mary flanagan // mapping transitions proposal
[search] 2002 // a net art project
When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure… At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity's basic mysteries […] might be found.
... There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.
--Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel"
Information technology has become a key element in communication, play, and work. For example, a recent study shows that a typical office worker relies more on e-mail communication than face-to-face contact to share knowledge.
Almost every computer user relies upon Internet search engines to gather information, seek entertainment, and find pleasure. Search engines are deeply embedded into daily activity—they are the primary way people in the 21st century seek information …"we depend upon them so utterly." Searching the internet, however, is regularly confusing and chaotic. Like Borges' inquisitors mentioned in the passage above, searchers are regularly besieged with lists of thousands of results, and no systematic keyword system has yet developed to standardize the language of the search. Searching can be frustrating, and the material discovered is often inaccurate. Searchers themselves offer to the mix complicated requests, misspellings, and odd X-rated content descriptions; the kinds of things people search for might seem disturbing, petty, or peculiar.
Looking at internet search strings points to a fundamental aspect of the Internet. Search engines map, through phrase-like inquiries, our desire to find knowledge. Monitoring such desires allows us to read and live through other people's interests. To further explore this very critical aspect of Internet life, I developed [search]. [search] is an internet-based application which explores the human desire for information and knowledge through real-time monitoring of internet search engine inquiries from around the world. This research ties in specifically with my internet-based artistic practice, pushing the performative, live, and user-influenced aspects of pieces such as [remotion] (2002), [collection] (2001) and [rootings] (2001).
The work conceptually explores everyday life: how do people use technology in their daily lives? What are the commonalities of human desire? How is the desire affected by the internet's inherent immediacy? What kinds of language do people bring to search engines? Does the kind of language used by searchers tell us something about how people view the internet and technology? Do people search for material or experiential items? How much time do people spend searching for sex, drugs, or money? Do people spend an equal amount of time searching for friends, god, and spirituality? Are our human values exposed through search engines? What is the data most sought after?
[search] is programmed using the Lingo programming language.
Borges, Jorge Luis. "The Library of Babel." Labyrinths. New York: New Directions, 1964, 55.
"Survey Shows Office Workers Rely More Heavily On E-mail Than Face-to-Face Contact to Share Knowledge; AIIM Attendees Surveyed on Work Practices." Business Wire March 7, 2002, 2393.
Toto, Christian. "Web Wise." Insight on the News, Dec 10, 2001.17:46, 32-34.
Guernsey, Lisa. "The Search Engine as Cyborg." The New York Times. Technology Sect. Jn 29 2000
Garrity, Bronwyn. "Some Cyberspace of Her Own: Escapes From the Dark Horrible Sucking Trail of the Lost Voice." The Nation, March 19, 2001. 272:11, 25.