I’m becoming obsessed with the idea that the internet, defined broadly as the experience of “connecting” via a browser is a total failure – or at best a clumsy infant.
Its failure is best understood by trying to imagine “online” spaces and places as physical, 3 dimensional architecture. It’s a failure that’s highlighted by trying to place yourself in this virtual city, and truly trying to connect with and understand the ebbs and flows of activity with your wider community.
While we have constructed the “window” – one of the most successful metaphors in navigating online space, I can’t help but think we are all trapped within this window metaphor. Every day we sit down, and re-construct towers of isolation. A tower with one room, and thick lead walls – a tower that morphs and changes to accommodate the multiple windows that we look out of, but that never allow passers by to look in.
We have been fooled, happy prisoners distracted by our “magic like ability” to conjure up new windows “that look out onto almost anything we want to”. We are fooled because these windows have blinded us to the fact that these heavy dark walls even exist.
The browser is a window out, but it’s a window into a fragmented and fractured city of rooms with no doors, no truly public spaces, a city of blind towers with no people…. An ever-changing city of windows looking into other windows….. a nightmare….I want to scream, I want to break down the walls and look out – but I simply don’t have the tools. I want to scream because even if I could break out I know there would be nothing to see – a city of blind towers, with its inhabitants constantly forming and reforming the internal architecture of their cells without ever really being able to break through and open up a real vista and engage in a truly shared experience.
My obsession is one of mass escape, an escape that would allow me to look at you – get a sense of what your doing, what your interested in… and most importantly lets me join you in a crowd. It’s an escape onto the stage of life.
Crowding is one of those acts of self expression that sorely needs attention in the online space, and until we can look out, and crowd in our public spaces then we will be forever locked and isolated.
Don’t tell me facebook, and myspace let me do this – they don’t. Don’t tell me I can be public by expressing myself in a window (via a blog like this), because this is not the kind of expression im talking about. Its not a reconstruction of reality (secondlife)….its not blindly shouting into the void via twitter….. its reality (or maybe the internet) – just not as we know it.
I visit bldgblog.blogspot.com obsessively, but it is a lonely place. This daily act is like carving on prison walls – its lets me define who I am but the only audience for this grand act is me. There is so much the reading community of this blog could give, what a crowd to join, what a place to see, what a fertile place for a culture to develop and grow… but how do we do this. I’m not talking about adding comments to posts. Its lonely because I know that every time I visit the site im actually sitting in a football size stadium along with 1000’s of other people. Its so lonely because not only is the stadium invisible, but so are the people its filled with.
What’s missing is the aspect of shared space that’s time critical, where its possible to have a defining moment with others, where because its possible to miss something (“no man, I wasn’t there”) its so much more special when you are “there”. Crowds are more about the number of people in a space at a point in time, sure lots of people can move though a space – but that not an event.
My experience of visiting sites is similar to watching a concert at home, by myself – with the TV coverage never turning its gaze back towards the audience. A concert where you cant hear or see the audience. Sure the music may be good, but give me a surging crowd, and a band that feeds off that crowd – and that’s a real shared experience.
So my badly formed vision of the future is connection via an interface that focuses on looking out, looking into the shared public space’s – the in-between spaces. An interface that expresses our movement in and around this public space. A browser not obsessed by destinations (URL’s), but one that focuses its effort on navigating and expressing the movement of traffic and expression of people positioning themselves in this space.
It’s a browser where its not the destination that counts, it’s the journey.
As the barriers between real and virtual space break down, and augmented realities and virtual overlays develop – then maybe, just maybe, we can develop ways to crowd, see, and be seen together in a more meaningful and engaging way.