The Virtual Being is an audiovisual installation, created using computer programming. Its code sequentially makes visible a multitude of livestreaming webcams openly connected to the internet.

Life on Earth, live...

The Virtual Being is a viewing portal for accessing a continuous livestream of unedited and unmanipulated audiovisual recordings of places on the Earth. It is accessible via the internet or by visiting exhibitions where the system is built on location.


The Virtual Being utilizes a combination of scripts and programs, written in several programming languages.

  • The system connects to the Application Programming Interface (API) of a search engine using a script to search worldwide for open livestreaming cameras.

  • The search results are collected, checked for connectivity and parsed to a file.

  • For each result an individual webpage is automatically generated.

  • These pages are then displayed in random sequences in one or multiple viewports.

  • Continuous atmospherical music plays in the background.

The system is almost fully automated, except for some minor elements that for the time being still require human maintenance. It randomly cycles several thousand livestreaming cameras from all over the world.


"On communication about reality using language, the language of film and the language of computers" (2015)

Putting The Virtual Being into context


Presently, there are thousands of devices recording the world and streaming the audiovisual data they capture directly onto the web, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If time is essentially an undivided, continuous, eternal moment, then this moment is being recorded all the time from a multitude of perspectives. When watching The Virtual Being, you can immediately notice that on Earth day and night exist simultaneously.

I have recorded time many times before while making films, using time-capturing devices called cameras and studied some of the remarkable effects resulting from the manipulation of these recordings in the editing room.


Sculpting in time, that is how film director Andrei Tarkovsky described the art of filmmaking. Its tools give us the ability to condense and expand time. A film can convey events spanning multiple lifetimes, condensed into only a few minutes of time. Vice versa, a film can convey events happening too fast for the eye to register, by expanding time to a scale our eyes can register. The art of filmmaking offers us the ability to manipulate our perspective on time.


In most cases, when a film editor cuts two separate shots together, a manipulation of context also occurs. Cutting from a recording of a man's face looking down at something, to a recording of a baby in a crib, will result in the viewer 'seeing' a man looking at a baby if we follow several continuity principles. This projection of context happens even though the individual recordings are recorded at different locations and at different times. The manipulation of context happens as a result of cutting different audiovisual recordings into a sequence, a mechanism regularly referred to as the language of film.


In the early days of film making, a concept of film language was still unclear. Filmmakers nor audiences spoke it and only in time they became aware of its existence. It's said the first time an audience witnessed a recording of a train riding towards the camera, people panicked and ran out of the theatre, afraid the train would run them over. The very first close-up shot ever projected onto a cinema screen, is said to have resulted in members of the audience reacting terrified, because what they thought they saw was a decapitated head of a man, no longer having a body, yet still living. Over the years we have all become increasingly skilled in employing and interpreting this language, yet most do not have any understanding of its mechanics.

What's commonly referred to as 'The Kuleshov Effect' entails that it matters little what the expression on the face of the man is, because the shot played after it predominantly defines the meaning we'll give to his expression: A neutral face succeeded by a laughing baby will cause the audience see a happy man. When the baby is crying, they'll say he looks worried and if we'd show a shot of a piece of pie they'll see a man with an appetite. In a sequence of images the interpretation of a shot is to a large extent defined by the shot that is seen after it.

A simple sequence of only two unrelated audiovisual recordings is seen here to almost instantly result in an interpretation of context in which a meaning is projected onto the images, that was not originally present in the individual recordings by themselves. The context is only being suggested through the language of film.

The ability of the audience to project context onto images which isn't inherently there, combined with their willingness to 'buy into' the illusion of continuity is what allows them to watch fiction films at all. (In film theory, the latter is called "suspension of disbelief".) If audiences would constantly keep in mind that between every cut the crew has moved lights, actors practiced their lines again, time has passed and would remember that they're watching carefully scripted individual moments, they would not be able to sit through a single movie. The mechanisms to manipulate context in this case are employed to suggest seemingly chronological events unfolding in a fictitious reality of projections. It's an excellent language to communicate things and events that not actually existed or happened.

