Giving Up Your Data: Life Sharing

During the lecture, there was a question of whether the timestamp on my blog post affected me, to which I responded that it did not, since date and time are very neutral aspects to me, and possibly due to the prevalence of it in blogging, phone messaging, as well as other social network platforms, it seemed like standard protocol.

However, there is a line to be drawn, even though Juan commented on how open I am to the timestamping, I can never imagine myself being as open as what Eva and Franco Mattes did in Life Sharing.

In Life Sharing, the duo shared their personal computer through their website, and everything is visible to the public, including their bank statements and private email. Because everything is open to the public 24/7, they remarked that sometimes their emails were read by the audience before they even got to it.

Although the project was done more than a decade ago, I think it is even more relevant in today’s context especially with the dominance of multiple social networking sites and applications now. For example, in Facebook, people can know more about me than myself, or know information about me even before I do.

Similar to the ‘snooping activity’ in Life Sharing, I think some of us are guilty of looking through a person’s social network profile, such as reading up their ‘about’ page which might provide us information of their past education or websites (that might lead to more snooping), looking through their photos, reading their activity feed and so on. And the thing is, this person might not even be a friend of ours, but we’re curious to find out more about him or her.

Judging from the above writeup, I think Life Sharing is a work that touches on many areas of concern. Besides the issue of ownership and privacy as well as what Eva and Franco Mattes said about voyeurism and exhibitionism, after writing about the ‘snooping activity’, Life Sharing also extends itself to the question of values and reflection of human behaviour when granted full access to things.

Besides that, the piece is indeed a critique on how we give up information about ourselves so easily. Taking the example of Facebook again, when I want to link up a certain application to my account, I will go through rounds of granting permission to access to my data, but I will rarely read through the messages and just click ‘OK’ since my main goal is to link up the application. The first times this happened, I was wary and would reject the offer, but now that it has become so commonplace, I do not care or feel that much fear anymore.

However, there are utopic sides to this project—since the artists used open source software, the audience could take those that could be of use to them. Nowadays, there are a number of open source softwares available online that are extremely helpful (e.g. SourceForge). I see open source softwares as particularly useful for self-educational purposes since it is a free way for me to learn, for instance, I could download Audacity as a first step to understanding basic audio editing and then move on to professional DAWs afterwards if I find that I want to delve into audio production further, but if I do not, I would have wasted no cent.

Here is a quote from the website that I found pretty thought-provoking:

“Working with a computer on a daily basis, over the years you will share most of your time, your culture, your relationships, your memories, ideas and future projects. With the passing of time a computer starts resembling its owner’s brain. So we felt that sharing our computer was more than sharing a desktop or a book, more than File Sharing, something we called Life Sharing.”

—Eva & Franco Mattes


I’ve always seen the computer as just a tool for communication, work, storage space and so on, something very detached from the human element, so the quote made me realise that my computer is a map of who I am. It is fascinating and unsettling at the same time to know that this non-living object is, in a way, morphing into my brain structure and capturing aspects of who I am.

The artists later mentioned how they “were totally obsessed with traffic logs, waking up in the middle of the night to check ‘the traffic'”. I may be wrong about this, but it seems as though the artists themselves have also become the audience to their work, or rather become controlled by their work; of how we are slaves to data.

Regarding the domain name, I ran it through a binary decoder, hoping that it would provide an answer but was instead given an equally puzzling one: K�

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.41.17 pm

I suppose it can be taken to be an abbreviation of “OKAY?”, maybe the artists is asking the audience, “Even though we opened up our private computer, IS IT OKAY for you to be prying into our private information?” or “IS IT OKAY for people to be giving up our data so casually and willingly over the net?”

Back to the timestamping debate I had talked about in the introduction, I am reminded of one application where it bothered me: whatsapp, or any mobile messaging platforms with similar “tracking system”. I suppose it is quite ironic, and I am also perplexed by this contradiction, but I think why I am okay with timestamping in blog posts as well as sent messages because in a way I am “in control”, whereas in whatsapp the timestamping is like a spy bug that is on me.

When I said “in control”, I guess it is like how, if I take constructing this post for example, I can type drafts after drafts and save it until I feel ready to publish it publicly. So in a sense, I have given the permission for the platform to timestamp my post. In whatsapp, there is a “tracker” that timestamps when I last used the application, so perhaps I have read a message my friend sent, but do not feel the need to reply in that instant, but my friend can tell that I have seen the message, which might give rise to certain misunderstandings. Hence, in whatsapp, I am not willingly giving up the information of my actions, which is why I am uncomfortable with timestamping in this case.

Therefore, I think in the case of sharing one’s information, permission of the individual is particularly important, and it is the line that determines the violation of privacy.


3 thoughts on “Giving Up Your Data: Life Sharing

  1. Profile photo of Randall PackerRandall Packer

    You focused in on a very important understanding of how we gauge the “comfort factor” in terms of giving up our data. What I have drawn from your commentary, is that when we have control of disseminating information, such as the ability to save or publish a blog post, we don’t mind relinquishing information. But when we lose this control, such as in Whatsapp, we feel violated in a sense. Giving up one’s data is a kind of negotiation with the rest of the world. We shape our communication and then decide if and when we are ready to have it enter the public sphere. This is different, say, than when we click on an “OK” button in Facebook, and we have no idea what we are giving up, where it is going, and who is going to see it. We know that when we publish a blog post in WordPress, we have vetted the information and have made the decision to let go of it. We know exactly when we are giving up. But in cases where this line is ambiguous, it doesn’t feel comfortable: that is the precisely the dilemma.

  2. Profile photo of Prakash HaridasPrakash Haridas

    Ah, timestamping. It also reminds me of Facebook messaging, where you can tell exactly what time the person you sent the message to was received and seen. People could no longer avoid “having seen” the messages since such timestamping was non-existent before. But now that it’s in use, I’m sure there have been instances where people get “seenzoned” (i.e. you know that your friend saw your Facebook message but he or she does not reply back). It becomes a funny and also a rather uncomfortable situation to be in. I wonder if the duo behind the Life Sharing project ever had second-thoughts about pulling the plug prematurely and whether they ever felt uncomfortable with the idea that someone out there could be reading and using their data. I can’t imagine how they managed to live with that for the 3 years they ran this project before eventually pulling the plug. Like what you mentioned, the permission of the individual is important. Even when we give permission to websites and external third party apps to use our information, just how much of our information is being extracted and for what purposes are they being used for still remains murky. Imagine if our private folders and information stored on online storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive were not really private… We entrust the Cloud with so much of our personal data that we have ultimately opened up our lives to Machines.

    1. Randall Packer

      This is precisely the issue that Life Sharing raised: we don’t really know if any of our data is private, even the so-called secure data we store in Dropbox, etc. In actuality, we place our data in the cloud where corporate interests are data mining for their own interests. Life Sharing questioned the trust we place in our networked systems, and how this trust can be undermined, so to speak.


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