WWWW – The Web as the Digital Wonder Cabinet

from Cabinets de Curiosites

Note: Once a week – maybe each Tuesday – I’ll offer a resource for tracking wonder. These resources are highlighted in Tracking Wonder Handbook Two called THE SERENDIPITY SLIDE: 20-Plus Resources to TRACK WONDER for Your Creative Profession & Life (download-able by entering your email in the box to the right).

I’d be the first to tell you to get out into the woods or at least take a walk around a city block to experience – full-bodied – the wonders of your small world and to shake your creative mind out of its four-walled ruts. But the World-Wide Web offers its own wonders.

Used intentionally, the WWW can give creative innovators an endless supply of serendipitous surprises. Used haphazardly, and innovators quickly will get lost in the digital labyrinth and waste hours that could be used more productively. Here’s a little background on Wonder Cabinets and our current epoch as well as some resources to uses the World-Wide Wonder Web (wwww).

World-Wide Wunderkammers
17th-century Wunderkammers, Wonder Cabinets, were the glass cabinets and sometimes whole rooms and shelves devoted to natural oddities such as skulls and bones and exotic clothes. They came into fashion for a variety of reasons, reasons that reflect our own historical period: Namely, knowledge increasingly became more accessible to “the people,” not just to religious leaders.

Modern science, in its infant stage, made headway as a new alternative to understand the world and our place in it; and the printing press, the Lutheran movement, and economic shifts that led to a burgeoning middle class all ushered in this knowledge revolution.

Wonder Cabinets reflected Europeans’ simultaneous hope to categorize all knowable things and their doubt that such was possible.

And here we are. Rapid advances in technology and the sciences coupled with radical shifts in the globe’s economies make knowledge wiki-accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

The Internet is a veritable Digital Wonder Cabinet. It houses layers of our existing knowledge and in part because of its near inexhaustible vastness casts doubts on any of our ability to know everything about anything much less everything about everything.

If we’re not deliberate in how we use this Wonder Cabinet, we can exhaust our creative momentum and get frustrated. Here are a few stimulating resources, though:

Digital artists Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg are creating the Wonder Walker: A Global Online Wunderkammer. Here’s an article about it from Mappa Mundi Magazine – itself a resource of online wonders.

Here’s a spontaneous collective Flickr Kunstkammer (Curiosity Cabinet) that might inspire your own collection.

Cluster Flock offers some of the best random wonder on the web. It’s an experimental collective blog. You can become part of the flock just by using the Christopher Walken account. Over 300 posts fall under the CF category of awesome.

Many of these sites – and the nature of the web itself – reflect one of the most stimulating qualities of 17th-century wonder cabinets: chance, serendipitous juxtaposition.

Drop in the Hut
What are some of your favorite sites that arouse your wonder and creative productivity? Ones you’ve found particularly stimulating, surprising, and even of a spellbound quality?

See you in the woods (or on the WWWW),

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  1. Jeff, I’m really enjoying your posts. You’ve provided an ongoing stream of inspiration – writerly and spiritually. I will add the sites mentioned here when I’m perusing the blogosphere for creative ideas. Also, your readers might find my site, http://www.econesting.com inspiring for eco-friendly design and DIY.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom with us!