Behold the Tholos, where the webcam meets the circular, painted panorama of the 19th century. The device, which features a 23-foot wrap-around screen some 10 feet high, works in pairs: People gathered at one Tholos can see real-time, life-size HDTV images of people around a distant partner device, with microphones enabling users to converse. Invented by Austrian cameraman Andreas Traint, the first proposed pair will link Londoners and Viennese in 2004; if it attracts sufficient interest, European, North American, and Asian cities eventually will be tied into the system. The costs will be recouped through advertising.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Tholos -- the term comes from a type of Greek temple -- is that (aside from the ads) its only practical function will be what its users make of it. There will be some programming (such as documentary material), but Tholos is primarily intended as a "wonder." Though it may end up as a mere novelty, it's a peculiarly modern wonder.
Unlike the circular panoramic canvases that Tholos echoes, which overpowered viewers with scenes of battle and disaster, you fill this "canvas" yourself. Like the accelerating future of which it may become a part, Tholos' wonder -- and its meaning -- are founded on the personal.