I Want You To Want Me explores the search for love
and self in the world of online dating.

Who I Am
Wildly careening balloons in the
Who I Am movement
Over the past several years, online dating has entered the mainstream, drawing over 50 million visitors per month.  En masse, people have condensed their identities into page or paragraph-long descriptions, sometimes complemented by a handful of photographs or peppered with responses to canned questions.  These personal profiles are modern messages in a bottle, short statements of self, telling not only who people are, but also what people want.  In these advertisements for new human relationships, people package and present their most loveable qualities to help complete their quest to be loved.

A single balloon couple from the
Matchmaker movement
I Want You To Want Me chronicles the world’s long-term relationship with romance, across all ages, genders, and sexualities, gathering new data from a variety of online dating sites every few hours.  The system searches these sites for certain phrases, which it then collects and stores in a database.  These phrases, taken out of context, provide partial glimpses into people’s private lives.  Simultaneously, the system forms an evolving zeitgeist of dating, tracking the most popular first dates, turn-ons, desires, self-descriptions and interests.

The Breakdowns movement,
showing the zeitgeist of dating
The data is presented as an interactive installation, displayed on a 56” high-resolution touch screen, hung vertically on a wall in a dark room.  On screen is an interactive sky, whose weather (sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy, etc.) can be controlled by the viewer.  Through the sky float hundreds of blue (male) and pink (female) balloons, each representing a single dating profile.  The brighter balloons are younger people; the darker balloons older.  Trapped inside each balloon is one of over 500 video silhouettes, showing a solitary person, engaged in any number of activities (yoga, jumping jacks, nose-picking, air guitar, etc.).  The viewer can touch any balloon to select it, causing its photo to dangle from a string and its sentence to appear in a thought bubble overhead.  Touching any balloon a second time pops it.  The balloons move through the sky along different paths and at different speeds, bumping up against each other, sometimes traveling together for a time, but only ever getting so close, as each silhouette is ultimately confined to its own balloon.

The piece has five formal movements: Who I Am, What I Want, Snippets, Matchmaker, and Breakdowns.

Text snippets from dating
profiles appear in thought bubbles
Who I Am displays sentences beginning with “I am”, as balloons careen wildly through the sky.  What I Want displays sentences beginning with “I am looking for”, as balloons form a giant pulsing heart.  Snippets consists of three smaller movements: Openers, Closers, and TaglinesOpeners displays profiles’ opening lines, as balloons form a field of bursting flowers.  Closers displays profiles’ closing lines, as balloons form a grid.  Taglines displays profiles’ subject lines, as balloons form a spinning DNA double helix.  Matchmaker algorithmically pairs people based on their descriptions of who they are and what they’re looking for.  Balloon couples emerge on the horizon and drift to the foreground, before pausing side by side for a few seconds and then floating off together.  Breakdowns, the final movement, reveals the zeitgeist of dating, showing the most popular turn-ons, first dates, desires, self-descriptions, and interests.  These statistics are displayed in a snaking trail of balloon clusters, with each cluster’s size representing its relative popularity.

Video silhouettes trapped inside
every balloon
I Want You To Want Me aims to be a mirror, in which people see reflections of themselves as they glimpse the lives of others. 

It was commissioned by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for their Design and the Elastic Mind show. 

The piece was installed at MoMA on February 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day.

- Jonathan Harris & Sep Kamvar
  February, 2008