

communication devices for casual interaction between distant social spaces

Stefan Agamanolis, Costas Bissas, Richard Wilson

Conventional videoconference systems are overly formal, difficult to use, and just plain boring. Talking Boxes are simple, fun objects that aim to encourage spontaneity and chance encounters within the bustling social areas of events, businesses, schools and other establishments, where many relationships are initiated and developed.

The use of videoconferencing tools has exploded in recent years as companies and individuals strive to reduce costs by reducing travel. However, the systems in use today are still not a suitable solution in many scenarios. In education, for example, a complete learning experience is comprised of much more than just "lectures over television". In a traditional university experience, what happens outside of the lecture hall is just as important -- the interaction you get with your peers before and after class, in the study group, in the cafe, in the sports club, in the pub, and so on. Similarly, often the most important reason to go to a conference or workshop is not the content you will absorb but the networking and interaction that you can have with the other participants.

Conventional videoconferencing systems fail in supporting these less formal activities because they are optimised for "work". They are often installed in formal acoustically-controlled conference rooms and are designed to support the requirements of business meetings and presentations. Desktop conferencing programs function on your PC which is often situated on a desk in a work-related environment. On top of all of this, the controls and interfaces for videoconferencing systems are often frustratingly difficult to use.


With these drawbacks in mind, we designed the Talking Boxes specifically to support informal social interaction and chance encounters between distant social spaces such as cafes, pubs, foyers, and other places where people naturally gather for casual interaction. The Talking Boxes provide an always-on point-to-point audiovisual connection within an attractively-designed physical object appropriate for coffee tables, bar counters, and other informal surfaces. The industrial design by Costas Bissas, inspired literally by the look and feel of old wooden boxes and crates, is a reversal of the trend of enclosing technology in soul-deadening grey plastic.

Each Talking Box has two single-ear headphones on a coiled lead that can be used when the surrounding environment is noisy, as is often the case in such spaces. They also have no controls whatsoever; instead they are controlled remotely over the Internet by an administrator.


The Talking Boxes enable awareness of remote activity and promote a sense of connection amongst colleagues, friends and delegates in different geographical locations - reducing the need for travel. Potential uses include:

  • Connecting cafes or pubs in remote villages to those in the city

  • Connecting the mingling spaces of venues in a distributed conference

  • Connecting the foyers of hotels and health clubs with multiple locations

  • Connecting the informal meeting spaces or cafeterias of distributed organisations

  • Connecting the casual gathering areas of dispersed educational institutions

FutureEverything 2010 - GloNet

Talking Boxes were first featured at the 2010 FutureEverything festival in Manchester, England, 12 - 15 May 2010. The boxes were used during GloNet (Globally Networked Event) to link the informal mingling spaces at the 5 connected venues around the world (Sendai, Istanbul, São Paolo, Vancouver, and Manchester).

Commercial availability

Talking Boxes are available for hire or purchase for your own distributed locations and events. A wide array of customisations is possible. We are also seeking investment partners to further commercialise this concept. Please contact us for more information.


Talking Boxes were designed by Distance Lab in association with FutureEverything.

Special thanks to Paula Nichols, Chris Moule, Angus Aitken, Andrea Taylor, Michelle Hirschhorn, Drew Hemment, and Julian Tait for their feedback and assistance during the development of this project.