The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff
I was happy to find my works Facebook Demetricator, Twitter Demetricator, and Go Rando all cited in Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, titled The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Zuboff writes:
I have suggested that too many of the best and brightest of a new generation devote their genius to the intensification of the click-stream. Equally poignant is the way in which a new generation of activists, artists, and inventors feels itself called to create the art and science of hiding. The intolerable conditions of glass life compel these young artists to dedicate their genius to the prospects of human invisibility, even as their creations demand that we aggressively seek and find our bearings. … Artist Benjamin Grosser’s Facebook and Twitter “demetricators” are software interfaces that present each site’s pages with their metrics deleted: “the numbers of ‘likes,’ ‘friends,’ followers, retweets … all disappear.” How is an interface that foregrounds our friend count changing our conceptions of friendship? he asks. “Remove the numbers and find out.” Grosser’s “Go Rando” project is a web browser extension that “obfuscates your feelings on Facebook” by randomly choosing an emoji each time you click “Like,” thus undermining the corporation’s surplus analyses as they compute personality and emotional profiles.
I’m currently working my way through the text … highly recommended.
Self as Actor: Colonising Identity at NeMe Arts Center in Cyprus
My works Safebook and Go Rando will be part of the exhibition Self as Actor: Colonising Identity opening this Friday at the NeMe Arts Center in Cyprus. The exhibition, which is curated by Helene Black and Aysu Arsoy examines:
Digitality is no longer separated from our every day lives but has become an integrated experience, a depiction of our complex and hierarchical social reality. Although, by now, many users have become aware of the large degree big data involves the vigorous use of what many identify as biased and racist algorithms for analytics as well as software for surveillance, it has not curbed the mass use of social media. In fact, mass networking on social media has become the cultural tool for establishing a sense of intimacy despite the unease of personal disclosure. Real issues such as human rights abuses, homelessness or climate change cannot contest viral videos, fake news, cute pets and more recently, the controversial obsession with ‘dark tourism’ selfies. Algorithms are meant to inform us but the trend since Web 2.0 (1999 onwards), has shifted towards collecting information on users for selective advertisements and political manipulation. Online social activities are tracked and monitored abusing our right of privacy. Targeted personalisation on the Internet today purges reality with users becoming dehumanised commodities existing in a fabricated unreality. The control of the coloniser is now defined by the monopoly of the data colonised.
Read more about it at the NeMe Arts Center.
Harlesden High Street in London
My work Computers Watching Movies (American Beauty) will be part of an upcoming event at Harlesden High Street in London. This event is titled New Materialities in the Digital Age, and features a presentation and screening program by curator Doreen A. Ríos. The event is from 19:00-22:00 on 22 October, and is part of an opening for an exhibition that runs through 22 November.
ScareMail at Inside Intel as part of the Logan Symposium at Goldsmiths, University of London
ScareMail will be part of Inside Intel, an exhibition opening on 16 October as part of the Logan Symposium in London. Under the full title of Inside Intel: You Won’t Believe It™, the exhibition:
…presents a speculative “Silicon Valley Imagineering Laboratory,” a 21st century office interior thick with counter-narratives and factual misinformation. Exploring the landscape of contemporary media and technology, Inside Intel investigates their influence on conspiratorial thinking. Artistic methodologies presented in the show range from the architectural modeling of war crimes to speculative design, via browser-extensions and Twitter-bots, taking in both the satirical and the deeply unsettling. Whilst some artworks peddle faux state propaganda and sinister new technologies, others take the form of genuine investigations and purposefully staged analysis. The result is an environment where fact, fiction, and the theoretically possible seamlessly blur into one another. Mirroring the difficulties we all face when navigating the fog of electronic propaganda that pervades our new media ecosystems, Inside Intel demands an investigative eye to separate the signal from the noise.
Inside Intel is curated by Elliott Burns, Jake Charles Rees and India Murphy, and was commissioned in response to and to accompany the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s 2018 Logan Symposium: Conspiracy. It will be held at St James Hatcham, Goldsmiths, University of London, and is up from 16-20 October, 2018.
Go Rando at Espace Multimédia Gantner
Go Rando will be a part of Sortir du Désenchantement du Numérique (Escaping the Digital Unease) at Espace Multimédia Gantner in Bourogne, France. This next iteration—of an exhibition that last showed at Kunsthaus Langenthal in Switzerland—is curated by Raffael Dörig, Domenico Quaranta, and Fabio Paris. According to the curators:
While we’re using products by Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and find them useful and indispensable, we’ve become aware of the dominance of such big players. Their services form our thoughts and commodify the ideas of friendship and exchange. We do not surf the wild web anymore, but are fed with feeds, receiving more and more of the same, based on algorithmic extrapolations of our preferences. Since the beginning of the web, artists have built their own spaces and channels there. They have created artworks that react to commodification and restrictions in a critical way. The exhibition presents these alternatives.
