How We Share
by Antonio Serna

I used to spend hours on the LAN of a PC basement in Hong Kong called, of all things furthest from Cantonese Culture, "Aztec". These pay per hour dens served free soft drinks, a couple types of teas, cold waffles, offered a smoking section and blasted Canto, Mandarin, and Japanese pop. If you didn’t like the contents of the free snack basket you also had the option of ordering your favorite dish from the Chinese restaurant one level above. Sure, I liked gaming, first person shooters with ultra realistic mods were my favorite, but what I really enjoyed the most was watching the new generation interact in such a wired environment. Most of the people joined huge unorganized LAN competitions, members of various clans were certain all around us, destroying the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible. Other people, such as couples might watch a vcd, a lower quality version of today's dvd, in a two seated cubicle. Looking up at the mirrored ceiling and over into the next cubicle you might see a couple who didn't necessarily choose the place for it's fast video cards but rather for the privacy the den offered. Some were there to surf, chat, and making new friends using ICQ. This was the summer of 2000, Hong Kong was the first place where I could really see the internet community learning to share the ether.

From Hong Kong I flew to Seoul, where I heard the broadband web was pumping at a rate of 8mbs under the entire city. After setting me up with a room in the love hotel next door, the young hotel keeper of a certain rundown hotel introduced me to his girlfriend and one of his friends over the live video chat on his computer. This was in 2001, making the idea of the Apple iSight video camera look like an outdated joke and an expensive one to boot. The next day I explored Seoul, it didn’t take me long to find a PC Baang, i.e. a Korean cyber cafe. Inside I noticed monitor after monitor the screens divided into 4 or more squares with a head in each one of them reminding me of mini Max Headrooms. Because of the high bandwidth throughout the city people, like then hotel keeper, were video chatting all the time without worry about the cost. In Korea it was a flat fee of 25-35USD per month, all you can eat. Not knowing a word of Korean ,the idea of video chatting was unthinkable and made me felt slightly out of the ether loop. For a second I felt home sick. I tried to connect to a game server in Hong Kong where I found the camaraderie very welcoming no matter what language you spoke but the closest I could get to a decent game with minimal lag was from a couple of servers in Japan. Many servers were locked I noticed, not like the free-for-all servers found in Hong Kong.

I traveled to Beijing that later that year but this time with a friend. His companionship made me forget my hidden agenda: to find a cyber café in every city I visited. One night while looking for a hyped-up disco written up in an outdated Lonely Planet Guide we accidentally stumbled onto a primitive looking PC room, it was quiet without a sign or light outside. Through the steamy windows I could just barely make out how they were sharing the ether. It was again, used for gaming, but the games were a couple of years old and not as graphically demanding.

In Taipei, the last leg of my eastern tour, it was business as usual in the PC rooms. Most of the people were playing multi-player games. I did notice something I hadn't noticed the ether being used for before and that was online gambling. The dens were old, run down, I think I missed the grand opening by a year or so.

I was back in the US when in 2002 I read a story in Wired Magazine about a small pocket of serious digital musicians and visual artists who were sharing the ether every weekend at a small bar in New York City's East Village. The event was called "Share", the venue Open Air. It made sense that the first wave of ether sharing in the big apple wasn't going to be for multi-player games but rather for an artistic experimental outlet. Along with GeoffDAM, Keiko aka O.Blaat was mentioned as a proponent of this scene. For almost 2 years now that LAN, the newly added Wi-Fi, the sound system, and the narrow walls of flat panel monitors are still being shared with anyone who wishes to mix their sounds and visuals with others in this particular artistic clan. -AS