The Paper Cup Telephone Network (PCTN) is a free communication system. Just like the games played by children, anyone can put the cup to their ear to listen, or to their mouth to speak. However, the difference between the PCTN and the original game is that the ‘string’ is connected to the world wide web where your voice is streamed to all the cups on the network carrying it blocks or even miles or a continent away.
The Paper Cup Telephone Network is a free communication system that allows group communication between all points on the network at once. The PCTN is a complex technology reduced to a globally understood form. On one level the network is transparent and visible because the paper cup telephone is something that many of us have made and used ourselves. However, PCTN also hides a complex underlay of communication technologies that most of us have never used nor understood. The question of interactivity is then raised – on what level are participants interacting? With which technologies are they engaging; a child’s simple toy or a complex global technology?
The PCTN challenges the idea of locality. The paper cup is an effective vehicle for simple communications but there is no scope for augmented information. How do we know where the person on the other end is from? Are they close, a block away, on the other side of the world? To determine this we must participate with the network of speakers. The technology provides no additional information but is instead a ‘dumb’ receptacle. No caller ID, no address book, no traceroute. Instead you have to rely on the other people in the network for assistance and information. The more people on the ‘line’ at once, the more interpersonal communication needs to be regulated by those using it at that time. Just like all of networked society, whether mailing lists, chat rooms, P2P, Wiki, or the web itself, its users will govern the system.
The Paper Cup Telephone Network can also be viewed as a reaction of the loss of cheap public telephones in our urban environment, forcing people to rely on cellular communication outside their home as long as they can afford it. The PCTN will be installed in various spots in San Jose, and the surrounding Bay Area, enabling communication between ISEA participants and people within San Jose.