Put the Internet on Your Wall

The Internet is stuck. It’s stuck inside devices and patterns of interaction that don’t live up to its creative and expressive potential. I’d like to change that. I’m building a new type of screen, and I’m going to put the Internet on your wall.

“WTF?” you might reasonably ask.

I’m building an internet-connected screen that will bring the Internet to your wall, a screen that is worthy of that beautiful mess of human expression that pervades our connected lives.

For the first time in history it’s possible to build a hardware company at startup scale. Cheap prototyping and crowdfunding means that it’s possible to explore hardware with the same sort of purposeful wandering by which we approach software. Ubiquitous connectivity means that every object in our homes and lives can be reconfigured to take advantage of the creative and connective potential of the web.

We live in a world of distraction, where software and services compete for every iota of our attention. Our hardware is complicit. Our hardware is designed for short bursts of productivity or entertainment. We use machines, and when we’re done, we turn them off. But there is another way to live with machines.

Machines that fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs… The Computer for the 21st Century

The Internet is a beautiful place, full of beautiful things. Yet our ability to enjoy those things is constrained to one of 30 browser tabs, or to a tiny 4" screen with whom we have a tortured and unrelenting relationship. We are overwhelmed by content, drowning in conversation, shouting at one another, flailing directionless.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our technology is of our own design, and we can change it. We can design a device which affords the time and space to enjoy the beautiful Internet.

As an industry, we have invested billions of dollars and countless engineering hours helping people to create and share things on the Internet. It’s time we invest some energy into helping those people enjoy those things.

One of the first batch of prototypes.

I’m building an internet-connected screen because it ought to be easier to enjoy the best and most beautiful things on the Internet. It ought to be easier to give those objects more time and space in our lives.

But though this product ends with a beautiful piece of hardware hanging on a wall in every home, it begins with a community. Today, the prototype above is up and running in the homes and offices of a small group of artists and designers and technologists.

If nothing else the Internet is about connecting people, and works of art are nothing if not an opportunity to connect to other humans.

Here’s what’s on Ben’s screen:

Here’s what’s on Robin’s screen:

Here’s what’s on Kevin’s screen:

Here’s what’s on Wilson’s screen:

And here’s what’s on Andy’s screen:

The participants in this experiment are a living lab, an exploration into a new form of attention, one that’s been neglected by our always-be-updating, permission-to-send-you-notifications connected world. The irony is not lost on me — that in 2014 our idea of an exploration is a return to what for centuries has been the norm: stillness, silence, contemplation.

From San Francisco, to New York, to Vancouver, to Tokyo, our numbers are growing. If you want to live this science fiction, and you believe that the Internet is a place of beauty, apply to join this first small group.

If you’re a software or hardware engineer or designer, and you want to come along on this adventure; to design a future for the web that you’d like to live in, I’d love to talk with you.

If you’re an artist / developer, and you’re looking for a new way to distribute and monetize your work, speak up!

If I’ve piqued your interest and you want to keep an eye on our development, you can sign up for email updates here.

Most important, ubiquitous computers will help overcome the problem of information overload. There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating. Machines that fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs, will make using a computer as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods.
- Mark Weiser, The Computer for the 21st Century

Jake Levine is the Founder and CEO of Electric Objects. He spent the last few years working at betaworks, where he helped start News.me, then acquire and relaunch Digg.com. Electric Objects is made possible with the backing of betaworks, and a wonderful group of investors and advisors.

Thanks to Kevin Slavin, Marc Cenedella, Josh Miller, Alex Rosen, Pat Traughber, Kyle Warren for their help with this essay.