The exhibition opens on 13 October and is up through 19 January 2018.
Kanye jumps on board with demetricating Twitter
It’s an interesting moment—at least for me—because we’re starting to see increased calls for hiding the metrics on social media platforms. The latest was Kanye West, who tweeted that “we should be able to participate in social media without having to show how many followers or likes we have … [because these visible metrics have] an intense negative impact on our self worth.” Before Kanye, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, suggested in testimony before the US Congress a couple weeks ago that he’s reconsidering the role of prominent visible follower counts. After Kanye’s tweet, Dorsey wrote Kanye telling him he’s still thinking about it.
Following Kanye’s tweet, New York Magazine wrote about Kanye’s call, and I appreciate that author Madison Malone Kircher foregrounded that I’ve been publicly calling for social media demetrication since 2012—when I created and released the first social media “demetricator” Facebook Demetricator—and have more recently made possible precisely what Kanye wants for Twitter with my Twitter Demetricator:
Metric-free social media isn’t a new concept. Ben Grosser, a professor of new media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and artist, created an extension earlier this year called the Twitter Demetricator — an earlier version, the Facebook Demetricator launched in 2012 — which does exactly what West describes. It removes all follower and engagement counts and shows you only a user’s content. Which leaves you to judge that content purely on what you think of it, rather than what you think of it based on what your peers have indicated they think of it. “Without really meaning to, I’d been glossing over tweets that had relatively few likes and paying extra attention to those that had many. I had even subconsciously developed a sort of multiplier for various Twitter users based on the size of their followings, so that a tweet by a relatively obscure user that garnered 10 likes would stand out in my feed more than one by a famous user that got 100 likes,” Will Oremus at Slate wrote when he gave the extension a try. A 2014 academic study from Grosser described how his extensions “both reveals and eases these patterns of prescribed sociality, enabling a social media culture less dependent on quantification.
If only I could get Kanye to tweet out Twitter Demetricator, I suspect the attention it would produce for the idea of a metrics-free Twitter would help push Dorsey to implement what he has so far only spoken about as a future possibility. Heck, Dorsey himself could tweet out Twitter Demetricator as a way of asking for feedback on the idea! While I have no illusions that Facebook will ever hide the metrics, I’m starting to think it’s possible Twitter might do so. Time will tell…
My work Safebook in The Washington Post
Both the Washington Post and Fast Company’s FastCoDesign discussed my latest work Safebook last week.
Abby Ohlheiser (WashPo) said Safebook was my “most drastic transformation of the platform,” diving into questions about what it would take to make Facebook “safe” in her article titled “Maybe the only way to keep Facebook from harming us is to hide everything.”
Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan (FastCoDesign), in an article titled “Safebook is Facebook, except totally, gloriously empty,” called Safebook a “half elaborate send-up and half earnest investigation of the social network’s inner mechanisms.” And perhaps my favorite quote in a while: “The internet is a morass of things you don’t want to see, but can’t stop looking at. The artist Ben Grosser has a solution: Safebook.”
Ohlheiser and Campbell-Dollaghan are two of the most thoughtful journalists writing about social media from a critical perspective right now. If you aren’t already reading them, start today.
My work Please Don’t Like This! (w/ Jonah Brucker-Cohen)
opens as part of HOOKED at Science Gallery London
My collaborative work with Jonah Brucker-Cohen, titled Please Don’t Like This!, is part of the inaugural exhibition of a new Science Gallery at King’s College London titled HOOKED. Curated by Hannah Redler Hawes, HOOKED “invites you to question what makes us as humans vulnerable to addiction and interrogates the underlying factors and routes to recovery. We invite you to challenge the stigmas associated with addiction, consider addiction as a health issue we are all susceptible to, and explore how recovery takes many forms.”
Looks like a great show and I’m happy to be a part of it. In case you’ll be in London this fall, stop by! It will be up from 21 September 2018 – 6 January 2019.
