One of the many things that I love about the Internet, is the way it provides a nearly unlimited canvas for creativity, and then, once an artist has put the finishing touches on their work, the word can spread like wildfire and touch millions of people’s lives in a matter of hours.
I’ve just finished watching – and participating in – an experience that only the net could give us and I’m stunned by its beauty and originality.
It’s called “The Wilderness Downtown” and it combines the technology of Google’s Chrome browser, with the visual data of Google Maps & Street View all set to a track by Canadian band Arcade Fire – arguably one of the most influential groups in today’s music landscape.
If this description doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as my lead-in would suggest, you’re right. That’s because describing The Wilderness Downtown is sort of like describing the colour blue or the feeling of being cold. You could try, but ultimately all three of these items need to be experienced to be understood.
In a nutshell, The Wilderness Downtown uses your computer monitor as a multi-window display for a music video of Arcade Fire’s “We Used to Wait“. By opening and closing Google Chrome windows in different shapes, sizes and locations on your screen, each with a different visual element, your whole desktop becomes the video. But that’s just the beginning.
Using location information that you provide before the experience begins (the website asks for the street address of where you grew up), a significant portion of the video you see is pulled from Google’s Maps & Street View to show you sights that are unique to you as a viewer. Depending on how old you are and how many memories you have associated with your childhood neighbourhood, the effect is both eerie and profound.
There is also a portion of the experience that you are invited to take part in, but I’m not going to tell you what it is – but take my word for it – it’s worth doing. Don’t ignore it.
The Wilderness Downtown isn’t just an intense experience for the viewer – it’s also a workout for your computer. The site suggests – and I firmly agree – that you shut down all other programs or processes that might be eating up CPU cycles or your broadband connection. The best experience would be to run Chrome (it won’t work in any other browser) maximized on your desktop. Doing so ensures that you avoid any visual distractions and will hopefully prevent stuttering video or audio. Netbook users, you may be out of luck.
Check it out and tell us what you think.