I had a great time talking with Nora Young of CBC Radio about Go Rando and the effects of emotional surveillance on Facebook. The show it’s part of, called Spark “…explores how technology, innovation and design affects our lives.”
My work Facebook Demetricator was discussed in the February 2017 issue of Wired Magazine. The article it’s a part of is titled “The Social Medium is the Message,” by Clive Thompson. In the wake of the US presidential election, Thompson writes about the cultural implications of social networks in the ways that they produce filter bubbles, enable fake news, and consolidate information access. When talking about tweaks that could be made to systems like Facebook, Thompson writes:
Let your imagination go wild and you can concoct even more aggressive, more ambitious reforms. Imagine if you got rid of all the markers of virality: no counts of likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, or upvotes on Reddit! Artist Ben Grosser created a playful browser plug-in called the Facebook Demetricator that does precisely this. It’s fascinating to try: Suddenly social media stops being a popularity contest. You start assessing posts based on what they say instead of because they racked up 23,000 reposts.
I recommend the full article! You can read the online version here.
On the occasion of the Blinding Pleasures exhibition in London, I did an interview with Régine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art. We talked about Go Rando, how the Facebook News Feed shows you the world it thinks you want, resisting emotional surveillance, and more. It was really a pleasure to chat with her.
Next week I will launch a new work, titled Go Rando, as part of the exhibition Blinding Pleasures at Arebyte Gallery in London, UK. Curated by Filippo Lorenzin, Blinding Pleasures “… will study the dangers and potentials of a conscious use of the mechanisms behind the False Consensus effect and its marketing-driven son, the so-called “Filter Bubble”. … [Further, the exhibition] reflects on how people can critically take control over their inner psychological biases, disrupting the attempts of being misled by those who detain power on the platforms they use.” I’m pleased to be a part of this show with artists Angela Washko and Man Bartlett. Stay tuned for more about the new work!
I’m happy to share that I have a chapter in the recently released 3D Additivist Cookbook. Edited by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke and published by the Institute for Network Cultures, the cookbook “is a free compendium of imaginative, provocative works from over 100 world-leading artists, activists and theorists. The 3D Additivist Cookbook contains .obj and .stl files for the 3D printer, as well as critical and fictional texts, templates, recipes, (im)practical designs and methodologies for living in this most contradictory of times.” My piece is titled “Adding to Subtract: 3D Printer Recipes to Disrupt Our Desire for More,” and can be found on pp. 256-9 of the free open-access PDF. The whole thing is a large 460MB download—if you’d prefer, you can grab my text here (along w/ the cover page, contents, and editor introduction).
I was very happy to be interviewed about ScareMail for a recently released online documentary film called “I SPY With My 5 Eyes,” about the impacts of global surveillance. Written and directed by Justin Pemberton, the film focuses on “the Five Eyes Alliance, a secretive, global intelligence arrangement between the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States. The alliance represents the largest surveillance program in human history.” The clip above has myself talking about ScareMail along with NSA whistleblower William Binney talking about the absurdity of NSA keyword searches. I highly recommend you watch the whole film, which is presented online in a novel interactive format.
I’m pleased to be presenting my work as part of an upcoming workshop by Julien Prévieux at Julius Caesar this week. Titled Statactivism (after Prévieux’s book by the same name) the workshop will focus on the role of statistics in everyday life (both within and outside of software):
Statistics seem cold—inhumane measurements of the way in which we move about the world, tracking our patterns, needs, and daily interactions. Power is given to those who accumulate and analyze these numbers, and the concern of these quantified evaluations is shared by us all despite our position, career, or involvement with government. Julien Prévieux’s workshop will present research from his book Statactivism and its relationship to movement measurement which forms the basis of his upcoming exhibition at Julius Caesar.
This workshop is part of the events surrounding Julien’s upcoming solo exhibition at Julius Caesar. I had the good fortune of seeing this work at Centre Pompidou in Paris last year and highly recommend it! The workshop is space-limited, so please let me know if you’re interested in attending.
I’m soon headed to Europe for a series of invited talks, workshops, and panels in Portugal, Germany, and France.
First is Portugal for the PLUNC Festival in Lisbon (which is showing my work Tracing You). With financial support from the United States Embassy and American Corners Portugal, I’ll give talks at the Universidade de Aveiro in Aveiro and the Instituto Superior Técnico at the Universidade de Lisboa in Lisbon. At the Festival itself I’ll give both a talk and a workshop, the latter titled Recomposing the Web: Writing Software to Investigate Software.
Next is Berlin, where I’ll join with Rachel Uwa from the School of Machines and Tatiana Bazzichelli from the Disruption Network Lab for a talk and panel on art as activism/disruption.
The last stop is Paris where I’ll give a talk for the Art, Media, and Technology program at Parsons Paris, as well as meet with collaborators.
My work Touching Software (House of Cards) has been the subject of discussion in a number of publications, including:
- Washington Post — You think you’re using your smartphone — but it also uses you (extensive interview)
- FastCoDesign — This “House Of Cards” Supercut Reveals How Tech Controls Us All
- The Atlantic — Why Modern Human Interactions Are So Hard to Film
I will update this list as more stories are published.
Several of my works are discussed at length in the just-released book The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the Postdigital. The book is authored by Scott Conteras-Koterbay and Lukas Mirocha, and is published by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam. From the Institute’s website:
The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the Postdigital is an interdisciplinary analysis focusing on new digital phenomena at the intersections of theory and contemporary art. Asserting the unique character of New Aesthetic objects, Contreras-Koterbay and Mirocha trace the origins of the New Aesthetic in visual arts, design, and software, find its presence resonating in various kinds of digital imagery, and track its agency in everyday effects of the intertwined physical world and the digital realm. Contreras-Koterbay and Mirocha bring to light an original perspective that identifies an autonomous quality in common digital objects and examples of art that are increasingly an important influence for today’s culture and society.
