It’s a little black box that sits in the top right corner of your browser. And when you click it, it turns any page on the internet into a serene tabula rasa with no text and no images.
It might sound and look like a joke, but for the creator of the browser extension Nothing on the Internet, it’s anything but. “I found I was spending so much time online. I would log onto my computer, start searching for something, and resurface two or three hours later,” says the artist and filmmaker Joseph Ernst. “This whole chunk of my life would be gone forever.”
So he decided to make an off button. “What happens if we reverse the process, strip away all the information, and leave the internet a little naked, to let you explore some digital landscapes in a calm and serene way?” he says. “It’s a human’s fighting back against the algorithm.”
Ernst first had the idea for Nothing on the Internet when he was working in a place with a slow internet connection. He began taking screenshots of websites as they were loading, before they’d become cluttered with any pesky content. As his folder of screenshots grew, he began to really appreciate that proverbial moment of silence on the internet, and wanted to have more control over it–essentially, he wanted a way to freeze that moment before a website loads to give himself a break from it all.
So he and his colleagues at the artistic partnership Sideline Collective built the browser application for Chrome and Safari. They’re also behind the similar conceptual art project Nothing in the News, in which they create printed versions of newspapers without any of the news.
Not that he recommends spending hours on the web when there’s no actual content on it. “Once in awhile, [it’s] like a breath of fresh air. It’s a physical demonstration of how transient all this information is,” Ernst says. “When you’re immersed in these feeds, all the info is so urgent, it needs to be read now now now, but at the click of a button it’s all not there.”
There’s also an unintentional practical side to the application for designers–it gives you a sense of the structural hierarchies of different websites and how they use negative space.
Still, Nothing on the Internet is really a conceptual tool–and a silly one at that. “There’s an element of humor there,” he says. “Because I think in order to make sense of our lives sometimes you just need to laugh at the idiocy of it all.” And honestly, for really bad news days, it sounds like the perfect solution.