HERE IS AN ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR THE SUSSEX UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE MAG BY MY GIRLFRIEND, HANNAH CHETWYND. IT IS ABOUT ARTISTS WORKING RESPONDING TO PERSONAL ONLINE EXPRESSIONS AND INFORMATION.
We Feel Fine
‘I feel a constant need to share with the rest of the online world’ – Alex, Netherlands (2011) Blog: ‘My Life and Others X’
Citizens of England and Wales were united on March 27th 2011 by the legal obligation to sit down, blue or black pen in hand and painstakingly ponder over the 201st national census. Set to cost the taxpayer an enormous £500 million (in a year in which arts funding has taken a significant beating), it seems pertinent to question whether, with the coming of the digital age, the endless laborious forms that we all loathe to complete still bear the same importance they once did? Moreover, with April marking the advent of David Cameron’s plans to begin measuring our subjective wellbeing, we must query if there is already enough information about us online to call for the end of these time consuming, economically and environmentally draining formalities?
The information we now broadcast about our identities online stretches far more deeply and personally than simply disclosing our ASL, an acronym synonymous with the MSN era. The internet has fast become a social domain where expressions and activities that were once deemed strictly private are quickly becoming increasingly public. The time of the memory box, family photo album and private diary is fading, rapidly being replaced with public blog posts, Facebook friendship pages, online photo sharing and incessant tweets. In light of this, the web now hosts a mass archive of human communication and emotion, containing vast amounts of valuable information at the fingertips of the internet user.
In addition to the array of data available on the web, mobile social media devices such as the iPhone app Mappiness enable us, the user, to donate a dynamic and complex set of personal data to the public domain. Mappiness asks the user to rate their happiness levels over the course of the day and in the context of their current environment, mapping happiness across time and space. Despite the fact that iPhone users do not represent a particularly large cross section of our population, it seems that the development of new social media devices is paving the way for revolutionary methods of data collection which may ultimately put an end to the arduous and static questionnaires of today.
Representing a far wider, although by no means complete demographic, artists Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar created the online piece, We Feel Fine. The website scans the internet every couple of minutes searching through social networking pages and pulling out sentences which contain the words ‘I’ and ‘feel’. The intimate thoughts and sentiments of tweeters, bloggers and many more are then visually represented in a stunning and strangely poetic manner, every feeling becomes a colourful particle wizzing around the screen and each particle can be clicked on to reveal the thoughts of the faraway blogger. The sheer quantity of the particles conveys not just the vastness of the web but also the enormity of different human emotions, rendering the notion that emotional wellbeing could possibly be quantified by anything but the arts almost laughable.
Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s Listening Post, currently being exhibited in London’s Science Museum, displays uncensored text fragments taken from public internet chatrooms and blogs on LED screens, the content of which are read out to the viewer in an electronic drone. Listening Post explicitly showcases the wealth of personal information that is being donated to the ether in real time, creating a contrasting feeling to We Feel Fine as the information obtained seems impersonal, the vast void of human expression is conveyed.
These two dynamic projects allow for a deeper look into the nature of human emotion. The opening up of space much bigger than a tick box combined with the anonymous element that new social media provides results in an abundance of fascinating and intimate contributions with real time relevance, a feat which neither Cameron’s soulless well-being index nor the decennial census should ever expect to keep up with.