mapping our feelings, our ideas, and our information

Jonathan Harris’s TED talk from March 2007 discusses three of his recent mapping projects: "We Feel Fine," "Yahoo! Time Capsule" (which will re-open in 2020), and "Universe."

 

 

It is interesting viewing this presentation—which is essentially asking if there is universal human identity—after having read Marshall McLuhan’s 1977 interview with Mike McManus (under the chapter heading "Violence as a Quest for Identity") which is included in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews by Marshall McLuhan (MIT Press, 2005). In the interview they discuss McLuhan’s ideas on the "global village" which, contrary to what most would think when they see that phrase, is not friendly, but savage, violent, unrelenting:

McManus: But I had some idea that as we got global and tribal we were going to try to—
McLuhan: The closer you get together, the ore you like each other? There’s no evidence of that in any situation that we’ve heard of. When people get close together, they get more savage, impatient with each other.
McManus: Well, why is that? Because of the nature of man?
McLuhan: His tolerance is tested in those narrow circumstances very much. Village people are that much in love with each other. The global village is a place of . . . very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations. (p. 265)

Harris’s graphical representations in "We Are Fine" that are the direct result of his "passive observation" suggest that the global community (or the community writing in English from which his data set draws) is inherently interconnected, an array of colorful dots and squares floating in the ether. It is, indeed, a thing of beauty. We get a similar portrait in "Universe," where words shape themselves into multimodal constellations of information and representation. And, yet, I wonder just how many of these feelings (how people classify their feelings, that is) and words are the direct result of some form of violence, some form of identity quest. McLuhan argues:

[A]ll forms of violence are quests for identity. When you live out on the frontier, you have no identity. You’re a nobody. Therefore you get very tough. You have to prove that you are somebody, and so you become very violent. And so identity is always accompanied by violence. This seems paradoxical to you? Ordinary people find the need for violence as they lose their identities. Sit it’s only the threat to people’s identity that makes them violent. Terrorists, hijackers, these are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow, to get coverage, to get noticed.

 Another question I have is whether we can see this play out at all in Web 2.0 identity construction. Do we find, for example, on Facebook, seeds of any form of violence in the construction of our online virtual spaces?

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