Twitter Demetricator will be part of next week’s NEoN Festival in Dundee, Scotland via the online exhibition titled “Sous le web, la plage!” Curator Martin Zellinger writes: “Echoing the famous call-to-arms of the ‘68 protest movements, this online exhibition explores how art can continue to inspire change ‘IRL’ (in real life) from the immaterial spheres of digital media and the web. Does the digital at times become a kind of intangible vacuum, a zone of (self-)banishment for artists, or is it, instead, a site for empowered engagement with activist communities and ever-larger audiences around the world?” Happy to be a part of the wider festival, which is directed by Joseph DeLappe.
The Wrong Biennale is a bi-annual worldwide exhibition of digital art that is now in its 4th edition. Located in physical exhibitions, web-based spaces, and specialized routers across the world, the Biennale will present the work of more than 2000 artists.
I’m happy to have several works on view as part of this year’s edition. I’ll have a few net art related videos in the Biennale’s main embassy and exhibition titled EPICENTRE at the Centre del Carme in Valencia, Spain. I’ll also have works in the online pavilions VERY LARGE WORKS and Perfect Users, and at #nfcdabatthewrong showing in the Circle/Triangle Modern Art Gallery in Wroclaw, Poland. My project from the last edition of The Wrong, NET ART FOR STORAGE, is also a “tunnel” for the pavilion called The Burrow. Through this tunnel I’ll be archiving another artist’s durational work throughout The Wrong (stay tuned for more on that).
Finally, I’m happy to be on this year’s The Wrong Council, the organizing group for the Biennale. I’ve been delighted to help in small ways, though would point to all my colleagues on the Council as having contributed more than myself! The Council is: Erica Lapadat-Janzen, Florian Kuhlmann, Graziela Calfat, Guilherme Brandão, Janire Goikoetxea, Miyö van Stenis, Jon Cates, Pablo Hannon, Moises Mañas, and Patrick Lichty. As always, The Wrong is organized by David Quiles Guilló—though “organized” doesn’t really capture the amazing feats of coordination David demonstrates in his leadership of this project.
The Wrong Biennale opens on 1 November and runs through 1 March 2020. Many of the exhibitions will change throughout the run, so keep checking back!
My work Computers Watching Movies is part of the Reboot Digital Arts Festival, opening today at Palácio Baldaya in Lisbon. Reboot is a new festival—assembled by some of the same folks involved with the PLUNC—that describes itself as:
…a digital restart – [Reboot] cleans a digital system of some saturating element, reviving it. In the tangible world, the concept of Reboot is sold to us in many forms – restful sleep, detox treatments, therapeutics, and the like – but it hardly parallels with this digital recurrence. This Reboot is an invitation to speculation, to criticism, to a fresh scientific production, and to formal, transdisciplinary artistic interventions.
The festival includes a two-day symposium that has some great looking talks. More available at the festival site.
When I first started using the Demetricators, it was a little bit scary. But over time it sort of led me to believe that I was putting too much value in things like how many likes or retweets or comments that my posts were getting. It really made me aware of how quickly I was judging other people’s profiles for how many followers they had or how quickly I was judging somebody else’s posts for how many likes it received. … there is a sort of blissful oblivion when you don’t know how well something is performing.
“tech billionaire, ultimate data merchant, CEO of the world’s largest social media corporation, enabler of Cambridge Analytica and Russian trolls, goat slayer, Puli owner, embodiment of insatiable capitalism, awkward person, possible robot, probable alien, privacy violator supreme, etc.”
The exhibition features work by Sandra Araujo, Marion Balac & Carlos Carbonell, Bob Bicknell-Knight, Ryan Garvey, Ben Grosser, Claire Jervert and Lane Twitchell.
