Lick. Stare. Bite. Blink. Destroy. Any moment on the Internet can contain a multitude of sensations experienced by the human race. And if your Twitter or Facebook feed doesn’t send enough snapshots of humanity your way already, there’s Network Effect, a site constructed specifically to induce corporeal information overload, by Jonathan Harris and Greg Hochmuth.
“We tried to create an exaggerated portrayal of archetypical Internet use–troves of data, all real, all impeccably annotated, all scientifically accurate, all properly designed, and all ‘interesting,’ Harris explains, “and yet all basically meaningless and often absurd.”
Loading Network Effect is like plugging an ethernet cord straight into your brain. Slide your mouse over one of 100 human body behaviors presented in large text–from “ache” to “yawn”–and you’ll be inundated with autoplaying videos of said activity, people reading tweets about said activity, counts of how many people are talking about this activity online, and even gender breakdowns of the people talking about said activity.
“The idea for this came from the idea of an alien species coming to earth and observing the human species,” Harris explains. “What would it see? All the strange behaviors that human bodies do.”
The sheer mass of these behaviors being delivered to you, the viewer, is unbelievable. Harris and Hochmuth spent six months coding the platform full time, to juggle 4,366,950 different points of data. That includes 10,000 video clips and 10,000 spoken lines (they hired the microtasking humans behind Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to find them videos of actions like biting, and they also hired these people to record the audio you hear). It also includes constant scraping of Twitter and Google News, which gives you a real-time look at all of this physical minutiae.
It’s hours of content to dig through, and yet, you’re only given a few minutes–a small fraction of your life expectancy, which is calculated by the location of your IP address–to view the site before it locks you out. There isn’t enough time to make sense of the perfectly organized cacophony, and as a heartbeat ticks down the seconds you have left before the page goes dark, you’re reminded of your own mortality, and more accurately, all of the moments you’re constantly wasting online.
“There is a voyeuristic and titillating quality to this experience, but it is also deeply empty,” Harris says. “We do not go away happier, more nourished, and wiser, but ever more anxious, distracted, and numb. We hope to find ourselves, but instead we forget who we are, falling into an opium haze of addiction with every click and swipe.”
Indeed, as soon as Network Effect locked me out, I hopped into an incognito browser to try it again.