The art of feelings

Observations on the internet

Art has arrived on the internet, and that doesn't just mean galleries of Jpegged Old Masters or cheap watercolours for sale on eBay - it means works of art specially created for the medium, and which reflect the medium.

Try the beautiful wefeelfine.org. Little balls bounce wildly around the screen. Choose one, click on it, and letters spill out. Soon they adjust into words, and then into sentences. These brief glimpses into the minds of others range from the dramatically despairing ("I feel like a father rather than a lover and I just have the damnedest compulsion to hurl myself down the stairs") to the teenaged ("I feel woozy when I look at him") to the oh-so-American ("I took a deep breath and maintained access to the feelings without venting them").

The site is the work of Jonathan Harris, who explains online that it "involves the exploration and understanding of humans, on a global scale, through the artefacts [he's based in Brooklyn] they leave behind on the web". Tapping in to the confessional nature of the blogosphere, he uses "crawler" software that scans up to 20,000 new blogs every day, employing word-recognition technology to capture feelings as described online. These he adds to the site.

Harris isn't alone. Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin have built Listening Post, an online sound installation that scans internet chatrooms and converts the text data to spoken voice.

Internet artists rely on and celebrate the participatory nature of the web and their projects are often fun both to look at and to mess around with. But they also remind us of the pervasive nature of the internet, challenging us to think about the social impact of technology and what happens when we put our thoughts and emotions in the public domain.

For example, there was an eerie echo of wefeelfine.org in a recent New Scientist report that the Pentagon was funding research "to combine data harvested from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the National Security Agency to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals".

And as always, there are people who see a way of making money. Cindy Gallop, a former chair of the advertising giant BBH, has encouraged marketing bigwigs to use wefeelfine.org as a template for reaching new audiences. So, in the near future, anyone blogging "Mmmm, I really feel like an ice cream" should not be too surprised if, moments later, they hear the tinkle of a nursery rhyme coming down their street.