Once in a while, you’re roaming the web, seemingly aimlessly, jumping from brower tab to browser tab, thinking, “Why did I just watch that mini-documentary on Chinese gold farmers?“ “Why am I wasting my time watching other people waste theirs?” when suddenly you’re hit smack in the face by the power of the Internet. You know, you find something that makes your eyes get real wide and you start to see the future. How some ridiculous thought (who came up with the microwave?), some notion that seems crazy and out-of-the-question at this very moment will be completely commonplace in fifty years time, or so.
I found this Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talk by Jonathan Harris, a Brooklyn-based artist/computer programmer, whose “programs scour the Internet for unfiltered content, which his beautiful interfaces then organize to create coherence from the chaos.” The one program that caught my eye, “We FeelFine,” collects sentences that include the words, “I feel” from blogs all over the Internet, and presents them in various ways that help represent how the world at a particular moment is feeling. Check it out:
So basically such a large population on the planet has left a significant enough imprint of themselves in this incredibly user-friendly web, that examining these “footprints” as Harris describes them, is giving us a clearer and clearer picture of who we are, all of us.
And what at first appears completely overwhelming is quickly brought into tangible coherence when you have the right tools. In “We Feel Fine,” try starting in madness mode where thousands of little dots representing feelings bounce around the screen, then switch to montage mode, which pairs each these feelings with a picture, resulting in real-time, meaningful slices of life that can be reflected upon, saved, shared with friends. Once you have the necessary tools, you can tap into the seemingly anarchic Internet, with far-reaching consequence.
YouTube is certainly one of those tools. Although it seemed a bit corny when TIME declared all of us its “Man of the Year” last year, they do have a point. “You can learn more about how Americans live just by looking at the backgrounds of YouTube videos—those rumpled bedrooms and toy-strewn basement rec rooms—than you could from 1,000 hours of network television.”
YouTube put a face to what were once simply millions of anonymous Internet users, reminding us all that there are a lot of us using this web thing. It’s helped us build communities around dynamic content creators and allowed us to dialogue with one another through video responses. I usually find these video responses more interesting than some of the more popular videos themselves, because they reveal that genuine desire in all of us to talk to characters and personalities that we’re watching. Finally, we have the tools to be seen and heard.
And even though a large percentage of users seem to be simply watching videos rather than contributing to content, as the tools become more universal and user-friendly, as built-in web cams become the norm, these numbers will rise and rise
So although it may seem hokey at the moment (remember the microwave), when we click and watch a web video, we’re not simply watching content on the Internet, we’re connected to it. And so are a lot of other people, presumably at the same time.
We have the users, we have the technology to create content easily and quickly, we have the footprints, now we just need the tools to take these raw materials to the next level, beyond simply creating content, commenting on other content, etc. Soon we’ll be able to help write storylines, script better sitcoms, possibly even become virtual neighbors with our favorite characters, bring them coffee, who knows?
It’s the future. Anything can happen.