Aftenposten (Oslo) and FAZ (Frankfurt) both wrote about my efforts with social media demetrication as it relates to current experiments at Twitter and Instagram. Unfortunately, both are behind a paywall. But here’s a couple excerpts (using Google Translate):
The last few weeks show that Grosser was ahead of his time. Instagram, which belongs to the Facebook group, is now testing a kind of “metric light” in Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Japan and New Zealand following successful tests in Canada. Users can no longer see how many Likes have been received by the photos of other users, only [one’s] own can be seen. Instagram’s commentary on the test sounds much like Grosser’s: “Helping users focus on their shared photos and videos – not how many likes they get.” Or: “We do not want Instagram to be a competition.”
“It’s really hard not to focus on [our social media metrics],” says Ben Grosser. The art professor has been fighting the role of numbers in social media for seven years. Grosser sits back in his own home, with dark curly hair and beard, and talks enthusiastically about how the numbers control us. He thinks we lose an important part of the conversation when everything is measured. … Grosser is not among the influential giants of Silicon Valley. He works at the University of Illinois, on almost the opposite side of the United States. His job as an art professor gives him no shortcuts to power. But he knows that Facebook knows his work. When the Facebook Demetricator was new, he saw a lot of traffic from the Facebook offices by looking at the IPs that tested the program, “but I didn’t hear anything from them for many years. It doesn’t seem like they cared enough to do anything,” says Grosser. (until 2016 when they got Demetricator kicked off the Chrome web store —bg)
On Monday I spoke with Chicago PBS’ nightly news program Chicago Tonight, talking about social media metrics and my seven years of work on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram Demetricator. Read the story and watch the interview here.
The Telegraph (UK), in an article titled The quest to create a world without likes, retweets and follower counts, wrote about how Twitter, Instagram, and others are now experimenting with hiding metrics. Here’s an excerpt, from journalist Laurence Dodds:
“When we see a number that reflects our social interactions, it’s very hard for us not to want that number to be larger,” says Ben Grosser, an artist and professor at the University of Illinois whose work focuses on the cultural effects of software.
“Ten likes is good, but I’d really prefer 11; 100 followers is great, but 200 would be better. It relates to self-esteem, to how we evolved with the need to feel value about ourselves and others, but now value is quantifiable. So we are compelled by the presence of the numbers to want them to be bigger.”
It was this “desire for more” that persuaded Grosser to build the work he is probably most famous for: a series of custom computer programs called “demetricators” which plug into Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and render all numbers invisible.
Read the whole piece at The Telegraph (free registration required).
In an article titled The Illinois Artist Behind Social Media’s Latest Big Idea, the new tech magazine OneZero wrote about my seven year (and going) project to “demetricate” social media. Will Oremus writes:
Grosser’s ideas, initially fringey and obscure, have gained traction over the years among tech critics and garnered mainstream press coverage. The CEOs of both Twitter and Instagram have articulated their rationales in terms that evoke Grosser’s critiques, noting how the visual prominence of like and follower counts can encourage people to treat the platforms like a competition. Even Kanye West has become an advocate of hiding metrics on social media.
Yet Grosser himself has gone unrecognized and unmentioned by the big Silicon Valley tech firms, even as they begin at last to incorporate fragments of the ideas that he has been propounding for so long. “It’s certainly been a strange ride to watch the ideas emerge in the public consciousness,” he said in a phone interview. After years in which it felt like he was shouting “demetrication” into the void, “It’s a bit disorienting to see everyone from Jack Dorsey to Kanye West to now Instagram talking about it.”
It’s a study in how a critique of technology that’s ahead of its time can be ignored for years, then suddenly catch fire in Silicon Valley when circumstances shift — and companies that once dismissed it find it in their interest to espouse. Whether they’ve actually taken it to heart is another matter.
The piece is comprehensive, and includes quotes from Twitter and Instagram. If you don’t already follow Will Oremus‘ writing about tech and culture, you should. He’s part of a small group of journalists doing important, considered, and critical writing about big tech.
One point of clarification in relation to the piece. Will writes about Facebook’s move to kick Demetricator off the Chrome Web Store in 2016, saying: “[Grosser] says it was due to a takedown request by Facebook.” For any journalists interested in this history, I’ll be happy to provide documentation of the takedown request, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation—who represented me pro bono in that conflict—is also happy to talk about the case. Just let me know.