software / network / computer

When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure… At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity’s basic mysteries […] might be found. …
There are official searchers, inquisitors.
I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words.

Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.

–Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”

Information technology has become an indispensable element in communication, play, and work. We rely more on electronic communication than we do face-to-face contact to share knowledge. Almost every computer user relies upon Internet search engines to gather information, seek entertainment, and find pleasure. Search engines are deeply embedded into daily activity-they are the primary way people in the 21st century know  …”we depend upon them so utterly.”(1)

Searching, however, is regularly confusing and chaotic. Like Borges’ inquisitors mentioned in the passage above, searchers are regularly besieged with lists of thousands of results, and no systematic keyword system has yet developed to standardize the language of the search.(2) Searching can be frustrating, and the material discovered is often inaccurate. Searchers themselves offer to the mix complicated requests, misspellings, and odd X-rated content descriptions; the kinds of things people search for might seem disturbing, petty, or peculiar.

Search engines map, through phrase-like inquiries, our desire to find knowledge. Monitoring such desires allows us to read and live through other people’s interests.(3) I developed [search] to explore both our human desire for information and our hunger to see other people’s actions. [search] relies on real-time monitoring of internet search engine inquiries from around the world. The work conceptually explores everyday life: how do people use technology in their daily lives? What are the commonalities of human desire? How is the desire affected by the internet’s inherent immediacy?

I’m fascinated by the language people use to describe themselves, their conditions, their feelings. Does the kind of language used by searchers tell us something about how people view the internet and technology? Are people looking for materials or are they hungering for experience? How much time do people spend searching for sex, drugs, and money? Do people spend an equal amount of time searching for friends, god, and spirituality? Do people turn to the portal for help? Are our human values exposed through search engines? The work foreshadowed the current uneasy culture of surveillance.

[search] is programmed using the Lingo programming language. Users click on words in the live search feed as they find words in others’ searches which interest them. These words separate, and conduct their own searches on themselves. Users can drag two words together which interest them to produce associative searches.

Who is the searcher? What is being searched?


-This project was funded by a commission from the University of Colorado @ Boulder.
-Special thanks to Brian Brantner, software engineer on the project. He can be found at http://www.marcotte.com.
-AskJeeves.com is used for the search engine feed
-EAT: Edinburgh Associative Thesaurus, a psycholinguistic database, is used to search joint searches from dragged “wordcloud” items


1 Toto, Christian. “Web Wise.” Insight on the News, Dec 10, 2001.17:46, 32-34.

2 Guernsey, Lisa. “The Search Engine as Cyborg.” The New York Times. Technology Sect. Jn 29 2000.

5 Garrity, Bronwyn. “Some Cyberspace of Her Own: Escapes From the Dark Horrible Sucking Trail of the Lost Voice.” The Nation, March 19, 2001. 272:11, 25.



  • Share: