Social Networks – Digital Identity


Week 8: March 15 – 21

Global telecommunications has challenged and penetrated all previous notions of the divide between public and private space. We’ll take a critical look at mobile media, webcam technology, and social media, concerning the changing nature of the self and our relation to others in the transparency and sharing of information inherent in our online interactions. We will also look at how artists have exploited social media as part of their practice, both in terms of expanding their community and as a platform for artistic creation. As our personal lives have become increasingly public, exposed, and sometimes exploited, how can we develop a critical stance on these developments and incorporate thoughtful criticism into our artistic investigations.


Due next week: March 22


Research Critique

Each student will be assigned the following work to research and critique from the following list:

Write a minimum 250 word essay about your assigned work and the artist. Incorporate the reading (see above), as relevant, into your research post, using at least one quote to support your own research and analysis.

The goal of the research critique is to conduct independent research by reviewing the online documentation of the work, visiting the artist’s Website, and googling any other relevant information about the artist and their work. You will give a presentation of your research in class and we will discuss how it relates to the topic of the week: Social Broadcasting, the subject of the upcoming Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium.

See next week’s syllabus lecture notes for information about Social Broadcasting and Annie Abrahams’ Angry Women.

Here are instructions for the research critique:

  • Create a new post on your blog incorporating relevant hyperlinks, images, video, etc
  • Be sure to reference and quote from the reading to provide context for your critique
  • Apply the “Research” category
  • Apply appropriate tags
  • Add a featured image
  • Post a comment on at least one other research post prior to the following class
  • Be sure your post is formatted correctly, is readable, and that all media and quotes are DISCUSSED in the essay, not just used as introductory material

Micro-Project #9 – Video Selfie

Video Selfie:  Using your iPhone or computer with photo booth (or similar Webcam video software), create a one minute video of yourself that constructs your selfie as an “artistic alter ego:” the artist or designer you want/choose/aspire to be! See Micro-Project for additional information.



Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium

We will go over the schedule for the Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium, in which each student will attend, participate and write about two of the three days. I would like everyone to attend day 1 and either day 2 or 3. See times below. There will be no regular class on Thursday of that week.

Next week we will have a detailed review of the Symposium Hyperessay, a more extended writing assignment based on Symposium keynotes and performances, and the concept of distributed, networked dialogue that takes place in the third space.

Everyone will attend online via Adobe Connect Webconferencing
To Login:
Select “Guest,” type your name, “Enter Room”

Schedule @ a Glance:

Day 1: March 29 – ADM (8pm-11pm)
Keynote by Maria Chatzichristodoulou
Internet Performance by Annie Abrahams and collaborators

Day 2: March 30 – LASALLE College of the Arts (8pm-11pm)
Keynote by Matt Adams, co-founder of Blast Theory

Day 3: March 31 – School of the Art Institute of Chicago (11pm-2am)
Internet Performance by Jon Cates and collaborators

Next week we will be using Adobe Connect, be sure to bring your laptops.

Review of the A Day in the Life Project

We will review each of the four “A Day in the Life” Facebook project, with students giving an overview of their Facebook interactions over the course of a day. Then we will discuss the reading below in an attempt to understand how we use Facebook and social media to conduct our social relationships and to shape our digital identity.

Group 1
Roz, Cecelia, Shu, Elizabeth, Francesca

Group 2:
Felicia, En Cui, Jocelyn, Daphne N

Group 3
Francesca, Farz, Su, Cecilia, Elizabeth

Group 4
Rei, Bella, Jasmine, Daphne T

Digital Identity

Digital Identity: A digital identity is information on an entity used by computer systems to represent an external agent. That agent may be a person, organisation, application, or device.

Works for Review

Hasan Elahi, Tracking Transience 2.0 (2003)

In the post 9/11 climate, on one of his many trips abroad, Hasan Elahi (of Bangladesh descent) was taken aside by airport security as a suspected terrorist. Other than his middle-eastern roots, there was no reason to arrest him. However, the authorities warned him that they would be watching him very closely, regardless of the fact that he was an innocent college professor teaching new media art. Thus began Tracking Transience 2.0, Elahi’s epic work of self-surveillance that continues to this day. Elahi performs 24/7 tracking of his geo-spatial coordinates as an act of self-espionage, giving up his data as a subversive performance that engages and critiques issues of surveillance and privacy. As a professor at the University of Maryland Near Washington, DC, his proximity is broadcast to the world for all to see.

