Report from the 6th International Browserday


Report From the 6th International Browserday
May 17, 2002

by Jonah Brucker-Cohen ([email protected])

The Paradiso, an old church turned nightclub in the heart of
Amsterdam, was an unlikely venue to collide with visions of Internet
future presented by over 30 participants during the 6th International
Browserday. After successful past runs in Amsterdam, New York, and
Berlin, Browserday's founder Mieke Gerritzen started the festival on
the simple notion that the Internet is far too rich a medium for
expression to be siphoned through the existing canon of Netscape and
IE. Browserday is an opportunity, challenge, and competition for
young designers and artists to destroy the status quo of what it
means to "browse" information both online and offline and come up
with new alternatives and precedents.

This year, Browserday's theme was "Mobile Minded: Rich Air", a
testament to our increasingly mobile existence and growing
dependencies on cell phones, PDAs, GPS, and wireless networks. A
festive "Browser Dinner" designed by media artist Shulea Cheang took
place the night before in a large greenhouse outside of the city. The
dinner featured waiters dressed as cyborgs and only serving food to
hungry guests who made the most audible bleeps with their cell phones.

The event itself was hosted by the lively John Thakara of Doors of
Perception fame and began with the presentation, "Klima Kontrolle", a
funny gag where Roel Wouters and Luna Maurer from Amsterdam's
Sandberg Institute plugged in a desk fan and pointed it at a Mac
laptop causing the desktop to gradually blow off the screen. Among
the themes mentioned throughout the evening included technology's
relationship to the body, connections between public and private
spaces, data surveillance and customization, control of information
flow, and the emotional and social structures of human/computer

After the presentations concluded, the jury announced a short list of
five nominees and the winner of the event. The finalists included:
"Instinct" - a proposal to color-code our cell phone address books
according to the real-time mood and physical state of our friends.
"Emotional Landscapes" - a future emotional data-layer of an urban
space where people could leave traces of the emotions they felt in
distinct locations via GPS tracking. "Abbreviated Lifestyles" - five
timepieces that attempted to restructure our lives based on
time-based systems such as keeping track of our dreams and
aspirations over a lifetime. "Browsing the Air" - an enthusiastic
trio from Berlin who presented a plan to encrypt SMS messages sent
between mobile phones. "My Browser", by Bob Stel and Lauran Ory also
of the Sandberg Institute, which ultimately won the event, featured a
video presentation of a dying old man describing his personal
attachment to his browser. Speaking of the browser as if it was his
only companion, the project emphasized the idea that in the future
our personal attachments to technology will ultimately become more
important than simply using technology.

Other honorable mentions included "Body Mnemonics", a comment on how
information can be ultimately something stored on our body itself
where different locations signify different types of data. For
instance, you might keep your enemies information on your neck and
give the phrase "pain in the neck" entirely new meaning. Also
interesting proposals were "Flesh- Machine", a dynamic tattoo that
changes its appearance and stores information as your body changes,
and "Tired to Be Wired, No Strings Attached" a video presentation
about the rise of Internet telepathy in a not-so-distant future.

Following the student presenters were two guest speakers, along with
short talks by past winners of Browserday including myself, Joes
Koppers, and Victor Vina. Tim Pritlove of Berlin's Chaos Computer
Club ( (the world oldest hackers club founded in
1981), gave an inspiring presentation on the freedom of information
and accessible public interfaces. After defending the true meaning of
the term "hacker" as philanthropic rather than menacing, Pritlove
described CCC's latest coup/project, "Blinkenlights"
( as a culmination of the group's 20t
year history. The Blinkenlights project, which turned a 12 story
building in Germany's Alexanderplatz into a low-res computer monitor
using high-powered controllable lights in every window, was the
club's attempt at making the first ever dynamic, multi-user public
display. He showed examples of passersbys playing Pong on the
building with their mobile phones, sending in customized animations
created with homemade BlinkenPaint software, and even adding "hacks"
to the open-source software running the installation.

Between student presentations was also a demo by Jaap de Dulk, the
person responsible for porting Japan's wildly successful I-Mode
phones to KPN (Dutch Telecom) and the European market. Dulk described
ways to implement homemade I-Mode sites and showed some of the
features unique to the platform in Europe such as SPS (Short Picture
Service), a new sibling to SMS that lets you send graphics and
animations to other people.

After the presentations and winners ceremony ended, techno and
hip-hop beats filled the Paradiso's terraced interior. The advent of
Browserday sparked hope that the future of information retrieval,
access, and dissemination will escape the control of
mega-corporations or governments. The "browser" itself no longer
holds the same meaning it did in the early days of the Net. Instead
of thinking of a browser as something that displays information,
Browserday is challenging us to question how the information itself
will dictate and adapt its own delivery mechanisms. Ultimately, the
browser is becoming less of a signifier for the web than a way of
manipulating and exploring the dynamic of social and personal data
flow. The next International Browserday will take place in Montreal,
Canada next spring.