CREATIVE COMPUTING – looking back at Jonathan Harris

The emotional dot matrix of “We Feel Fine”

Five years ago Jonathan Harris released an Internet-based storytelling project called “We Feel Fine.” It’s essentially a computer program that identifies and collects moments of online self-expression and draws conclusions about that data based on age, gender and location. Every two minutes “We Feel Fine” scans every blog in the world for entries that contain the phrase I feel or I am feeling and logs that sentence into the program as a single dot (And if you’ve ever written a blog then you’re probably part of the project). Those dots are colored according to the type of emotion expressed and are left to roam free around the program’s black background. At any time you can open the website, click on a dot and see who said, for example, “I feel like my brain is burning into ash from the inside.” You can also see where that person is from and even what the weather was like when they wrote it. You can group the data by demographic or emotion, isolating all the lonely feelings or all those who feel complete or in love or at the end of their rope.

Harris’ creative new way of organizing and digitizing human expression blew a lot of people away. He’s since collaborated with MoMA, been profiled on CNN and spoken at TED – twice. He followed up “We Feel Fine” with another kind of web-based, never-ending project called “Universe.” This project collects news data and projects it into a solar system-based format, arranging the dots of data as constellations. Again, the user can control the way the information is displayed by choosing what person, event or idea is the center of their universe, typing that in and then seeing what’s happening in the world right now that revolves around that single point.

Harris hasn’t updated his website in a while and it’s not clear what he’s working on now. Most of his 2007 buzz has died down, which is why it’s time to ‘look back’ at his amazing projects. But whatever he’s doing, you can bet he’s dreaming up a system that we can use to organize, catalogue and interpret our own zeitgeist in a new and meaningful way.

An emotion with a corresponding image

One of many views of “Universe”