Hasan Elahi, self-surveillance, Tracking Transience 2.0

Elahi decided, as an act of confrontation and artistic mediation, to prove to the authorities that he could do a much better job of tracking himself than they ever could. You could call it data camouflage. Elahi began to photograph and time stamp his every meal, every airport, every bathroom, every toilet, every hotel bed and posted the photos online, defiantly, abundantly.

Now the authorities would know everything and nothing about Hasan Elahi. He would maintain his own profile and dossier that is more evasive than ever. A performance? I suspect so. It is a dance around 21st surveillance and overwrought security. But it is also a critique of the millions, in fact billions of individuals who willingly and gladly give up their data everyday via social media. And who have no idea where their data goes and how it is used.

As Hal Niedzvincki claims, “we live in a peep society: we peep on each other, we peep on ourselves.” Now, with Elahi, you can selectively give up your data as a screen to hide your real life from those who would use it for their own gain, or use it against you. If in fact Marcel Duchamp unveiled the toilet as a “readymade,” a work of art by sheer force of the artist intent, Elahi has given us the toilet as an object of everyday life that renders himself, the artist, anonymous. Not only is he effacing his artistic self, he has become just another face in the crowd. This is art as camouflage mimicking objects as lifeless, nondescript entities that reveal absolutely nothing about the artist sharing the objects.

Perhaps this is a critique on the saturation of self-documentation, all of us who wield our cameras and cell phones taking photographs of everything and anything. Why? Because we don’t want to forget, the media carries a sense of purpose through memory, an archive of one’s life, preservation of the moment. When I presented Hasan with my documentation of his documentation, he could remember every place where each and every photo had been taken. Each of these images, no matter how empty (and his photos are typically void of people), no matter the sameness, brought back to him a specific moment in time and space. That is the life recorded and remembered through media representation.

So who is tracking whom? According to Hasan Elahi, we are tracking ourselves. Each and every one of us is a self-made spy keeping a close eye on our actions, our moods, our interactions, our everyday lives: the panopticon turned inward. What began as a critique of government intrusion on personal privacy during the George W. Bush years in the US, has become a performance in self-styled personal surveillance. Hasan Elahi is his very own Central Intelligence Agency with one subject: himself.

My interview with Hasan Elahi:

Hasan M. Elahi (born 1972) is an interdisciplinary media artist with an emphasis on technology and media and their social implications. His research interests include issues of surveillance, sousveillance, simulated time, transport systems, and borders and frontiers.He was born in Rangpur, Bangladesh and raised in New York City. Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, transport, and borders and frontiers. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions at venues such as SITE Santa Fe, Centre Georges Pompidou, Sundance Film Festival, Kassel Kulturbahnhof, The Hermitage, and at the Venice Biennale. Elahi was recently invited to speak about his work at the Tate Modern, Einstein Forum, the American Association of Artificial Intelligence, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, World Economic Forum, and at TED Global. He is currently Associate Professor of Art at University of Maryland and from 2011 to 2014 was Director of Design | Cultures + Creativity in the Honors College.

For Discussion

Hasan Elahi was originally confronted and surveilled by the FBI for being a potential terrorist. But then he reversed the relationship as an artistic act: tracking himself daily, including his proximity, travels, beds he slept in, toilets he used, meals he ate. He decided essentially to self-surveil himself as a response to the being surveilled. But the project became something bigger than that. He was forecasting, years before social media, how one day, we would all be self-surveilling ourselves through our sharing and participation in Facebook, Twitter, etc. He revealed the way in which we would give up our data easily and willingly as we forge our digital identities online.

