a Social Design



As an individual with an independent consciousness that cannot be shared, it is impossible to have complete empathy. But as a social animal, empathy is also the ability pursued by individuals and society collectively. Empathy is an indispensable element to also achieve social justice which benefits each individual.

The current media environment is usually that information is 

aggregated from the bottom to the top, and then transmitted from the top to each individual at the bottom through an announcement of information.

The biggest contradiction arising from this information mechanism is that humans who both send and receive information involuntarily pay more attention to the information. This affects the identity group or interest group they belong to while ignoring its influence on other groups and individuals in those groups.

Social media should have promoted communication and the 

cultivation of empathy. However, from a macro point of view, the results are completely contrary to assumptions. Humans, who are easily clustered, will emphasize the positive evidence by ignoring the negative data to strengthen their knowledge of the world. The current Internet and various AI algorithms are double-edged swords which further exacerbate this trend.

So, what went wrong? How can we use contemporary technology to truly benefit our humanitarian tendencies instead of serving any authority, organization, or country? How to change a society where economy, manufacturing, and technology are highly developed, but differences in values between people are becoming increasingly difficult to resolve, and inequality has not improved? 

Ether is an interactive installation that focuses on the basic information exchange tool, linguistics, and each individual’s insignificant but crucial personal experience and cognition. In Ether, language is no longer a tool for simplifying cognitive information for efficient communication, but an important means of conveying individual consciousness without details and efficiency. By sharing and learning the true stories of others, empathy changes from a blind guess to clear understanding.


Ether, a public mailbox
On the streets

In the parks

Around the corners in the cities

Surrounded by shining LCD screens in Times Square

While in front of the godly and quiet Potala 



Ether, a billboard
What are your memories

Your regrets

Your relationships

Your definitions

And how are you today


Ether, an oral history
Digest the era

By personal narrating

The voice of authority

will always be defeated by

each lively life


Ether, a storybook
Records the spring sakura blossoms in Tokyo

The loneliness autumn rain in Seattle

What is the smile like on the newborn baby

How did the girl across the street walk into his heart

Endlessly updated 

For you to enjoy


Ether, a brdige
Across 2 miles away

From central park to Williamsburg

From Santa Monica to Beverly Hills

From virtual to real

From stranger to friend

The end of this bridge

The softest place in the heart


Ether, a lesson
Tick tock, tick tock

In one clip of your day

Get to know 

the Harmonia of conversation

the Sakyamuni of selfless awareness

Relax, just be your true self


Ether, a reconcliation     
Self and ego

Fear and inspiration

Past and present

You and me
Ether, one of the five elements

Medium of light propagation

Somewhere near the Planck Length

is the essence
©Zihan Zhou 2020

ins @zenacc

RISD Grad Show 2020