In our digital information age where social media and pocket devices are king, our private lives are no longer so private. By now this is public knowledge, much like your tweets, and it’s become such a universal truth it’s practically a cliche to say it. Whether it’s a model tweeting about a married actor hitting on her or you tweeting about that band/sandwich/art show you went to see/eat/experience, the private/public divide that was once so tangible has now become less so.
At a time when governments are snooping on citizens, when our devices track our every move via satellite, when Google monitors your web activity, and on one side of the spectrum we witness the evasion of privacy laws in the name of protection and national security, while on the other we willingly “check-in” on Foursquare or post images to Instagram to notify the world of our activities and locations, the whole privacy/public debate becomes ever more pertinent. And confusing. Just what is it we want?
To explore these questions, Berlin-based artist Johannes P Osterhoff takes the idea of living in public to the extreme with a project called iPhone Live, launched today on the iPhone’s 5th anniversary. Osterhoff—a self-proclaimed “Interface Artist”—has jaibroken his iPhone so that all his activities are available as a live stream on the website iphone-live.net. By clicking that link you’ll be privy to what is usually reserved for Osterhoff’s eyes only. His Facebook action, what games he’s playing, what music he’s listening to, what emails he’s writing and reading, what websites he’s browsing, what apps he’s downloading, what text messages he’s sending—it’s all there for you to see and scroll through the history. The performance will last for one year until June 29, 2013.
A screenshot of Osterhoff’s iPhone. One of many you can peruse on the project’s website, iPhone Live.
But Osterhoff’s project is just one in a series of public social media performances by artists looking to draw attention to the tensions surrounding this public/private conundrum. Below is a look at some other projects that have taken place over the last few years where artists willingly expose their typically private online activities and let us see what they’re up to—it’s the ultimate exercise in exhibitionism, the equivalent of stripping naked on the web. In the process, they’re exploring the complex issues that online openness and freedom of information imply and pose the question: Is this the world we want to live in?
From 2009 to 2010 artist Kyle McDonald did a one year performance piece where he tweeted everything he typed on his keyboard. With custom-built software, he automatically tweeted every 140 characters that he typed directly to his Twitter account. This willful exposure wasn’t without its consequence. McDonald notes on the Vimeo page for the project: "keytweeter died when I deleted the shortcut from my “startup” folder, but it survives in my behavior and intuitions. I’ve come to feel that keystrokes are somehow valuable: an irrevocable act of information creation, to be chosen carefully and respectfully. I’m more cautious about misspelling things (though I never grew self conscious about writing code). More disturbingly, I can now see through a facade of connectedness I developed."
How would you feel about complete strangers snooping around inside your Facebook account? Checking out your photos, looking at your friend list, seeing your comments and posts, checking out your DMs? This is what Ryder Ripps did with his Ryder Ripps Facebook project from last year. For it he made his entire Facebook activities up to November 1, 2011 available online, either as a downloadable archive or online page. So you can check out who his 2,640 friends are, check out who’s been posting stuff to his wall and find out that Ryan Trecartin is his stepfather. Hmm…
As part of a show called Terms of Service at the New Museum Dutch artist Constant Dullaart gave away the password for his Facebook account, effectively hacking himself. The show was on May 24, 2012 and dealt with new terms and conditions set out by certain online companies. The day after the show, he tweeted the following from @constantdull: “Yesterday I gave my facebook password away during a performance in the new museum. I have no access to that account anymore.” Giving away the key to something that’s become so precious and personal to our online selves is like allowing someone to wear your eyeballs.
What did we miss? What other artists have willingly exposed their their online activities in the name of art? Let us know in the comments below!