I bet I’m not the only person who has wondered why we can’t feel the internet as it flows all around us, from our routers to our computers. What would it feel like if we could? Are there certain people who CAN feel the internet…a sort of sixth sense, Luke Skywalkerian “Force”? My point is, the internet is a magical, invisible thing. Its’ invisibleness is undeniable and naturally creates turmoil amongst humanity. We take it as a challenge. How to best make the internet more visible, more tangible, more REAL? As with any good challenge there are plenty of attempts at solutions; I’d like to share a few with you.
The most ubiquitously used attempt is the well-known concentric arc symbol displaying signal strength on your computer. But that doesn’t really get at the true nature of the internet being all around us, does it? I want to feel the internet, really touch it. The Wi-Fi Detector T-shirt from ThinkGeek gets at it a little deeper by allowing its wearer to display the presence of the internet wherever they go. It’s still a visual representation but at least now we can have an ambient feeling of wearing the internet. Maybe its more about bringing something so completely grounded in the internet and transforming it into a brick n’ morter physical location like the new eBay store popping up in Manhattan this Black Friday. PSFK describes this as a “blurring of the real vs. internet space” but can we really go so far as to say that we are touching the internet when we pick up our designer wares on a rack in the eBay store? Close, but no virtual cigar, if you ask me.
Danish Designer Sebastian Campion has taken a stab at reinventing how people touch the internet with his Urban Cursor project as part of this year’s Ingràvid Festival in Figueres, Spain. A giant fabricated cursor is tracked on a Google map as people move it around, creating a virtual map of the tangible cursors’ movements. Some refer to projects like this as Mixed Reality and I think they get us the closest than anything else we’ve looked at to touching the internet. At the end of the day, you really can’t just reach out and touch the internet. But advances in ambient computing and sensory technology may one day make my dream a reality...or not.