Jonathan Harris and Greg Hochmuth’s Network Effect is a fascinating collection of emotional, non-emotional, everyday presence of humans online. It compiles vast quantities of data from the web by gathering tweets that mentioned 100 behaviors—such as hug, cry, blow, and meditate— and paired them with corresponding YouTube videos. What I find fascinating about this work is not only the intricacy and intentionality in the use of social media sites such as Twitter and Youtube for data collection, but also the fact that it is a compilation and simulation of existing pre-generated works from over 4 million data points. This data-driven work of literature invites close rather than distant reading, and one must read into the work to make sense of the “flotsam and jetsam” within it (Rodley 81). The work compiles gender data, definition data, usage data, reason data (eg. I swim because…), news data, and people data from Google News, Twitter, Mechanical Turks, Tweets read aloud, and YouTube videos to automate these human behaviors to generate this work. Jonathan Harris and Greg Hochmuth fuse the data from these sources together to create an experience that overwhelms readers and forces them to make the most of their limited time to decode the work.
Each user is given about seven minutes per day to view it, depending on the life expectancy of where you live —so, for example, users in America can view it for 7.84 minutes per day, corresponding to the life expectancy of 78.4 years in the United States). The weird thing is that even though it’s an overwhelming view into online life, you’re still left insatiated and wanting more—which is precisely the creators’ desired effect. This work is both overwhelming and empowering as it speaks in a unique voice which is composed of thousands of voices (Rodley 86).
I was fascinated that every time I clicked and held the computer mouse while watching a given behavior’s video clip, the “Chatter” movement appeared and revealed the words “MORE MORE MORE MORE.” The more I clicked, the more number of these “MORE”s appeared. Clearly, the creators of the work anticipated this sort of anxiety-induced reaction from the user. I wasn’t satisfied after my allotted seven minutes on the site, so I used another school computer to gain an additional seven minutes of access to further attempt to demystify the work. I probably achieved not much more than anyone else who was true to their seven minutes and watched the clip just once, but I did find an interim solution—their Instagram account showing mosaics of 100 different behaviors. This version of the work breaks it down to just a series of video clips for each behavior, making it possible to internalize some of the similarities and differences in each of these specific behaviors between the clips. What I love about the collection of clips is that they are not bound by geography or time. These are clips of people from all over the world, from different races, cultures and nationalities, who seem to share these universal behaviors and characteristics regardless of their identities. We are able to compare and contrast these clips to arrive at some sort of confusing but inevitable truth that all humans are bound together by some force based on our behavior patterns. The Network Effect helps us achieve this by letting us see the patterns as well as the detail in the data swirling around us (Rodley 86).