Hasan Elahi, a Bangladeshi-born American interdisciplinary media artist born in 1972. He is currently working as an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland. His artworks focus on technology, media, issues of surveillance and etc. In 2002, he was added to the US government’s watch list, after The September 11 attacks. He flew back from the exhibition overseas and taken by the FBI at Detroit airport. The FBI went through six months of his calendar and asked every single detail of his life. Then he spent another 6 months being investigated by FBI. He called and emailed FBI to report all his trips. Eventually, it became his website created in 2003, called “Tracking Transience”.
On the website, there are collages of the food he cooked at home, flight records, the things he bought, cheap or expensive. and even the toilet bowl he used. The website also tracks his location. He uploads his life on his website every few moments. However, those images seem to be empty, for example, the empty airport, gas station and train station. He is showing us everything in his life yet not telling us who he really is. The information he shared on his website is real but somehow filtered according to what he wants us to see. Such as, the photos of the beds taken by him but we have no idea what exactly happened on those beds, or if he was there by himself or with someone else. It seems like he is still living an anomalous life.
Moreover, when I first visit the website, I was criticizing the accessibility of this website. In my opinion, it is a user-unfriendly website, and I was expecting a better website from an artist. Later, I found out that he actually did it on purpose. Everything is there but the viewers have to work through it. He is having the control of his own digital identity, controlling what we can see and how we are going to discover the information.
Hasan Elahi’s website was created earlier than the launch of Facebook. On Facebook, to the certain extent, we are able to create our own digital identity. Our name, age, hometown, gender, and etc. We can choose to shows those information or not. Our digital friends might not be able to tell if the information one provides is real. We can choose what we want people to see. Similar to Hasan Elahi’s website, we are actually tracking ourselves on Facebook. Photos and texts of the things we did, our mood, our location, our digital social circle, and our responses to friends comments. If I ever happen to be investigated, I will probably say “JUST CHECK MY FACEBOOK” (Also because I have pretty bad memory).
“The things that happen on Facebook are really pretty meaningless. Not that they can’t have meaning, but simply that they don’t. Or, at least, they don’t until we get our collective hands on them.” – D.E. WITTKOWER
Furthermore, Facebook is meaningless without people, a lot of people. For instance, my own Facebook feed, full of different contents which are not created not only by myself but with friends. Does that sound like DIWO? It does, to me. Facebook started as a platform to communicate with friends, family and the loved ones. Eventually, it went beyond the boundary and transforming into a community with different kinds of small communities within. Nowadays, those are probably the communities that we are living at using our digital identities for the most of the time.
All in all, Hasan Elahi created his digital identity because of the incident. Today, we are creating our digital identities as we are living half of our lives in the digital world. Are our digital identities real? Does it really matter if it is real or fake? Well, leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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