Field Trip: TED Talk – Jonathan Harris: The web as art

TED Talk – Jonathan Harris: The web as art

Jonathan Harris, a computer scientist, uses his programming skills to capture stories from the web and from all over the world, yielding rich results in storytelling with an anthropological sense, and a duty to document—and preserve such stories.

From our readings, “Web 2.0 Storytelling, Emergence of a New Genre”, authors Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine concur that Web 2.0 has forever changed the way we tell a story. No longer is a story told to a passive-receptive audience. We all make that story one way or another. “Stories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, and unpredictable” (Alexander & Levine, 2008, p. 40).

Harris takes advantage of this open-ended, branching cross-media by extracting every two to three minutes with computer programs “bits of information” from recent blog posts with occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. The result is an amazing library of phrases and images that each one not only tells a story, but also represents someone’s life out there.

One of his projects, “Happiness”, where he interviews people from a small Himalayan town about what is happiness, the stories he gets as a result each is unique and inspiring.  After he interviews them, he takes a picture of them, a picture of their hands, and a picture of them making a silly face.  These three poses each one represent what Svensson refers to his article “knowledge and Artifacts: People and Objects”, as something tangible that “symbolizes a lifestyle” (Svensson, p. 87), where the picture of their hands for example, tells the individual’s life by just looking at them.

Harris with his projects and his approach to recollect information on the Internet has revolutionized collecting and archiving procedures. Jenny Newell’s article, “Old objects, new media: Historical collections, digitization and affect”, she states in page 289 that “[H]istorians are as yet more often users than creative producers of digital historical material”, where some historians are suspicious of utilizing new technologies to for “research, teaching, and publication”. Jonathan Harris’ project, “The Whale Hunt”, is a fine example of how new technology can be applied for research, teaching, and publication for collecting, archiving, and storytelling for future generations.  Harris built this “framework” or “webinar phase”, where one can build the story based on several parameters like images, date, and action level, resulting on a different told story based on the parameters selected.  Just like in real life.



Bryan Alexander, A. L. (2008, 23 October). Educase review online. Retrieved from

Svensson, Tom G. (). Knowledge and Artifacts: People and Objects. Museum Anthropology, 31, 85-104.

Newell, J. (2012).  Old Objects, new media:  Historical collections, digitization and affect.  Journal of Material Culture, 17(3), 287-306.



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