Are you aware of how much information you provide about yourselves every day on social media? Do you know where your data is going when you post on Facebook? Should you be concerned? Does it give you pleasure to share information about yourself, even information that could reveal things you don’t want people to know about? Do we live in a world know where mass sharing and giving up of data makes it OK, because nearly everyone does it? If we are all sharing, does it make it safe?

These are questions raised by Tracking Transience, ideas we should all be aware of and critically think about as we participate in the social media environment.

Paolo Cirio & Alessandro Ludovico, Face to Facebook (2001)

From the artist’s Website:

How we did it:

Through special custom software we collected data from more than 1,000,000 Facebook users. What we collected is their “public data” – some of their personal data (name, country, Facebook groups they subscribe to) plus their main profile picture and a few friend relationships. We built a database with all this data, then began to analyze the pictures that showed smiling faces. The vast majority of pictures were both amateurish and somehow almost involuntarily or unconsciously alluring. And they are almost always “smiling”.

It’s also evident that the majority of users want to appear in the best shape and look. They are acting on Facebook’s mandatory mechanism: establish new relationships. Facebook is based on the voluntary uploading of personal data and sharing it with friends. The more friends the better. Being personal and popular a Facebook user is exposing him/herself to many others, continuing to establish new relationships.

Once the database was ready, we studied and customized a face recognition algorithm. The algorithm used self learning neural networks and was programmed to “group” the huge amount of faces we collected (and their attached data) in a few simple categories. The categories are among the most popular that we usually use to define a person at a distance, without knowing him/her, or judging based only on a few behaviors. We picked six categories (“climber”, “easy going”, “funny”, “mild”, “sly” and “smug” – working definitions), with some intuitive differences, for both male and female subjects.
The software effectively extracted 250,000 faces that were connected to the relevant public data in our database.

After grouping them, we started to dive into these seas of faces, with all the perceptual consequences. And we started to think about why we felt so overwhelmed… Continue reading


Face-to-Facebook, smiling in the eternal party.

Social networking is naturally addictive. It’s about exploring something very familiar that has never been available before: staying in touch with past and present friends and acquaintances in a single, potentially infinite, virtual space.

The phenomenon challenges us psychologically, creating situations that previously were not possible. Before the rise of social networking, former friends and acquaintances would tend to drift away from us and potentially become consigned to our personal histories. Having a virtual space with (re)active people constantly updating their activities is the basic, powerful fascination of the social network. But there’s another attraction, based on the elusive sport (or perhaps urge) to position ourselves. The answer to the fundamental identity question, “who am I?” can be given only in relation to the others that we interact with (friends, family, work colleagues, and so on). And the answer to this question seems clearer after we take a look at our list of social network friends.

So an intimate involvement and (endless) questioning of our online identity (often literally juxtaposing with our physical one) is perpetrated in the social network game. But social network platforms are not public organizations designed to help support social problems but private corporations. Their mission is not to help people create better social relationships or to help them improve their self-positioning. Their mission is to make money. Economic success for these corporations rests on convincing users to connect to the several hundred people who await them online. Continue reading...

Authors’ biographies

Paolo Cirio works as media artist in various fields: net-art, street-art, video-art, software-art and and experimental fiction. He has won prestigious art awards and his controversial works have been sustained by research grants, collaborations and residencies. He has exhibited in museums and art institutions worldwide. As public speaker he delivers lectures and workshops on media tactics.

Alessandro Ludovico is a media critic and editor in chief of Neural magazine since 1993. He’s one of the founders of the ‘Mag.Net (Electronic Cultural Publishers organization). He also served as an advisor for the Documenta 12’s Magazine Project. He has ben guest researcher at the Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. He teaches at the Academy of Art in Carrara.

For Discussion

 If we start to play with the concepts of identity theft and dating, we should be able to unveil how fragile a virtual identity given to a proprietary platform can be.

In this project, the artists “steal” the identities of Facebook users, using own their public data, recontextualize their smiling faces (“climber”, “easy going”, “funny”, “mild”, “sly” and “smug”) and create a fake dating service as a critique of how our data can be manipulated. Although the data service is no longer available, we can only imagine how this act of “identity theft” demonstrates the vulnerabilities resulting from the giving up of our data.

