Network Effect explores the psychological effects of Internet use on humanity.
Like the Internet itself, the project is effectively endless, containing 10,000 video clips, 10,000 spoken sentences, news, tweets, charts, graphs, lists, and millions of individual data points, all presented in a classically-designed data visualization environment. To see and hear it all would take hours, but the viewing window is limited to around seven minutes (according to the average life expectancy in the viewer’s country), which induces a state of anxiety, triggers a fear of missing out, and totally frustrates any attempt at completeness.
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 imitates 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 swipe.
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.
We need time and space and silence to remember who we are, who we once were, and who we can become. There is a way, and every one of us contains the potential to find it.