The Unconscious Performance of Identity: A Review of Johannes P. Osterhoff’s “Google”

Osterfhof’s, “Google,” makes explicit not only the gathering of information that we want to share, but the tracking that happens without our intending it.

While Facebook “has collected the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior,” what we search for on the other hand, is rarely edited and therefore provides a more accurate sample of our uncensored desires. Unlike the identity we perform, we are unaware there is an audience for our searches, and therefore uninhibited. Like our unconscious decisions in the physical world, where our actions are a reflection of our intentions, this collection of data, this passive retrieval of our unconscious digital trail, is reassembled to form a composite of our desires that is many times more accurate than the profiles we groom for others to see.

In January 2001, Eva and Franco Mattes ( ) launched Life Sharing (a word play on File Sharing), and made the contents of their computer, the private files and directories, public on their website for three years. Users could browse “texts, photos, music, videos, software, operating system, bank statements and even [their] private email.” The absurdity of this gesture is lost on us now, because as they state on their project webpage, this work was made before social networks like Facebook existed, and before data privacy was a contemporary issue.

Also worthy of mention is Osterhof’s current project, iPhone live, which captures and uploads a screenshot of whatever happens to be on his smart phone at the moment he presses the “home” button. This performance, which began on June 29, 2012 and will last one year, is an conscious gesture that, like the Life Sharing and the “Google” Transmediale performance, unconsciously exhibits evidence of the artists’ private, mediate life.

It is important to note that this is part of a larger trend, a move from active performances of identity, to identities assembled through unconscious passive data retrieval systems. In recent years, we’re taking the time to describe ourselves less, and allowing the systems we use to characterize us based on our actions more. Through tracking us, these systems learn about us, and fill in the blanks automatically.

And, when we type in that little box, everything we submit is recorded, by Google, always. Unless you have edited your preferences, you can see your cumulative searches on their website.

Regardless of whatever “transparency” rhetoric the Obama White House or Google, Inc. uses, we will never see how our data is used. Sure, we have the option to “personalize our search results” but we won’t see the interface that examines our propensity to commit a crime, or purchase a particular item. We won’t see the tools which track, segment, and flag us and won’t ever realize how our data is already used to influence us.


About Nevena

Working at the intersection between philosophy, art and technoscience
This entry was posted in art, media & technology, research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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