Why do we so easily give up our data to Facebook, where it can be stolen, monetized, and misused? Should we be concerned about the trail of public data we leave on Facebook, even though we think it is private? As we shape our digital identities on Facebook, what exactly are we revealing out ourselves, and is it the same as what we intend to reveal to our Facebook friends? Are we putting ourselves into danger by having so much of ourselves available in the public data space of social media?

The artists Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico hacked Facebook, just as Mark Zuckerberg had hacked Harvard University student data to create Facebook in the first place. Zuckerberg did it for fun and then profit. The artists did it as a critique of Facebook and its manipulation of personal data. Were the artists acting ethically? Is art a justification for hacking when it is done to analyze and reveal social issues? Or does do we all bear responsibility for so generously giving up our data for our own entertainment and desire to shape our digital identities?

Carla Gannis, artwork: Until the End of the World (2017)

 Video Documentation:

Until the End of the World, Carla Gannis, 2017

“Until the End of the World” connects and amplifies narrative components threaded throughout Gannis’s Selfie Drawings project, and is inspired by a sequence in the 1991 Wim Wenders film “Until the End of the World” where a woman is addicted to watching her dreams in a small, handheld device.

Press Release from Until the End of the World by Carla Gannis:

The ancient Greek term „persona“ describes how an actor’s voice sounds through his mask while playing a role. In the word’s contemporary usage, a persona is the virtual identity created to represent us in the context of a social web – the invisible glue that ties us all together. So, In a society where all social, economic, and cultural systems — seem to run on software, it’s fascinating that the Greek theatre coined a word, which still plays an important role in the today’s attempts to understand our self-perceptions.

In the early 1990s Gannis shifted away from traditional paintings to producing digital print and multi-media installations. Since then, her work „examines the narrativity of 21st century representational technologies and questions the hybrid nature of identity, where virtual and real physical embodiments of self diverge and intersect.“

Gannis’s work does not just gain historicity with her paraphrases of masterpieces such as Courbets “Origin of the World” but in how she persistently constantly challenges our perceptions of femininity, identity and aesthetics.

For the DAM exhibition, Gannis provides new hybrid transcriptions of the Selfie project, including her augmented reality wallpaper installation “The Selfie Wallpaper“ and the 3D animated video work “Until the End of the World,” for which the exhibition is eponymously titled and which enhances a narrative component to the selfie project. Inspired by a sequence in the 1991 Wim Wenders film “Until the End of the World” where a woman is addicted to watching her dreams in a small, handheld device, Gannis explodes the concept into an operatic mash up that addresses the digital identity politics of our age.

“The Selfie-Drawings”, the term is paradoxical in itself, is a collection of 52 digital drawings that the artist completed over 52 weeks. From January to December 2015, she concentrated intensely on “the self” through digital or analog drawings and their dissemination via social media platforms. These pieces of work consequently informed the video installation project „A Subject Self-Defined“ and were later on expanded into augmented reality experiences.

Not only is the artist’s face shown but the technical devices used in order to take her selfies. Since one can assume that every viewer is aware of the technocultural conditions surrounding Gannis’s process the work should be understood as a conscious interplay between portraitist, portrait and the camera itself. Gannis added another level of reflection by publishing „The Selfie-Drawings“ as a physical book. The readers can hover over the static drawings using the Blippar App to experience a new dynamic 3D reality on their phones, a revification of the static book experience.

We can’t help but wonder, how much of Carla Gannis persona is sounding through her selfies?

Carla Gannis Bio:

Carla Gannis, originally from Oxford, North Carolina, today lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received a BFA in painting from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an MFA in painting from Boston University. In the late 1990s she began to incorporate digital technologies into her work, and in 2005 she was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Grant in Computer Arts. Currently she is a professor and assistant chairperson of The Department of Digital Arts at Pratt Institute.

Gannis identifies as a visual storyteller. With the use of 21st Century representational technologies she narrates through a “digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency emerge. She is fascinated by digital semiotics and the situation of identity in the blurring contexts of real and virtual. 