Speaking at Aarhus University (photo by Winnie Soon)
At the end of August, I gave an invited talk and workshop at the University of Aarhus in Denmark (follow links for my abstracts). This was part of their SummerPIT (Participatory IT), a multidisciplinary conference focused on the role of participatory design in IT (info tech) contexts. There were speakers/attendees from a wide variety of fields, from CS/HCI to information science to media studies to new media art. I spoke on the day called Public Good(s) – Private Data.
The conference ended with a book launch for The Metainterface: The Art of Platforms, Cities, and Clouds, a fantastic book by Christian Ulrik Andersen and Søren Bro Pold and published by MIT Press. Highly recommended!
Stories for a More-Than-Human World at Museum Kesselhaus in Berlin
My work Computers Watching Movies will be part of Stories for a More-Than-Human World, opening 5 July at Museum Kesselhaus in Berlin. The exhibition includes:
…[works that] emphasize a non-anthropocentric shift and critically or playfully investigate understandings of being human, being machine, being hybrid in a present where the impact of technology – be it on the environment or on our own bodies – is ubiquitous. The theme of the event is a reaction to recent discussions between humanities and natural sciences about new approaches to thinking about, looking at, working with, and being inside nature. It draws references from fields of posthuman theory, new materialism, cybernetics and science and technology studies.
Stories for a More-Than-Human World is curated by Theresa Schubert, and is open through 8 July.
Get More will be part of Hustle at Science Gallery Detroit
My work Get More will be part of “Hustle” at Science Gallery Detroit. The venue’s inaugural show, Hustle is an “exhibition of interactive works and participatory experiences that examine the many definitions of survival and success, purpose and desire.” Hustle opens on 16 June and runs through 25 August.
Go Rando at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art
Go Rando is part of the recently opened exhibition “This Site is Under Revolution” at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. Part of the 6th International Biennale of for Young Art, the exhibition “explores the power of minimal gestures to re-appropriate the virtual realm, critique and challenge uneven ways of representation that perpetuate dominant conventions based of privileged minorities.” The show is up through 22 July, and is curated by Barbara Cueto. Lots more info here.
Go Rando was shortlisted for the H3K net based award in Switzerland
I’m pleased to share that my work Go Rando has been shortlisted for the net based award from H3K, the Haus der elektronischen Künste in Basel, Switzerland! Ten works are on the list, and I’m happy to be amongst many friends with fabulous works, including Nicolas Maigret, Maria Roszkowska, Jan Robert Leegte, Sebastian Schmieg, Annie Abrahams, and Owen Mundy.
According to H3K’s description, the “net based” award was:
…launched as a new prize in Switzerland, [and] aims to draw attention to the Internet as a platform for artistic activities and to make innovative web-based projects or projects inspired by the Internet accessible to a broader public; at the same time, it aims to raise the visibility of the Swiss scene in this genre, and to promote international exchange. It is to the Internet as the site for art production and as a medium for distribution that the new prize is dedicated. The prize aims to promote net based art and innovative net culture.
The 2018 Jury members are Josephine Bosma, Christophe Guignard, Valérie Perrin, Raffael Dörig, and Sabine Himmelsbach.
Several of my works were the subject of an article on Fast Company’s Co.Design
Following up on a previous article that included my work, Fast Company posted a follow-up focused on a number of my works. Titled You Could Delete Your Social Media; You Could Also Turn it Into Art, Co.Design’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan wrote:
Install some of Grosser’s work, or listen to him talk about it, and you’ll discover a subtle shift in the way you think about life online. His work wedges itself between your actual identity and your online identity, sometimes creating chaos, other times revealing something about an otherwise inscrutable algorithm.
Campbell-Dollaghan talks about Facebook Demetricator, Go Rando, ScareMail, and Twitter Demetricator, as well as some of my Facebook news feed experiments. It’s a great piece that demonstrates an unusually careful analysis uncommon in the tech-focused press.
Computers Watching Movies on the cover of Technologies of Vision
I’ve been meaning to share that several of my works are discussed within the recently published book Technologies of Vision: The War Between Data and Images. Written by Steve F Anderson, he argues that:
… data and images are not an oppositional binary but rather complementary—at times even congruent—existing in a dynamic interplay that drives technological development and media making both in and outside of the entertainment industries. The premise of the book is that understanding the evolving relationship between data and images offers a key to thinking critically about media and technology in the politics of everyday life.
Steve talks about my works Computers Watching Movies and Interactive Robotic Painting Machine, and, happily, images from Computers Watching Movies are on the front and back cover. I’m a big fan of Steve’s work, so am quite happy to be able to share this! The book is published by MIT Press, and is available direct from them, as well as from Amazon.