“Life is Meaning (www.lifeismeaning.com)”

Conference:


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Title:

    Life is Meaning (www.lifeismeaning.com)

Abstract:


    “To get a smile every day”, “To balance what I have to do and what I choose to do”, “To take my coffee in the morning with the people I love”, “My meaning in life is to worship of Allah”. These fragments are answers to the question: “What gives meaning to your life?” The interface of “Life is Meaning” is a Flash Web site that visualizes the information of public thoughts stored in a database. When launching the interface, an input form pops up in which the user enters the answer to the pertinent question (Figure 1). He also positions his answer by selecting one or more out of fifteen categories from a dropdown menu that includes family, personal, socializing, food, work, travel, athletics, nature, city, spirituality, ownership, philosophy, culture, pleasure, and other. Gender, age and the timestamp of the entry are also stored. All received data is outputted back to the Internet site in real-time. After submission, the participant is directed to a site where he can browse through remote outputs by category, continent or gender to compare, discover and share others’ thoughts (Figure 2, 3). Participants can compare i.e. the way males and females respond to a certain category and which of the two genders is more affected by the category. “Life is Meaning” uses its own graphical elements and creates a system within itself with a focus on user intuition. Categories are distinguished by colors; gender by rounded and square-cut corners. Age entries vary by three different typefaces. Additionally, the choice of age is personalized: Instead of choosing a specific age range, the user selects the age he thinks suits him best. Furthermore, participants are invited to answer the question in the language of their choice. The aesthetics creates a pleasing feeling inside this system of signs that aims to connect the participants emotionally to the project. With participation, individuals will get a chance to read uncommon and interesting answers about the meaning of life. They will learn about others’ perspectives on life and ideally question their own life and get into self-reflection. The question is existential in and of itself and aims to make the participant aware of the significance of single events, activities or experiences. The purpose is to go beyond scientific research as for instance described in Csikszentmihalyi’s book “A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology”, which is about leading a happy life. The data in “Life is Meaning” are instead collected in an uncontrolled, rather playful environment that is influenced by factors such as participants’ mood, or the actual context they are in. “Life is Meaning” is a collaborative project that relies entirely on the entries of its community. A project that is similar to “Life is Meaning” in terms of collaboration is “Turns”. For this Web project, users submit their own stories or query entries to collect “Turning Points in Life”. Collective participation is further used in Rivane Neuenschwander’s installation “I Wish Your Wish”, where individuals are invited to choose one of the numerous ribbons that contain silkscreen printed wishes. In exchange, they write their own wish on a piece of paper and deposit it in a box for future exhibits. “Life is Meaning” works in a similar way: Individuals receive or read entries and as a further step they submit their own answer. The project is promoted and diffused by its own community through the sharing-with-friends-option. It is also connected throughout links and groups in social networks such as “Twitter” or “Facebook”. Whereas these kinds of social networks are based on transparency of data, “Life is Meaning” intends on keeping participants anonymous and thereby obtain more reliable and honest answers. Primarily, anonymity helps to encourage participation. However, participants have the choice to enter their email address to be able to receive updates on the project. This entry is confidential and will not be published to any third party. In conclusion, the project can be seen as a documentation of collective current lifestyles and experiences on a worldwide level. The World Wide Web not only has the role to make it accessible to participants from all over the world and gather a broad range of answers, but also to function in form of an online gallery: “Life is Meaning” is definitely a contribution to today’s Internet art that is no longer dependent on the traditional physical gallery space.

References:


    1. Csikszentmihalyi, Isabella Selega, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, eds. A Life Worth Living: Contributions to Positive Psychology. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. 2006.
    2. Neuenschwander, Rivane. I Wish Your Wish. Museu de Arte Moderna Aluisio Magalhaes, Recife, 2003.
    3. Turns. 8 April 2008. Project Web Site by Margot Lovejoy. 8 April 2008 http://www.myturningpoint.com


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