Since 2003 Gannis’s work has appeared in over 20 solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions both nationally and internationally.  Her most recent solo exhibitions include “A Subject Self-Defined” at Transfer Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; “The Garden of Earthly Delights” at The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY and at Kasia Kay Art Projects in Chicago, IL, 2014. In 2013 she collaborated with poet Justin Petropoulos on a transmedia book, installation and net art project entitled <legend>   </legend>  published byJaded Ibis Press, Seattle, WA and exhibited at Transfer Gallery, Brooklyn, NY.  Recent group exhibitions include “Porn to Pizza – Domestic Clichés” at DAM Gallery, in Berlin Germany and “Beautiful Interfaces” at Reverse Gallery, New York, NY.

Features on her work have appeared in ARTnewsThe Creators ProjectThe Huffington PostWiredBuzzfeedFastCo, HyperallergicArt F CityArt CriticalArt Report, The Wallstreet JournalThe New York Timesand The LA Times, among others. Recently her speculative fiction was included in DEVOURING THE GREEN:: fear of a human planet: a cyborg / eco poetry anthology, published by Jaded Ibis Press. Her recent speaking engagements include “Let’s Get Digital” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and “Cogency in the Imaginarium” at Cooper Union and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has participated in numerous panels on the intersections between art, technology, education and networked culture.

Artist Statement: 

My work examines the narrativity of 21st century representational technologies and reveals the hybrid nature of identity, where virtual and real embodiments of self diverge and intersect.  I feel akin to past and contemporary artists and writers who uncannily deconstruct rigid notions of reality and perception. The extension of this sensibility with computer-based applications is only natural to me as a reflection upon the Digital Age in which we all coexist.

My work is informed by art history, technology, theory, cinema, video games, and speculative fiction, to name a few, and I have expressed my ideas through many mediums, including digital painting, animation, 3D printing, drawing, video projection, interactive installation, performance, and net art. However, my core fascinations, with the nature(s) and politics of identity, were established during my childhood in North Carolina. I draw inspiration from my Appalachian grandparents singing dark mountain ballads about human frailty, my future-minded father working in computing, and my politicized Southern Belle of a mother wearing elaborate costumes, performing her prismatic female identity.

First and foremost, I am a storyteller, rooted in Southern Gothic and expanded into “Internet Gothic,” where I have re-focused my narratives through 21st Century representational technologies. With digital collage and remix I reveal the hybrid nature of identity, where virtual and real embodiments of self diverge and intersect. I invite viewers to experience our inescapably mediated lives “through a digital looking glass” where reflections on power, sexuality, marginalization, and agency often emerge. I am fascinated by contemporary modes of digital communication, the power (and sometimes the perversity) of popular iconography, and the situation of identity in the blurring contexts of technological virtuality and biological reality.  Humor and absurdity are important elements in building my nonlinear narratives, and layers upon layers of history are embedded in even my most future focused works.

On a conceptual and technical level the tableaus I produce consist of fragments that are reassembled at oblique angles to their original context — mixing the language of Bosch with the language of Emoji (and the language of Carla Gannis) for example, or combining Photoshop® and Maya® with (H)and(D)rawing® and (P)ainting®. My thoughts, embodied irl and url, are not meant to convey logical conclusions or to allow for easy categorization. I feel akin to past and contemporary artists, filmmakers and writers who uncannily deconstruct rigid notions of reality and perception. The extension of this sensibility with computer-based applications is only natural to me as a reflection upon the Digital Age in which we all coexist.

For Discussion

Carla Gannis, in her video animation and exhibition “Until the End of the World,” takes us 10,000 years into a dystopian future, where our digital dreams and fantasies become our world, perhaps a make-believe world, certainly a digital one where the life is produced and reproduced through social media and mediated renderings. Life seems to be experienced entirely on the screen, through the screen, and within a totally artificial environment. Gannis produces selfies that are Gothic, frightening, realistic, and other-worldly. They speak of a sense of self and identity that is entirely fabricated from the media space and its permutations.