The works of mine represented and discussed in the book are Flexible Pixels, Interactive Robotic Painting Machine, and Computers Watching Movies. I appreciate the authors taking on such contemporary material from an analytical perspective, and look forward to digging into it (as well as reading more about the work of several friends and colleagues).
I’ve given a number of interviews over the last six months but haven’t had a chance to post them here. A few of these are some of the best conversations I’ve had within the interview context (thanks to the great people on the other side!).
First is an interview with Neural as a feature in their Obfuscate or Die issue. This was a conversation with Rachel O’Dwyer of Trinity College and the Dublin Art and Technology Association (DATA), where we talked about everything from X to Y. To read this, you’ll need to obtain a print copy as the interview isn’t online.
Next is a radio conversation with Rebecca Pulsifer at WEFT 90.1 FM as part of the Smile Politely podcast series. This is one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in the live interview format. We talk about art as research, art as activism, and whether I’m an optimist or pessimist when it comes to human agency in the face of computational surveillance.
As part of an exhibition this past spring at Black Mountain College, I was interviewed about my work Computers Watching Movies by Sara Baird for the Media Arts Project. We talk about computer vision, expectation vs. surprise in computational works, and the role of software in daily life.
Last are two interviews mostly about a collaborative research project of mine to develop a computer system that communicates with humans using improvised jazz. I chat with Gary Zidek from WDCB Chicago’s The Arts Section about this ambitious project and how we’re trying to tackle it.
And finally I talk with Elizabeth Lent from Interlochen’s Crescendo Magazine about this same project in a piece titled “Music meets machine: The digital artistry of alumnus Ben Grosser.” We also talk about my experiences as an alum of Interlochen’s National Music Camp, as well as how I blend art and music into one practice.
We are constantly surrounded by networks, information, and data. Whether they consist of electromagnetic frequencies or physical wired connections, networks are everywhere, consuming and permeating our offices, homes, schools, and public indoor and outdoor spaces. The SIGGRAPH 2016 Art Gallery exposes this plethora of data and transforms it to incarnations of tangibility that not only showcase their complexity, but also allow us to relate to them on a human scale. By injecting humor and kinetic energy to their exposition, the gallery makes light of these data platforms and presents them on a grand scale to reveal their ubiquity.
As part of the exhibition, I have released a major update to Facebook Demetricator (version 1.7), which hides more metrics than any previous version. The below video demonstrates the work’s new features.
The exhibition is open from 24-28 July at the conference in Los Angeles.
My work You like my like of your like of my status was the lead piece discussed in a recent review of the Athens Digital Arts Festival by London-based Furtherfield. Marianna Christofi writes:
How are we “feeding” today’s digital markets then? Ben Grosser’s sound and video installation work “You like my like of your like of my status” screened a progressive generative text pattern of increasingly “liking” each others “likes”. Using the historic “like” activity on his own Facebook account, he created an immersive syntax that could as well be the mantra of Athens Digital Arts Festival 2016.
Days before the opening of the exhibition, Ben Grosser was asked by to choose the image that defines pop the most. No wonder, he replied with the Facebook “like” button. What Ben Grosser portrayed in his work is the poetics of the economy of corporate data collectors such as Facebook—with its algorithmic representation of the “Like” button as the king pawn of its toolkit—that transform human intellect, as manifested through the declaration of our personal taste and network, into networking value.
The Festival was directed by Katerina Gkoutziouli.
On Thursday 16 June I’ll be at Babycastles Gallery in NYC talking about my work as part of Wordhack XXIV. Wordhack is “a monthly evening of performances and talks exploring the intersection of language and technology.” The title of my talk is: Wordhacking Software Culture: Exposing Interface Narratives, Hiding Facebook Metrics, and Scaring the NSA with Generative Nonsense. The night includes several artist talks and performances; I’ll be joined by Carl Ferrero, Elizaveta Shneyderman, Ansh Patel, and Chris Rodley. Wordhack is curated by Claire Donato and the event is hosted by Todd Anderson.
Facebook Demetricator is discussed in the June 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan, in an article by Sarah Z Wexler titled “You Are Not Your Likes” (pp. 36-37). Wexler writes:
Although I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to checking my digits, my boyfriend has definitely rolled his eyes at me for pausing our conversation to check how my Instagram or FB post is doing. So to stop tracking my Likes, I installed the Facebook Demetricator, a free web add-on that removes Like tallies from Facebook. It was created by artist Ben Grosser, who recognized how social media plays into our “insatiable desire to make numbers go higher.”
I posted an article I’d written that I was really proud of, and when I checked back later it didn’t say “32 people Liked this” but just “people Liked this.” I opened Facebook two more times during the day, but without an updated tally to track my progress, it wasn’t actually that rewarding and I didn’t care about checking back on it—I actually fell asleep without having checked for hours. The numbers for how many people commented on my post were also erased, but I did still catch myself trying to gauge how I was doing by counting the comments. (emphasis added)
Thanks to Katie Gamble for pointing the article out to me—I wouldn’t have known it was there otherwise (this article isn’t online and I’m not a regular reader).
Update: Cosmo has now published the story online, with a new title as Why Your Likes Don’t Actually Mean Anything.