Brain Pickings

Geek Mondays: Dating Data Art

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Why 1.7 million people yearn to have their balloons popped every day and what the MoMA has to do with matchmaking.

Jonathan Harris, of We Feel Fine and The Whale Hunt fame, is one of our all-time favorite data artists working in what we like to call “information aesthetics.” His ability to take pure information and transform it into pure visual magic is the epitome of modern concept art. And his last project is nothing short of that.

I Want You To Want Me explores our quest for love in the now mainstream world of online dating, which draws over 1.7 million web romantics every day. The project, commissioned by the MoMA, dissects the personal dating profiles, which themselves are meticulously curated presentations of how we’d like the world to see us and what we’re looking to find in it.

The interactive installation is displayed on a 56″ high-resolution touch screen hung vertically on the wall of a dark room. Visitors can control the weather on a digital sky, where hundreds of balloons float. Each represents a single dating profile and is coded for gender and age by color (blue=male, pink=female) and brightness (bright=younger, dark=older). Inside each balloon is one of 500 video silhouettes, showing a solitary person engaged in a particular activity listed in their dating profile — yoga, air guitar, jumping jacks, you name it. Viewers can move the balloons inside the sky at different speeds, activate thought bubbles for the people trapped inside them, and even pop them.

Movement: Snippets

The installation pulls data every few hours from dating profiles all over the world. Each movement highlights a different facet of online dating: Who I Am explores the revelation of the self, Taglines takes the taglines of people’s profiles and puts them in a DNA-like helix symbolic of human identity, Matchmaker offers a “resolution” of sorts by algorithmically matching people based on data from their online profiles, and Breakdowns offers insight into larger population trends from the world of online dating.

The project aims to offer us a glimplse of ourselves as we peep into the lives of others — a quest for self in the quest for love. It was installed at the MoMA on February 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day.

It is part of the brilliant, brilliant Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition curated by the ever-amazing Paola Antonelli.

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