Giving Up Your Data

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Week 8: March 11 – 17 (Adobe Connect)

Global communication has challenged and penetrated all previous notions of the divide between public and private space. We’ll take a critical look at mobile media, webcam technology, reality TV, surveillance, self-publishing, and social media, concerning the loss of the private, the commodification of personal demographics, and the changing nature of social relations in the virtual community. How does the Open Source Studio project bring the educational and artistic process into a highly visible public arena, and what are the ramifications and opportunities inherent in this transparency?

Schedule / Assignments

  • Tuesday, 3/11: Class meeting (8:00 PM – 11:00 PM, Adobe Connect)
    • WordPress: Review commenting and online discourse, approving comments, open invitation to comment / no assignment
    • Lecture on Giving up Your Data
    • Discussion of public/private in the Open Source Studio project with guest speaker and ADM PhD student Juan Gonzalez
  • Livestream Lecture Part III: Media Composition in VDMX and Ableton Live, Friday March 14th, 10 – 11 PM
  • Project post on your final projects: anything you are working on. Reflect, write, upload! Incorporate images, video, sound, links, etc. Use the “Project” category and appropriate tags. (5 points, due: March 18th)
  • Critique assigned work from the Giving up Your Data lecture with short blog post (approx. 250 words with media) (due March 18th)
  • Project Hyperessay: Part IV – Technical Realization + Presentation. Write a technical description of the final project with any sketches, drawings, photographs you have done, which articulate the technical elements of the work, as well as any specific software and/or hardware that is required for the work. 10 points, due: Tuesday, March 18
  • All students will present their work over the next two weeks, using the Project Hyperessay: Technical Realization as the basis of the presentation. Presentations will be given from the Project Hyperessay: Technical Realization post (or other related online materials). Tuesday, March 18/25 (seniors will go first).

Week 8: Hyperlecture

I believe there is something nearly uncontrollably seductive about being connected, about being part of the vast network. It had been predicted by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s that we would eventually all be part of an electronic nervous system, or the global village as he called it. We are now living publicly online, with our blogs, our self-publishing, our citizen journalism, our thousands of Facebook friends, for some: hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. We have this extraordinary reach into the electronic sphere. There is a sense of power with this reach, that allows us to extend our nervous system beyond our everyday lives, instantaneously, at the speed of light. Or as Eva and Franco Mattes declared:

The more you work in a computer, the more it looks like your brain.

This lecture is concerned with how we willingly give up our data to be connected, to be heard, to be understood, and how this sharing of information erodes the boundary between private and public. This phenomenon is well beyond communication, it has become for many a way of life and a means for entertainment, research, business, and education. The rewards are considerable, but so are the dangers. In the era of big data, giving up your data can mean the loss of privacy to interests beyond our control, which might threaten personal rights. Yet on the other hand, there are utopic dimensions to giving up your data. These involve being part of a vast repository of information, participation in the exchange and sharing of knowledge. Contributing to open source resources such as Wikipedia, or the vast array of social media, creating a blog, or chatting with people all over the world: freely and openly.

The following projects provide us with a critique of the network as an open and transparent medium, revealing the creative possibilities as well as the dystopic dangers inherent in giving up your data.

Jennifer Ringley, JenniCam (1997)

Why live under the eye of the lens? Why expose our everyday lives on the Internet? Is it a critique of the erosion of privacy, an exercise in voyeurism, a need for recognition? Here is a sequence of images from JenniCam (now only accessible through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), a pioneering project by Jennifer Ringley in which for seven years, she opened up her life to the Internet via Webcam.

JenniCam_141 JenniCam_138 JenniCam_137 JenniCam_131 JenniCam_130 JenniCam_129 JenniCam_128 JenniCam_271 JenniCam_273 JenniCam_264 JenniCam_339 JenniCam_444 jenniMonOct20_900 jenniMonOct201145

Jennifer Ringley was the first artist/designer/performer to situate her life in front of the Webcam. It was 1996 when she formulated the idea, a time when Webcams typically broadcasted traffic, city skylines, or perhaps a fish tank. But never had anyone placed themselves under the microscope, to be viewed as they move about everyday life. Jennycam became a worldwide phenomenon for the seven years she conducted the project. She lived her life in front of the camera: sleeping, eating, dressing, making love, just about all the things that people do in their personal life. Eventually the project drew a huge following, as Ringley setup galleries of camera shots all time stamped. The project evolved with the technology, beginning with still images taken every few seconds, later to real-time video. Ringley’s notion of the project was that she simply wanted to live her life in front of the camera as a site-specific Internet project. It was never clear whether or not her aspirations were as performance, or rather, a self-portrait in time of the most mundane and intimate details of her life.

