An Ode to Code
Every hour, 10x10 scans global news sites and chooses the hour's 100 most important words and photographs.
Most of us would consider these two things to be polar opposites, but as Jer Thorp from the Times says, “Whenever a new technology comes along, artists are some of the first to use it.” Just as Gustave Eiffel used the new technology of iron beams and rivets to build his tower, Harris used the technology of computer software to build creations from vast quantities of Internet data.
After Fabrica, Harris launched a stream of website-based projects that brought him national and international acclaim. 10×10, for instance, scans global news-sites, determines the 100 words and photographs being used the most that hour, arranges them into ten rows of ten images, then stores them. This allows visitors to go back to a specific hour on a specific date and see what the dominant words and images once were. On December 29, 2008, at noon EST, for instance, they were Gaza, food, and the English soccer team Chelsea.
Another project, called WordCount, constantly scans the web for over 86,000 English words, then ranks and sizes them in order of frequency. We Feel Fine finds phrases people post in blogs that include the words “I feel,” then converts those feelings into colors and sizes depending on their frequency and other factors. This produces a visual weather report of how the entire blogosphere is feeling, or any geographic and demographic portion of it you might care to choose, such as women in London who are over 30. In 2009, Harris and a collaborator published it as a book. Acclaim for We Feel Fine earned Harris an invitation to give a Technology, Entertainment, and Design Talk (TED Talk) and that led to the rare MoMA commission.
We Feel Fine is an exploration of human emotion on a global scale. It collects occurrences of the phrases "I feel" and "I am feeling" from blog entries.
For the MoMA, he and a collaborator created I Want You to Want Me, an interactive website that scans online dating sites and converts the postings there into elegant images that Harris hopes illustrate not only the search for love today, but the search for human identity. It was part of a 2008 show called “Design and the Elastic Mind,” which curator Paola Antonelli says shows how “designers, when they’re good, take scientific and technological revolutions and transform them into objects that people like you and me can use in our everyday life.”
Despite this success, however, Harris felt dissatisfied with the Internet, the media, and the cynical state of the world. He says, “there’s a big difference between information and knowledge, and they often get conflated. Too many people believe that given enough data they will understand. This is a very limited way of seeing things.”
Harris also believes that too much Internet activity is addictive and harmful, appealing to our worst impulses. “A lot of web media is like fast food,” he says. “It provides instant gratification, but in time we become intellectually obese.” Nevertheless, he also thinks that the Internet is still in its earliest stages of evolution, and that it’s possible to push it in the right direction. “I believe in technology,” he says, but adds that it’s important to guide the Internet’s evolution so it becomes a “space we actually want to inhabit.” In other words, he thinks the world of computer code needs a moral code. And this belief is what started that barroom brawl in the UK.