When project 24 Hours in Cyberspace begins at midnight February 7 on the World Wide Web (www.Cyber24.com), and draws to a close precisely 24 hours later, it will have done two things. First, every participating writer and photographer would have realised his dream of brief but immediate world exposure. Second, it would showcase a weird but wonderful gamut of Internet users, ranging from Mexican Zapatista rebels to American Hopi Indians, while proving to the sceptics how warm-blooded that nether-zone called cyberspace really is.
The organisers, Against All Odds Productions, and chief sponsors Eastman Kodak, Sun Microsystems and Adobe Systems hope it will also prove that it is now possible to bring the world together for simultaneous, round-the-clock interaction. Against All Odds Productions was founded by photojournalist Rick Smolan, who created the acclaimed Day in the Life book series and the more recent CD-ROMs From Alice to Ocean and Passage to Vietnam .
For Smolan's brainchild, 24 Hours in Cyberspace , the companies commissioned 100 international photojournalists to shoot and file pictures of Internet users worldwide on February 8. They also engaged select student groups around the world to complement the pictures with stories on their own usage of cyberspace. Both the students and the photographers will direct their contributions to the Mission Center for editing.
The editorial team at Mission Control will use the largest, most powerful one-day Internet network ever, integrated and managed by Sun Microsystems. Once the Web site is ready, the photographs and stories will be transmitted to two very large Internet interconnection points. Sun servers located at Sun Sites around the world will triple the international capacity of the Internet on that day, so no visitor will have to spend hours in a queue trying to gain access to the 24 Hours Website.
"The speed and scale of this project are unprecedented," says Tom Melcher, the project's chief operating officer and technology coordinator. "The typical wire service processes around 1,500 images a day. The average city newspaper tracks about 30 original stories a day. The technology developed for this project will allow us to collect, edit, and publish thousands of images and hundreds of stories in a day. "
Malaysian officials who use global positioning satellites and the Internet to track wild elephants and relay instant data to researchers at a Washington zoo will be documented. So will 400 fishermen off the Cape of Good Hope who share a single computer and have gone online to plug into the latest meteorological forecasts.
As for India, south Delhi's Lajpat Nagar and the Tibetan exile movement in Dharamshala will figure on the net. Pictures of the capital's sprawling electronic market and Dharamshala's Tibetan monks using hi-tech to communicate with their brethren worldwide will be on the net on February 8, thanks to photographers Dilip Mehta and Tom Kelly. Lajpat Nagar is not really about people using cyberspace, at least not yet, says Mehta, who feels that though the communications revolution is still to take off in India, it is only a matter of time. But he prefers capturing the local flavour of the mushrooming market, with its array of electronic communication goods, to the standardised cybercafes at some of the city's leading hotels. For Kelly, who will portray Tibetan monks switching on to the net, this will be opportunity to display the Internet's awesome power to bring people together regardless of geographical and political barriers.
As expected, the project costs a minor fortune. "Our budget sheets are probably upwards of $5 million," says Melcher. Eric Schmidt, chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems views the expenditure differently: 24 Hours would lead to improved product quality, and would have tremendous marketing and PR value, he points out.
Whatever the outcome of this brief, costly venture, one thing is certain: the world is going to sit up and take notice of the endless possibilities of global interaction, given technology and ingenuity. In Schmidt's words, this will be a "journey like few others in the history of the industry".