Somehow the world thinks the internet knows us. That we share so much data, spend so much time online, and share so much of ourselves that some tech evangelists might tell us they can use AI to recreate us from scratch.
Some even claim that “the internet knows you better than your spouse”.
The quest for the metaverse, the arguments about chatbot sentience, and the techno billionaires make you believe that this world is possible, even imminent.
But what exactly does our social media history say about us?
There’s a trend that’s been sweeping TikTok over the past few months, amassing millions of videos of users sharing pictures of themselves in their “teenage scumbag” phase, inspired by the song’s return from the 2000s teenage scumbag by Wheatus. The trend sees users sharing photos of their awkward teenage years, which became a sort of collective nostalgia.
This came not long after Wired reported on another TikTok trend, with Gen Z (the first generation to basically grow up on social media) reflecting on their past content — with one user looking back at posts she made in the age 11 on Snapchat.
Thinking about social media isn’t new, Facebook has been showing users “reminders” since 2018. However, TikTok users take their photos from other platforms and create a video about them on a new platform. The cycle continues, recreating and reshaping the swarms of data and information the internet knows about you.
So what would you find in your digital graveyards when we leave the real world for good?
Scrape Elegy is an interactive installation in Science Gallery’s exhibition SWARM that subverts the way we use Instagram to redesign our online presence.
It’s a journey through our data, a swarm we created for ourselves and others, starting at a single point – our Instagram handle. The work asks you to enter your name into an iPad, and then the algorithm picks a random selection of your subtitles and inserts them into a personalized audio journey that you listen to alone.
The tone is reminiscent of the tradition of the funeral poem – an elegy – in the somber rooms in which we lament the lost. In its physical form, Scrape Elegy is a giant pink public toilet. It’s a location that many will believe is a well-known spot for a cute little Doom scroll.
While Instagram is a platform for images, the work focuses on captions. Where captions are text, the work uses audio. When Instagram posts are shared with an audience of online viewers, that work is private.
It draws on aspects of Claire Hopper Artificial Hells, in which the performance of the work is delegated to the viewer. You are the star of your own private show: a journey through your own data swarm.
The Scrape Elegy experience is terrifying, to say the least. The audio journey is designed to make you laugh – poke fun at the existence that has taken over our lives and ask: does the internet really know you?
Do you feel connected when you’re left alone in a toilet to listen to the swarm of data you’ve created? Or is there power in knowing that your Instagram will never reflect the full and uncensored you?
Technological investigation by aI Art
Other works in the SWARM exhibition leave our personal data behind (in the toilet) and explore the vast digital swarm mankind has created.
Artist duo James Bulley and Daniel Jones have created Maelstrom, an immersive sound installation that reflects hundreds of hours of audio uploaded to the internet every second. When compiled by the artists, the system creates a dynamic musical score – a global composition of all our shared data.
Rachel Smith created Sentiment Honk, an AI tool that detects negativity when we speak into it—and honks back when it detects bad vibes.
Just like our devices, the Science Gallery SWARM zooms in and out. We focus on the data swarm that represents our collective and individual experiences online, anywhere, anytime.
A techno future?
While we should listen carefully and take the warnings about big data and surveillance very seriously, we could differentiate between the gathering of large amounts of information – the things we actually read, click and buy to know us.
What we add to the bevy of collected data is the information we post about ourselves, the cocktails and birthday parties and sports game wins. The friends and family and people we know, love and miss. We are constantly sharing small parts of ourselves with the internet.
But does it know us really really disgusting? Would it actually be able to recreate us?
Scrape Elegy is your stage. Sit on the throne and listen while you think.
SWARM is open from now until December 3rd Science Gallery Melbourne. Through a series of joint exhibitions and projects, SWARM dives into the science and art behind what it means to be part of a pack. Science Gallery: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday, 114 Grattan Street, Parkville VIC 3052.
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