Is this fantastical glimpse into the future a forecast of reality to be? Are we produced and transforming ourselves into digital creatures? With the sheer amount of time we spend in the third space, are we becoming a new third space species? Should we fear this kind of future or embrace? Is the artist embracing it or painting a horrid future of what is to become? Or is the artist giving us a choice as to whether or not we want this frighteningly beautiful world to become our new reality, or perhaps it’s already our reality?


DE Wittkower, Facebook and Philosophy

This is what is so valuable about Facebook: the indeterminate meaning of so much of what it is, and what it does.

Facebook can have many meanings, it is malleable, you can reinvent yourself, you can create your own meaning. What does Facebook mean to you? Why do you use it? And do you shape your identity differently on Facebook than in RL? Do you use Facebook to say things that have meaning? Or do you say things that are ambiguous, playful or just representational (like the emoji) to keep things open in a “meaningless” way?

Facebook appeared to some writers as angel, and some as demon; to some as an emerging global village, and to others as isolation in disguise; to some as an opportunity for maintaining relationships, and to others as broadcast narcissism.

How do you Facebook? Is it way to stay in touch with people? Do you use it as a kind of performance of your everyday life? Does it give your life meaning to share what you do everything. Do you ever experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) on Facebook?

Overall, Facebook is a kind of mirror of our social existence, and we do not always enjoy all aspects of the communities that we find ourselves to be part of.

How do you choose your friends on Facebook? Do you have friends on Facebook whom you have never met in RL? Do you like your Facebook friends as much as you like your RL friends? Do you feel that your Facebook friends form a community, in the same way as your friends here at ADM?

As technologies have improved, we’ve gained increasing control over which communities we are a part of, and who we have relationships with.

We grow up in unintentional communities, like school, family, neighbors, etc., in which we have no control over who is in the community. But on Facebook, do you find yourself controlling who you are friends with to create an intentional, common interest community? Do all of your Facebook friends have the same interests (intentional community) or do they vary widely? Do you feel that your Facebook community is an echo chamber, with everyone just saying and repeating common themes and interest? Do you ever find yourself wanting to expand the range of interests in your Facebook friends?

So why are we driven towards knowledge, truth, beauty, creativity, and family? Do they make us happier?

On Facebook, we are constantly sending and receiving information about the above in the form of everyday things (sometimes meaningless) about life. Why do we care what somebody had for lunch? Why do we care about all the various things that people share on Facebook, photos of friends, family, themselves, the sky, a park, a party, etc? Does this sharing give us something in common? Or is the sharing just an entertaining distraction? Or is it because we care about our friends? Does this sharing giving meaning to our own life, our sense of ourselves, a sense of purpose in life? Does sharing and receiving ultimately shape our sense of who we are? Does it form our identity through online, digital relationships?

“It is only in the microscope that our life looks so big.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Does the daily act of sharing and receiving the minute, seemingly trivial details of our life, give a sense of scope and richness to our sense of who we are in the world? As the author discussed, what meaning would there be in life without the little incidental things that we experience and think about every day?

‘I am bored; entertain me’

Do you use Facebook when you are bored? Do you find Facebook boring? Do you think you are going to be entertained on Facebook and then you are disappointed? Or is Facebook just like life, sometimes boring, sometimes interesting, sometimes joyful, sometimes maddening? Is Facebook then like RL, full of all of life’s emotions, frustrations, boredom, and excitement?

The feed is not a broadcast, the feed is your friends

Ultimately, Facebook is social, it is DIWO, it is many-to-many, it is not television, it is a community, a platform for interacting with other people, sharing the details of your life, and shaping a sense of who you are. Life RL, Facebook, according to the author, is only as meaningful as what you invest in it, wha you give to it? Just like any community. Would you agree?

Micro-Project #8 – I am My Desktop

As we increasingly spend time in the virtual world of our computers and mobile devices, and less and less time in the physical dimension, our identities are being reshaped. Perhaps we can say that we feel more at home on our virtual desktop than the physical one. As we make this shift from the physical to the virtual desktop, how does the screen space we inhabit present a reflection of ourselves? How does the desktop become an extension of who we are, thus, a space where we might define our digital identity. See Micro-Project for additional information