Paradoxally, the language of film is also being widely employed in order to communicate about reality as it unfolds. Some examples of this are newscasts, documentaries, historic films and 'reality'-tv, which are generally considered to be 'informative programs'. Every interference occurring during their creation, every cut or other manipulation of the original recordings, increases the probability the context will become a projection at some point, after which a program no longer has anything to do with the reality the individually recorded events originated from.

If we keep in mind the mechanics of how we project meaning onto images, as well as how this meaning is constructed by news stations, advertisement companies and filmmakers, we would no longer be able to define many of these programs as being 'informative' anymore.


The Virtual Being resembles several characteristics of cinematographic programming, but it is not 'speaking' the same language. It is created using computer programming language. Lines of code, programmed to search, collect and process worldwide available live audio-visual data sources. There is no editor, no screenplay, no cast, no director, no gaffer to light anything, not even a cameraman. The sequences of recordings are created by a computer program, functioning according to a set different parameters, when compared to sequences created by employing the mechanics of film language.

In programming language, specific operations we want a computer to process are defined. The code is the only editor operating in The Virtual Being and it is programmed to randomly cut to different camera's in random amounts of time. The only function of this operation is to be able to display thousands of camerasfeeds on a limited number of screens. By using only material recorded by webcams, the only thing being captured is simply reality as it is unfolding. It is by definition the function of a web-cam: to record reality as it is happening somewhere and allowing access to this data somewhere else via the Internet.

Processing moving images in this way results in a cinematographic representation of the world, of which the context is not manipulated. Semiotic processes are negated by design, not causing any mechanisms to be activated that induce the projection of meaning not actually there. The parameters of this system allow access to audiovisual data about reality unfolding, in absence of the manipulation of meaning, making The Virtual Being a kind of informative programming in the true sense of the word.


This text is carefully crafted, using yet another kind of language, that of words. It is composed with the intention of being clear in its definitions and provide an accurate context for the project it accompanies. It needs to be mentioned here that the common employment of our collective 'native tongues', are resulting just as quickly in communication about a non-existing context. When examining the meaning of certain words, they are often seen to refer to things that are nowhere to be found in reality.

Words and sequences of words can also induce manipulation of context, yet they are as well widely employed in our attempts to define reality and communicate about it. When words lure us into referring to a projected context that is not actually present in reality, then its mechanics essentially become unusable for performing these operations. Nowadays, this causes a confusion of meaning occurring in practically any attempt of communication.

We are becoming ever more deeply immersed in the reality words create. The mechanics of words are used to create laws governing our collective and individual lives, yet on closer inspection the words describing these laws themselves lose their meaning.

Many don't really know what the things they're talking about actually mean. Sequencing words into sentences can be considered programming with words. As happens when creating sequences in the language of film, so does sequencing with words lead to ever increasing confusion. Until we employ language properly, that is, not subject to multiple forms of interpretation or purposeful confusion/obfuscation, we'll have to be very careful in using any language to communicate about reality.


We can only be vigilantly watchful of where our common languages stop meaning the same thing or stop meaning anything to both sender and receiver. Which signals correspond to a referent in reality and which signals are only noise. That being said, I hope the reader will now be pointed to look at what The Virtual Being is communicating, without thinking in words or projections of context, but simply by decoding the signals it transmits.

Signals sent from several thousands of virtual eyes looking at reality at the same time.


Michael Kolenbrander
July 2015


Visitor comments:
(collected from various online sources)

"This would've been Da Vinci's dream. To watch people and observe nature as it really is"

"Some nights I just sit there with the music playing watching the world"

"This is the greatest website in the history of the internet"

"Honestly, I felt like the guy from 'Person of Interest'. The nerdy one, not the tough, military trained one"


"I love to watch all of the earth"

"Words cannot describe how amazing this project is"

"I like looking at ocean sunrises through my computer screen"

"Well, this is all this morning's plans out the window"

"The most mesmerizing website I have ever seen"