Interactive Earth Day site asks us to slow down, find "What Is Missing"

Vietnam Memorial creator Maya Lin's new project is an exercise in self-control in the hyper-frenetic world wide web

Published April 22, 2011 3:53PM (EDT)

The Internet is about quantity over quality, speed over content. I'm not saying everything on the web has to be Nyan the Poptart Cat, only that Cute Roulette is the hottest site this week precisely because it lets you click through adorable animal videos with amazing speed. Don't like the raccoon taking a bath? Boom, you're looking at a Great Dane trying to knock over a giant tortoise.

In comparison, Maya Lin's Earth Day site, "What Is Missing" seems slow and creepy by comparison. You click on dots on a map -- which read anything from "bats" to "bees" to "the natural sounds of the ocean" -- and are immediately submerged in a sensory overload about the danger of its disappearance. The videos last a particularly long time as new information about the animals appear on the screen, during which you are forced to turn down the volume on your computer so your officemates don't think you're getting attacked by a jaguar.

Why would I want to go on a site like "What Is Missing," which seems long, cumbersome, and uncomfortably submersible, when I could just as easily watch 10-second videos of kitties all day?

Maybe because Lin -- whose design for the Vietnam Memorial back in 1981 initially received criticism for being too abstract, too odd, and too "weird" considering her ethnicity -- doesn't necessarily go for quick comforts in her projects. She makes you think about what you're looking at: forcing you to slow down and consider the images and sounds as they dissolve out of focus on your screen.

In this way, watching a longer, abstract video about humpback whales and their "beautiful songs" serves as an important reminder that not every aspect of animal life happens in 50-second YouTube clips on your laptop, but is slowly disappearing from the real world as we click again and again on our tickling penguin video.

By Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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