Have you heard of Viganella?
It is a small Italian Alpine village located 130km north of Milan. Its 185 inhabitants are presumably very happy to live in such a beautiful landscape, a few miles away from the lake Maggiore and from Zermatt.
All seems fine in Viganella… except that the village is located on the wrong side of a steep mountain: from 11th November to 2nd February, villagers cannot receive any direct sunlight.
Whilst this situation is presumably acceptable in Nordic countries, for Latin people, the lack of sun is terrible situation!
For centuries, villagers have accepted with great courage this odd situation: they were resigned not to see the sun for three long winter months… until recently, when ingeniosity stroke.
With an engineer friend, a local architect came up with a brilliant idea: why not build a giant mirror that would reflect the sunlight onto the village?
In 2005, with the support of Pierfranco Midali, the mayor of Viganella, 100,000 Euros were raised and the construction of the mirror started.
In 2006, the 40 square meters mirror (8m x 5m, weighting 1.1 tons) was installed above the village, at an altitude of 1,100 meters.
Operated by a computer that moves it along with the sun throughout the day so that it can lighten up the village!
As you can see on the picture below, the mirror functions well and enlightens parts of Viganella (in this instance, the square that is just in front on the church).
If, say, you organise a birthday party at home on Saturday at 2pm, call the mayor and ask him to position the mirror so that your garden can be illuminated for the next two hours! Simply brilliant.
The mirror has managed to draw the attention of millions of people around the world: hundreds of TV channels and newspapers sent their reporters to Viganella, thousands of tourists stayed in the local b&b to experience the “mirror effect”, and a rich American businessman even bought a house located a few yards from the mirror, just as a token of his enthusiasm for the project!
All in all, the mirror (and its instigators) not only brought utility to the villagers, but also fame to Viganella.
Think about it, this is also a formidable and ingenious PR campaign!
But what strikes me the most is the connection I see between Facebook and the Viganella’s mirror:
I went to Viganella in 2009 and spent time with Pierfranco, the mayor, who is a warm and generous man. He told me that the mirror had an important effect on the inhabitants’ mood and behaviour (take a look at the video interview in Italian at http://www.vimeo.com/13673156).
One example he gave me related to the Sunday Mass: in winter time, people usually go back home right after the end of it, as opposed to the summer. But when, thanks to the mirror, the sun shined on the church and the village square, people did stay outside to discuss with each other.
In other words, Viganella’s mirror is the physical equivalent of Facebook:
In both cases, technology enhances connections, contacts, interactions between people.
In both cases, people adopt the new technology in such a natural way that the “technology” itself disappears; it is its effect on private life and society at large that prevails.
Next time you visit Northern Italy, do stop by Viganella and knock the door of the city hall: Mayor Pierfranco Midali is used to welcoming visitors from around the world!