Hal Niedzviecki, author of The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, has linked this phenomenon of exposing one’s personal life to recent trends in popular culture, particularly reality television and celebrity games shows. He writes:

I believe [peep culture] emerges from and is made possible by the primacy of pop culture. The last hundred or so years, pop culture has relentlessly peddled hyper-individualism as the path to fulfillment and success. The celebrity, the ultimate hyper-individual, a mythical yet real creature who is everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, is presented to us as the paramount being.

AmericanIdol_Screenshot 2014-03-10 12.53.01
Video Clip from American Idol

Marc Andrejevic, in Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched, equates this need for exposure with participatory reality television, such as American Idol, Big Brother or the Real World (and its various offshoots), as a narrative form emulating so-called “real life” in which individuals perform their lives in front of cameras for the attainment of money, celebrity, entertainment, and fame.

At a time when being watched is an increasingly productive activity, we are presented with the spectacle of how fun surveillance can be, how it can help us learn about ourselves and provide access to the reality ostensibly occluded by the advent of the forms of homogenization, abstraction, and media manipulation associated with the culture industry.

For a more detailed explanation of the intent of JenniCam, Jennifer Ringley was interviewed by David Letterman in 1998:

Eva and Franco Mattes, Life Sharing (2000)


Life Sharing perfectly emulates the idea of the open source studio. Why? Because the computer is the artist’s virtual studio, connected to every other computer in the world, it is opened up to the network. And in the case of Life Sharing, the artists have eradicated all notions of privacy, their computer is 100% public, it is an open door to their virtual lives, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, except, their true identities, which is hidden or obscured by contradictory information they provide about themselves, including their cryptic domain:


Their online world became open source, for the taking. You the viewer are invited to enter into that space and download anything you like. It is a subversive gesture against ownership and privacy with the aim to reveal the dissolving boundaries between private and public.

In January 2001 we started sharing our personal computer through our website. Everything was visible: texts, photos, music, videos, software, operating system, bank statements and even our private email. People could take anything they wanted, including the system itself, since we were using only free software. It was not a normal website, you were entering the computer in our apartment, seeing everything live. It was a sort of endurance performance that lasted 3 years, 24/7.

Email and other online communication of the artists (though there names are disguised) is open source material for the Life Sharing project:


The viewer resides in the computer of the artist. Everything is fair game. Nothing is private, all is open to the world and available for the taking: email, photos, the most personal of items. To extend the Website, they wore a GPS tracking device that displayed their location. They posted all their logs, so every visit was documented transparently on the site. Previously they remixed the work of others, now they make their work available for everyone to remix. More than file sharing, they called it Life Sharing. This was all before social media existed.

From Matthew Mirapaul’s essay in the NY Times:

Living so publicly online is a form of performance art in the digital age.

According to Steve Dietz, former media curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, who pioneered net art exhibitions in the late 1990s, and who commissioned Life Sharing:

This is open source living in the digital age. It’s making a political statement about ownership and commercialism. It’s not just about viewing. Not only can you see in, but you can use the plans yourself.

They became deeply involved in tracking data flowing in and out of their computer.

Access logs is where you could see how many people were viewing Life Sharing, where they came from, what they were watching, how much time they were spending there etc. etc. We were totally obsessed with traffic logs, waking up in the middle of the night to check “the traffic”

logs_ReqReferSiteHist_2000 logs_ReqDirs_2000 logs_ReqFiletype_2000 logs_ReqCountry_2000 logs_ReqWeekly_2000 logs_ReqDaily_2000

In the case of Life Sharing, the artists have eradicated all notions of privacy, their computer is 100% public, it is an open door to their virtual lives, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, except, their true identities, which is hidden or obscured by contradictory information they provide about themselves. So they share their lives, their virtual lives, but because it is their virtual selves, it isn’t necessarily who they really are, it is who they pretend to be, or want to be, or want us to think who they are. It is in essence a performance of the digital identity, broadcast on the stage of the desktop.

Hasan Elahi, Tracking Transience 2.0 (2003)

In the post 9/11 climate, on one of his many trips abroad, Hasan Elahi (of Bangladesh descent) was taken aside by airport security as a suspected terrorist. Other than his middle-eastern roots, there was no reason to arrest him. However, the authorities warned him that they would be watching him very closely, regardless of the fact that he was an innocent college professor. Thus began Tracking Transience 2.0, Elahi’s epic work of self-surveillance that continues to this day. Elahi performs 24/7 tracking of his geo-spatial coordinates as an act of self-espionage, giving up his data as a subversive performance that engages and critiques issues of surveillance and privacy. As a professor at the University of Maryland Near Washington, DC, his proximity is broadcast to the world for all to see.


