Christian Long

Jonathon Harris: The Web’s Secret Stories

In TED Talks on April 12, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Extra credit reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Jonathan Harris:  The Webs’ Secret Stories

My initial reaction: brilliant.

Jonathan Harris is a storyteller. I personally consider him the equivalent of a village storyteller from many centuries ago, except on a larger scale. The tools that he has created are able to give the people of the world stories from ordinary humans who experience feelings just as they do. These accessible stories of emotion can make connections between people who aren’t expected to connect, and make a kind of fusion between humans that can close the gaps that Jonathan talks about in the first few minutes. It’s miraculous; it’s what the world needs.

The lives of people around the world have become so diverse. Every nation is on a different chapter of development; every one caught in a different pace or circle. Unity between people is troublesome when attempted, and many people have given up. There are intimidating gaps that Harris mentions which seem impossible to overcome in order to connect with people around the world. These gaps include language, age, ethnicity, religion, wealth and education, and it’s easy to contemplate why deep, personal connections between an educated student of 20 in Oxford and a middle-aged poor woman of Bolivia are hard to establish; there are so many gaps.

But Jonathan Harris has taken the first, bold step towards demolishing the walls between cultures, which was unsurprisingly through web 2.0 tools.

This bold initiative involves a sophisticated understanding of the story, or mythology. Urban myths and stories have common threads: emotion. Emotions are hardwired into every person on the planet. The single human being can have a particular default feeling or a specific human culture can share an emotional nature, but still all humans can easily connect to one another through common emotions. Emotions produce experiences, and experiences in time produce memories, which are the foundations of rich, wholesome stories. Harris uses all these universal human possessions to unite people, which is where the brilliance emanates.

Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s program, We Feel Fine, is radiating with brilliance and potential.

Using simple, clean and enticing visuals, a lonely wanderer or a raging hormonal hitchhiker of the Internet can single out another human being on this planet that currently shares the same emotions that they do. Given this, they can easily access their blog and connect with them. Or they don’t have to communicate, but simply sit comfortably knowing that they are never alone; there is someone else in the world who got dumped by their stupid testosterone-controlled 17 year-old boyfriend, and it brings unthinkable amounts of comfort to shed similarly brought about tears with someone other than your cat. The stories people from all corners of the map have to share are collected here, and all 1,802,330,457 people with access to the Internet can see them.

There may be one flaw with the information collected on We Feel Fine, however.

The information (stories, feelings) displayed on this site are extracted from blogs. According to Calson [dot] com, there were 701,150 “sites [BlogCensus] think are weblogs” in 2003, 380,657 of which were predominately English. That’s half of all blogging sites in 2003, and the percentage of English speaking-bloggers has most likely risen since then. That being the case, most of the stories being displayed are by English-speaking people. It’s arguable whether or not this changes the perspective of emotion displayed on the site, and personally I think it doesn’t.

Human emotion is uniform in that all humans are capable of feeling the same emotions given the intensity needed to ignite said emotion is present. Therefore, all humans have the capacity to empathize or sympathize or at least identify with one another’s emotions on some level. Having said this, does it particularly matter whether or not the stories shown on We Feel Fine are predominately generated (or told) by English speakers? No, it does not. What matters is that all people who have access to this site have access to a gap in the brick wall which separates cultures and communities around the world from one another. They are able to slip through the barrier and find a commonplace which everyone shares their feeling.

What will it take for the whole world to unite? Does unity require a constant force to bring the nations of the world together like oil and water? Or will it just take a subtle connection between all people of the earth to unify them? Either way, Jonathan Harris is taking the necessary steps in the correct direction to integrate the population of the world, from which we can only benefit.

The sites behind the numbers are:

  • The Online Wall Street Journal
  • Internet World Stats
  • Calson [dot] com

Another one of Jonathan Harris’s projects: Universe

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