I had to turn off this Internet art project before it ended because it so closely simulated the feeling of browsing the web while experiencing a panic attack: Called Network Effect, it's an interactive site that simulates the meaningless data explosion and voyeuristic window of the internet, which it presents as a mess of videos, sounds, brands, and keywords. The interactive project gives you a huge slew of information about common human behaviors like "bite," "dance," and "yawn" — including data about who says they're doing those activities, soundbites from people using those words, tweets about the subject, and recent news headlines that use those words.
The overall effect is both intimate and meaningless, but anxiety is added to the experience by a timer that gives you only a small window of opportunity to see the vast amount of information on the site (the amount of time you're given is probably between seven and eight minutes — it's based on how long your expected lifespan is). To give you some perspective of how little of the project each person visiting the site would see, it contains about 10,000 video clips, 10,000 audio clips, and millions of other data points. It's hard to fully describe the experience of the art project — head here and see if you can last longer than I did to see what I mean. (I left around four minutes into the project. I'm a wimp).
The videos activate our voyeurism, the sound recordings tempt us with secrets, and the data promises a kind of omniscience, but all of it is a mirage — there is no one here to watch, there is no secret to find, and the data, which seems to be so important, is actually absurd. In this sense, the project mirrors the experience of browsing the web — full of tantalizing potential, but ultimately empty of life. We do not go away happier, more nourished, and wiser, but ever more anxious, distracted, and numb. We hope to find ourselves, but instead we forget who we are, falling into an opium haze of addiction with every click and tap.
The Internet is a miraculous tool, but all too often, it affects us like a drug. Many of its popular apps, news websites, and social networks have been carefully designed to addict and distract, so they can harvest human attention like the natural resource it is. “Keep searching and you will discover,” these services seem to proclaim, but the deepest truths cannot be found by searching — and you will not find them in data, in videos, or in images of other people’s lives.
It's only through introspection that people achieve satisfaction, they say — not through counting up your likes on Instagram. Food for thought, no?