Elahi decided, as an act of confrontation and artistic mediation, to prove to the authorities that he could do a much better job of tracking himself than they ever could. You could call it data camouflage. Elahi began to photograph and time stamp his every meal, every airport, every bathroom, every toilet, every hotel bed and posted the photos online, defiantly, abundantly.

Elahi_06Elahi_04 Elahi_03 Elahi_01 Elahi_02

Now the authorities would know everything and nothing about Hasan Elahi. He would maintain his own profile and dossier that is more evasive than ever. A performance? I suspect so. It is a dance around 21st surveillance and overwrought security. But it is also a critique of the millions, in fact billions of individuals who willingly and gladly give up their data everyday. And who have no idea where it goes and how it is used.

As Hal Niedzvincki claims, we live in a peep society: we peep on each other, we peep on ourselves. Now, with Elahi, you can selectively give up your data as a screen to hide your real life from those who would use it for their own gain, or use it against you. If in fact Duchamp unveiled the toilet as a work of art by sheer force of the artist intent, Elahi has given us the toilet as an object of everyday life that renders himself, the artist, anonymous. Not only is he effacing his artistic self, he has become just another face in the crowd. This is art as camouflage mimicking objects as lifeless, nondescript entities that reveal absolutely nothing about the individual.

Perhaps this is a critique on the saturation of self-documentation, all of us who wield our cameras and cell phones taking photographs of everything and anything. Why? Because we don’t want to forget, the media carries a sense of purpose through memory, an archive of one’s life, preservation of the moment. When I presented Hasan with my documentation of his documentation, he could remember every place where each and every photo had been taken. Each of these images, no matter how empty (and his photos are typically void of people), no matter the sameness, brought back to him a specific moment in time and space. That is the life recorded and remembered through media representation.

So who is tracking whom? According to Hasan Elahi, we are tracking ourselves. Each and every one of us is a self-made spy keeping a close eye on our actions, our moods, our interactions, our everyday lives: the panopticon turned inward. What began as a critique of government intrusion on personal privacy during the Bush years, has become a performance in self-styled personal surveillance. Hasan Elahi is his very own Central Intelligence Agency with one subject: himself.

Frank Warren, Post Secret (2004)

Another interesting case study is PostSecret, created by Frank Warren, an ongoing community art project where people mail in their darkest, innermost secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. The project also has a Twitter feed and Facebook page with viewer commentary.








PostSecret exploits the anonymity of the Net by inviting viewers to mail in a confessional postcard, where it is placed on the Website. Viewers can then share these often personal, always revealing confessional statements by sharing them to the various social media with commentary. These are statements individuals would never discuss in public, but because of the anonymity of the project, they are compelled to divulge their most private thoughts and desires.

The Net has revealed itself as a means for the individual to escape from their own feelings of anonymity and reach out to a vast network of other individuals seeking connection. In doing so, we let go of the private nature of our lives in search of acceptance and a form of catharsis through sharing. The question, as Roy Ascott asks, is there love in the telematic embrace? What is the content? Are these interactions real? Are they authentic? Are our friends really our friends on Facebook, or is it just the illusion or simulacrum of a relationship, made convenient by virtual access. Can you rely on your Facebook friends or are we still creatures of face-to-face relations for true intimacy, reliability, and trust. Do you trust complete strangers with your innermost secrets, whether they know your identity or not?

Giving up your data is a double-edge sword, perhaps a Pandora’s box, a seductive condition of our virtual lives. Seeking relationships, recognition, and acceptance (even redemption and forgiveness) is a cloudy notion in the ephemeral space of the network.

Google Street View, “The Underground Studio Bunker”

I live in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, where I refer to my studio as the underground studio bunker. I take a certain pride in the private nature of my space, even though it is just a few blocks down the street from where the Vice-President of the United States lives at the Naval Observatory. And yet, if anyone knows my address, my house is in full view of anyone, anywhere on the Internet. Not just my house, but my car as well, parked in front. In the 21st century era of Google Street View and other mapping technologies, nothing is private. All you need is someone’s physical address, and that takes very little investigation on the Net.

Google_Street_Screen-Shot-2012-10-22-at-12.54.27-PM-1024x628 copy

The Google information policy:

Information we collect

We collect information to provide better services to all of our users – from figuring out basic stuff like which language you speak, to more complex things like which ads you’ll find most useful or the people who matter most to you online.

We collect information in two ways:

  • Information you give us. For example, many of our services require you to sign up for a Google Account. When you do, we’ll ask for personal information, like your name, email address, telephone number or credit card. If you want to take full advantage of the sharing features we offer, we might also ask you to create a publicly visible Google Profile, which may include your name and photo.
  • Information we get from your use of our services. We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content.

