Monday, December 14, 2009

Statement of Intent for "Imagining Language" project, plus one of the poems

Through the act of articulation and writing oneself into being, all participants are engaged in a performance intended to be interpreted and convey particular impressions.

- danah boyd from “'None of This is Real': Identity and Participation in Friendster"
This project is designed to act as a comment on the performative nature of the depictions of self that we as participants in online social networks create and compose for the online audience of our peers. By summing up our identities through a series of pre-determined categories (Activities, Interests, Favorite Music/TV shows/Movies/Books, etc.) we are actively creating our virtual selves to represent who we believe ourselves to be, taking deliberate control over the domain of first impressions and identity creation. This impression of ourselves that we are meticulously authoring is the self-approved version of our identity, the one meant for performance in the public space of the online social sphere.

However, factors of our online presence that we do not consciously maintain or construct – or usually, for that matter, even remember – such as the keywords entered into search engines like Google still compose a unique online identity and cache of puzzle pieces that comprise a more complete picture of a user. This running set of inquiries – searches tracked by Google Analytics when a user is signed into their Google account and conducts a search – that was reserved for the mind and oral culture before the advent of the computerized search engine can be seen as the portion of our stream of consciousness that accounts for all those “I wonder what, or who, or where…” moments, and in some ways makes up for our stunted short term memories. These keywords should not be seen as just a point of inception of an inquiry; they in fact make up another aspect of our online identities, an aspect that we do not then share in the online sphere of the social. Because we do not actively enter keywords with the foresight of public presentation in mind, these keywords are almost more indicative of our identities than the information on our deliberately constructed online social network profiles

Primarily informed by danah boyd’s notions of the personal performances that take place on the profile spaces of social networking sites such as Friendster, this project aims to make a comment on the constructed performance of identity that is so accepted within online social networks by publicly performing portions of the artist's Google search history and thus forcing the private into the public. These search results will be compiled into lists, poems, and possibly other forms that grow organically from the source material. The artist intends to perform these pieces in public spaces, exposing normally hidden aspects of her interests in the public sphere. In order to incorporate the online social sphere as well as the traditional public sphere, the artist will also post these pieces to her social network profiles, and will showcase the pieces on her personal website.

The artist acknowledges that she has set certain parameters for this project, given the fact that the project can evolve over time as Google is the primary search engine employed by the artist in her daily online activities. The artist has made selections from her searches, choosing what to include in certain pieces and what to leave out. It is for these reasons, along with the burden of time constraints, that the artist has set certain parameters for the project, including the following::

  • Some of the pieces were constructed with the intent to have a certain cognitive flow, and include only search inquiry keywords that rhyme or fit together stylistically.
  • Others will simply be presented alphabetically by the first letter of the search term, for example: all search inquiries that start with the letter “R”
  • The artist omitted any Google Maps search results for businesses, locations, or addresses and limited the included keywords to images, persons, and things.
  • The project, due to time constraints, was limited to the sample of keywords that begin with the letters M through Z for searches conducted between September, 2008 and February, 2009. This will be expanded over the course of the next several months to include Googled keywords through September, 2009 (allowing for the sample size = 1 year) and Googled words and phrases beginning with the letters A through L.

The inspiration for this project came after seeing a performance of Francesco Gagliardi’s poetry that was comprised of the outcomes of Human Intelligence Tasks (or HITs) on Amazon Mechanical Turk’s crowd sourcing marketplace. His performance took place at The Internet as Playground and Factory Conference on Digital Labor hosted by Eugene Lang College at The New School in New York City. This project is also somewhat inspired by the flarf poetry movement of the late 20th and early 21st century.

The artist plans to perform pieces from this project at an open mic night that occurs every Tuesday evening in Los Angeles, California’s Echo Park neighborhood.

Below you will find an example of one of the pieces intended for performance:

I Google

I Google images of a skinny cat
I Google guides for the MLA format
I Google what it means to be a pack rat
I Google Ratatat LP3 tracks

I Google media mass deception
I Google poodle illustration
I Google media extensions and medical questions
I Google the benefits of female masturbation

I Google MIT
I Google Why We Fight
I Google Sci-fi original movies
I Google Summer’s here and the time is right

I Google Paul Newman
I Google the intricacies of pumpkin carving
I Google Joe Shuster Superman
I Google a stick figure, crying

I Google Sergei Eisenstein
I Google Sherrie Levine
I Google Skyline, Virgin airlines, and We Feel Fine

I Google post-human
I Google Please please please
I Google Pakistan
I Google Mozzarella cheese


deepthiw said...

Ooh, I like this! The way you're applying performativity to what people probably think of as private really addresses the issues around Google's recent defaulting of retaining people's search histories. There's one other framework the project reminds me of, the situationist urban interventions in this paper I don't know how relevant you'll find it, but I figured I'd mention it...

Shannan said...

Do you know what Google uses this information for outside of advertising to users? Do you think they will come out with a study that analyzes/interprets this information? Outside of the issues of privacy, I think the information that is collected by Google could really be something interesting to have access to and truly understand this idea of identity performance online...