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            17 / 10 / 14

            Life Needs Internet

            • Imagine waking up tomorrow morning and not being able to check your email. Imagine spending the whole day without a single interaction with a screen. For Jeroen van Loon this was his reality after developing a stress-related illness, which made his body itch when in contact with a computer. This was even more problematic given the fact that van Loon was studying Digital Media Design at the time. Despite this, he managed to graduate without touching the device for two months and in the process created a globally informed study on our relationship with the Internet.

              For his graduation, Van Loon created an analogue blog project where he wrote blog entries on a typewriter and delivered them to a group of readers by conventional mail. In return, he received comments in the form of ‘beautiful handwritten letters’ that inspired him to expand his mission. He then went on to ask the world to handwrite letters explaining how they felt towards the growing importance of computers and the Internet, and importantly, what it would mean if these devices were not in their lives.

              The project resulted in an online blog called Life Needs Internet, which is an on-going compilation of letters that are submitted every day. The letters are all available for browsing in their original handwritten form and transliterated into text. Through these, it becomes clear that the Internet has a huge effect on people’s lives on a global scale. Three distinct themes around technology have emerged.

              Technology as the great connector. The large majority include examples of how technology brings people together instead of pulling them apart. The Internet is seen as an opportunity to meet like-minded peers and create a personal space to help nurture and build relationships.

              ‘Now my journal has more than 5000 subscribers from every corner of the globe. Some of them became my close friends. Thank you, Internet.’ Nataljia, 56, Belarus

              Technology as the empowering sage.Many also mention the idea of technology as essential in helping one fulfil their potential. The ability to access knowledge on a global scale, uninhibited, provides a sense of personal achievement that is simultaneously rewarding and liberating.

              ‘Internet is a gateway to a source of knowledge, entertainment, social contact and creativity. Internet and technology enables me to “redefine” myself as a human being.’ Jeroen, 44, The Netherlands

              Technology as a relentless presence. It is important to highlight the shadow of technology, as the general sentiment of the letters was that technology was a ‘double-edged sword’. With many letters commenting on the impending desire for a more balanced digital life – one that continued to seize opportunities but not invade personal moments.

              ‘Communication is faster, but it also creates social pressure. With Internet you have the whole world at your disposal, but sometimes you are at the disposal of Internet’. Eloine, 34, The Netherlands

              Arising from apparent techno-saturation, is an emerging analogue trend. Current examples include analogue schools, unplugged weekends, digital detox camps and even tongue-in-cheek comedy like IKEA’s recent bookbook ad. These examples can arguably be seen as symbolic and liberating moments that reconnect people to a simpler, more natural state and provide an escape from the frenetic multi-tasking daily life.

              Van Loon’s letters, however, are not meant to disconnect people from technology. They are in fact a prime example of what the artist seeks to display for future generations: ‘the Internet as a cultural artefact that produces memory and documents human history’s successes and failures.’



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              • Article by Rafaella Schivartche, Flamingo Digital Practice