As Hal Niedzviecki writes in The Peep Diaries, we can’t escape the “peep” culture, we can’t escape being watched and surveilled. But what is even more startling, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other forms of social media, we want to be watched! And as Mark Andrejevic writes in Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched, we are willing to work for it. Facebook has become a corporate empire primarily because nearly a billion people want to give up their demographics, entirely for free. Most people when they provide Google with information about themselves don’t even know they are participating in a vast money making enterprise based on their data.

This is our contemporary culture in the era of big data. Whether we are updating the profile on our Facebook page, tweeting the latest article in the NY Times, buying a book at, or even using EZPass on the New Jersey Turnpike, we are submitting ourselves to being watched, we are giving up our privacy. Whereas people will pay for privacy in the form of an unlisted phone numbers, alarm systems in the home, tinted windshields on their cars, it is essentially a losing battle, because everything we do, buy, and say is being tracked and databased as part of a vast, distributed storehouse of digital information. The cloud is essentially a euphemism for computers that know more about us than we know about them.

Open Source Studio (2012) with guest speaker Juan Gonzalez

Begun in 2012 in collaboration with the California Institute of the Arts, Center for Integrated Media, now a project at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media, Open Source Studio (OSS) is an entirely new approach to studio practice and online education in the new media arts. The online project is intended as an immersion in the study of Internet art and culture, in which students are invited to participate in an experience that encourages collaboration and transparency in the educational process.

Today’s guest speaker is Juan Gonzalez:

Born in Manizales – Colombia (1984). Studied Visual Arts at the Javeriana University of Bogotá. With the support of the Annenberg Fellowship, he finished in 2011 his MFA in Animation & Digital Arts from the University of Southern California. Director and co-founder of the group Moebius Animación dedicated to exhibit artists, films and research around experimental animation in Latin America and Spain. Currently a PhD student in animation studies at the School of Art Design & Media in Singapore.

Unlike the traditional, hierarchical relationship between faculty and student, OSS is intended as a many-to-many exchange of knowledge and information amplified by the possibilities inherent in the network. The software environment, customized specifically for this course, has been designed to record, document, archive, and index the intricate and complex process of engaging in critical dialogue and creating new work. OSS extends the notion of the virtual studio through the use of Web tools and social media, enabling students to participate in a creative process that is rich in possibilities for research, documentation, and artistic production.

OSS_Crop_Screenshot 2014-03-09 13.01.08

During the spring of 2014 in the School of Art, Design & Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the focus of the OSS project is the development of The Open Source Studio (OSS) Multi-Site. A set of customized Web tools and plugins and interface concepts designed by Juan Gonzalez, this configuration of WordPress is designed for a class or multiple classes of students to collectively work across a network of WordPress Websites. As applied to art and design, OSS essentially functions as an online virtual studio environment for creative work. OSS builds on the model of the suite of studios, in which artists and designers are exposed to the work of other students, encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration through collective authoring in the networked space.

As practitioners of the Open Source Studio (OSS), we will discuss issues of transparency and openness in the educational process. While education is traditionally proprietary, a closed system in which course syllabi, student work, teaching materials, etc., are typically confined to the private space of institutional networks, we ask the following questions:

  • What are the benefits gained in opening up the learning experience to the public space of the Web?
  • What are the potential issues and pitfalls inherent in going public?
  • How can the WordPress database be used to filter and organize information in creative ways?
  • How can metadata be used to track, observe, and evaluate the artistic process?
  • How does the experience of working in the public space, recording academic work and artistic projects via the Web, alter the educational process?
  • How do OSS methods of transparency correlate with the aspirations of the Web, the history of open source ideology, and the Web’s promise of a vast repository of shared knowledge and information?
  • How might OSS impact or enhance the longevity and accessibility of student research longer after the conclusion of a course?
  • How does OSS contribute to an art institution’s history and portfolio of student work?

Additional questions from Juan:

  • What is data? I personally find this to be a new material for artistic expression. What ideas you all have of what data means and its possibilities as material. Also, if it is accepted as a material, how is it different to others: is ephemeral and ever-changing (arguably), present in all digital objects, interchangeable (you can map a data set as audio, image, video, etc using the same data).
  • When using a network system as the structure for a class, is the individual voice of a student at stake? or is it highlighted somehow?
    Think of the network as an ecosystem, with all the violence of any other ecosystem in nature: the things that survive, evolve and become relevant to the network respond to what?
  • Everything in the network is preserved in the database, but not everything is important to the network itself and can be forgotten, eliminated, turn extinct, without affecting the liveliness of the system. But, at the same time, time is different and things might become relevant in the future and they will always be accessible.
  • How can we think about time when physical space is bypassed or translated into the “third space” (quoting you)? In the physical world (if that is the parallel to the third space) time and space have particular relationships, in quantum mechanics time and space have other relationships that contradict those of the world we live and experience. Are there new relationships between time and the third space?
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