Use of and interaction through the web browser has become central to our daily lives. Central not just to the habits and responsibilities of living within modern connectivity, but also to the extension of our personal space into the network. In spite of the prevalence of online tracking and network spying, the browser is, or at least feels like, our own private haven. The idea of someone watching over our shoulder as we browse even the most innocuous of sites feels intrusive because the browser has been designed as an experience for one: one cursor, one person in control -- the electronic embodiment of the personal bubble.
That was until Rhizome, a site dedicated to the confluence of art and technology and an affiliate of the New Museum, released We See In Every Direction, its most recent The Download project. The piece, created by Swedish artist Jonas Lund, is a web browser that thrusts users into a shared browsing environment. The browser, much like Chrome or Firefox, is downloaded and installed like any other web application, and launches to a blank page, the URL field at the top alerting you that you are "loading in every direction..." A small indicator on the right reads out the current user count, and in this one place, for the first time you are no longer alone.
Users, identified by black (mac) or white (pc) cursors, flit around the screen vying for control. Naturally, they begin co-opting spaces -- the search and URL fields specifically, which become the primary tools for communication inside the application. It is, at its simplest, a bewildering experience.
The urge to call this collaborative Internet browsing surges, until you actually use the app. Some sessions are stunning, spent watching many minds slowly organize themselves and browse almost as efficiently as with a normal browser. While other sessions are a whirlwind of overlapping ideas and initiations, the screen snapping around to disparate pages -- from porn to Wikipedia to sites plastered with Chinese-language advertisements and back to Google all in a few-second loop. Some moments, We See In Every Direction is an image of strangers coming together in a grand play of "show and tell," while others it is a reflection of the over-stimulation inherent in the Internet.
We See In Every Direction fractures the veneer of the interfaces we are so accustomed to living through. Today's social web: Facebook, Twitter, Gchat, Tumblr, et cetera constrain our interactions to the types allowed by any one service -- like, retweet, comment -- but nothing outside of each site's functionality. We See In Every Direction takes away all of those restrictions and simply unleashes social interaction, the good and the bad, no strings attached. It's a wild, boring, stunning, and underwhelming piece -- and absolutely worth a look.
Download We See In Every Direction at rhizome.org.