This holiday season provides a much-needed opportunity to slow down, reconnect with ourselves and our loved ones, and even acquire some new vocabulary to express feelings that may have been overlooked. 2020 has been an overwhelming and stressful time for all of us. In lieu of acceleration and distraction, which is often associated with digital technology, we selected three digital projects that respectively enhance mindfulness with our smart devices, offer an alternative mode of gathering, and enrich interpersonal connections by throwing back to simpler times.
Incense Timer by Olly Bromham
(1) Incense Timer, made by Olly Bromham, is a tool to measure abstractly the passing of time. Mimicking a single burning incense on your screen, it suggests a calmer and more finite interaction with both our devices and ourselves. The user can set an allotted time via the length of the incense, activate it, and use the time it takes to burn to gradually reach a trance. Give Incense Timer a try. Use it to alleviate anxiety before hopping on a crowded virtual call in another window.
Screenshot of Special Special on Gather
(2) Speaking of virtual calls, Gather is a video-calling website that simulates the spatial experience of how social interactions take place in real space. Combining a standard grid interface with a bird’s eye view of a lo-fi game, it allows participants to explore their setting as tiny avatars, while having separate conversations in parallel. Users can choose between many pre-existing settings to set up their room: a beer garden - if you long for fresh air mixed with loud conviviality and sand pits, a moon pond - if you are feeling otherworldly, and even Times Square - if you want to take in all the tourist traps and commotion without subjecting your body to them.
As you move around on these two-dimensional maps, the webcam video and microphone audio from the other people in the room fade based on your distance to them. This spatial movement allows you to hop in and out of conversations. Perhaps, during a virtual family brunch, you want to move away from a relative who talks too much. Gather provides a nuanced option for connecting with friends and loved ones. The game offers a way to reduce our collective Zoom fatigue.
Screenshot of GifCities
(3) During this celebratory season, we also anticipate many digital exchanges, whether over text message or email. To upgrade our vocabulary and limited emoji library, we suggest GifCities’s extensive collection of animated Gifs as a supplement.
GifCities: The GeoCities Animated Gif Search Engine was a special project of the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine. The team mined GeoCities, an early web hosting service that operated between 1994 and 2009, and extracted over 4,500,000 animated GIFs to build a distinctive search engine. You can type in keywords to return a list of results, most of which will defy your expectations. Furthermore, each GIF links back to the GeoCities page on which it was originally embedded, reflecting the DIY, sometimes messy and decentralized, aesthetics of an internet era, where users created their custom websites and connected via common interests.
From spinning Word Art aesthetics, glitchy cartoons, to Bush-era ad campaigns, there is nothing quite like a blast from the past. Special Special encourages you to browse the collection, recklessly indulge in nostalgia, and incorporate them into your everyday visual language.
About the creators:
Olly Bromham is a designer and programmer asking questions of his surroundings both online and offline, responding by building websites, tools and objects. He’s currently interested in examining the relationship between natural and technological existences, measuring time, and soundtracking daily life.
The Internet Archive GifCities project team consists of Vinay Goel (Senior Data Engineer), Jefferson Bailey (Director, Web Archiving), and Richard Caceres (Senior Software Engineer). GifCities is part of Archive Lab.
Gather is built by a team of friends and engineers, who are interested in creating virtual spaces for people to live and interact more effectively online.
For Show and Tell, Special Special invites a selection of artists to produce or share work that can be viewed in the browser, downloaded, or streamed. The work is presented as a series of digital exhibitions periodically delivered to email inboxes.