It was hard to tell who was more excited about the Technology Playground: the passers-by or the exhibitors.
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Inside the Inaugural Technology TentBy Leslie Walker
Saturday, January 18, 1997
ON THE MALL -- Shirley Kreigerís future reached out to her inside the Technology Playground today, dragging her onto the Internet along with thousands like her nationwide.
The school principal from Woodbridge, Conn., had received a mysterious letter at work last week telling her that someone had created a home page for her school on the World Wide Web.
Today, when she arrived in Washington for President Clintonís second inauguration, she found out who was behind the letter.
"Oh my goodness, this is exciting!" Kreiger said as she stared at an IBM-powered computer system displaying her name on Ezra Academyís new Web page inside an exhibition tent. Her daughter had spotted the display of the new American School Directory and dragged her over.
"I didnít understand your letter, and it was on my to-do pile for next week," Kreiger told Tom D. Crook, president of Computers for Education Inc., the Tennessee-based firm that is striving to create a home page for each of the nationís 106,000 schools. "Who are you, and why are you doing it?"
Kreigerís question resonated throughout Techno Playground, a multimedia exhibition where more than two dozen vendors are displaying a mixture of prototypes and real products designed to give Americans a peek at their virtual futures.
Hundreds of curious people waited for hours in sub-freezing cold to get inside the tent, where access was tightly controlled to allow hands-on interaction of the kind that Kreiger experienced.
"Donít worry; itís free," Crook told the puzzled principal about her home page. He told her she would receive a password and special software that would allow her staff to add their own material to their home page. "Each teacher will have his or her own page, where they can post homework assignments. Weíre going to give every teacher and student in America their own home page."
"Who pays for it?" Kreiger asked. Crook explained that his company will use the Web pages to sell magazine subscriptions through the schools and eventually add other forms of commerce.
Kreiger was thrilled to see space for digital snapshots and an alumni center. "Weíre a small private school. We donít have a home page," she said. "Itís very valuable for us if alumni can see what weíre doing, and teachers can publish their homework assignments."
The massive school network, which already has 2 million Web pages and is being built jointly by IBM, Apple Computer and Vanderbilt University, is one of many next-generation dreams on display in the techno-tent at Inaugural-land.
The most popular exhibits were virtual-reality games aimed at kids. CCGís MetaMediaís CyberSoccer was a runaway hit. Children waited patiently for their chance to don a pink cotton glove that allowed them to interact with a virtual soccer ball. Both the child and nonexistent ball are projected onto big-screen TVs, where the crowd can watch the action.
A few booths away, a performance animation display projected participating children onto a huge screen to interact with Reginald, a virtual character resembling a giant red insect. Reginaldís animation was controlled by a man in a wet suit 15 feet away. In fact, what looked like a wet suit was a "data suit," which picks up magnetic field data projected from a big gray ball and feeds it into a Silicon Graphics computer. A video camera films the participating audience members and projects them on the screen with Reginald.
Way weird stuff.
There was simpler stuff, too. In the first two hours, 300 people stood in front of computers and typed e-mails to President Clinton that instantly flashed up on a movie screen overhead.
"I told him congratulations," said 14-year-old Marie Mills, of Lenexa, Kansas.
So what will life be like in the next millennium, according to the Inaugural-land vendors? You can see for yourself, because this show is so virtual and over-the-edge that you donít really have to be here to experience it. All the exhibitors have Web sites, offering slower-motion versions of their Mall displays. So you can take your own American Journey from home to learn about the vendors who are creating our techno-tomorrow.
"It appears as streaming video, but itís really streaming audio with synchronized animation," product manager Greg Puliero explained. "Youíre going to see all the major Hollywood studios use it very soon to develop animated Web shows."
You can read about Digital Evolutionís other multimedia product on the companyís home page, but the plug-in for Netscapeís Web browser wonít be available for downloading until the end of January, Puliero said. No plug-in will be needed for Microsoftís Internet Explorer.
WashingtonPost.com intern Gabriel Margasak contributed to this story
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company