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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Online evolution

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we connect with each other online. Especially since so much of my time these days is spent in front of my computer, writing. I am missing the face to face connection with friends, and wonder how I can find more balance between having to spend insane amounts of time in front of the computer to get my writing career launched, and finding ways to use my writing to connect with new and old friends in person.

I have always felt that technology should be a tool that enables us to connect with each other, not a distraction from being present in our lives. Today, while reading an excellent article on Everett Bogue's blog, I was introduced to Jonathan Harris -- a photographer, story-teller, traveler, and code writer. Jonathan has been working on bridging the gap between computer geekdom and creative artist for many years. He is interested in finding ways that technology, instead of lulling us into a passive, glazed-over consumer state, separated from the rest of the world, can become a vehicle for positive social change. How technology can be used to nurture presence. How it can become a tool to facilitate self-reflection, instead of self-promotion.

Jonathan has worked on a number of projects intended to help web users experience art and technology in new ways. In October, 2010, he gave a talk that outlines his thoughts about where our technological society is headed, and some ways that we can take steps to more consciously shape what the future will look like. It is well worth a listen. Intrigued by some of his ideas, I googled some of his projects. What I love about his work is that he is putting a human face back into our internet interactions, reminding us that technology has given us the ability (and the opportunity) to connect with real people all over the world, and engage in creative and inspiring dialogues with them. His work highlights the fact that while the flurry of interaction happening over the internet is amazing, we need to remember that ultimately, there are human beings on the other end of the interactions. Living, breathing, human beings. People with feelings and emotions. People with souls. People just like us.

In order for technology to be working with us in positive ways, to be strengthening our relationships and connections, we need to be conscious that there is a face and a heart at the other end of every interaction we have through the web. The internet sometimes presents the illusion that we are in some way detached from what we do. That we need not be as responsible for our words and actions because at the end of the day we can hit a switch and turn the relationships and interactions we have just had off. In reality though, the interactions we have over the internet are just like interactions we have face to face. We may hit a switch, but the people on the other end are still feeling, thinking, and reflecting on what was shared.

Some of Jonathan's projects that I am especially impressed by are his We Feel Fine web site, which explores the emotions and thoughts that people scattered across the globe are having at any given moment in time, and displays them visually in a variety of different ways. Another cool project that he worked on is Sputnik Observatory, which explores contemporary culture through video interviews with leading thinkers of our time in the arts, sciences, and technology. I also enjoyed an installation piece he worked on about the world of online dating commissioned by and installed at the New York's MoMA on valentines day, 2008, called I Want You To Want Me. His Universe project creates new constellations for the night's sky using current news headlines, and building a modern mythology to go along with them. He has many more interesting projects that he has worked on. You can check them out here.

I know that Jonathan is just one of many people out there finding new ways to be mindful about how we use the technological tools that are at our disposal. It is always inspiring for me to cross paths with other people who are finding their own unique way of interacting with, and shaping the tool of the internet, so that it nurtures the values that make humanity, and human relationships, so diverse and beautiful. All these ideas reverberate against each other, and create an energy that cannot help but transform the characteristics of the technological era in which we live.

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