Photo credit: Rajiv Mehta
Photo credit: Rajiv Mehta

I’ve spent the last span of days trying to figure out what I want to say (first) about Quantified Self Europe 2013 (#qseu13), which took place in Amsterdam on 11 and 12 May. The conference spanned a truly amazing pair of days, both of which I spent furiously live-tweeting and paper-scribbling field notes as my jet-lagged brain threatened simultaneously to implode and to explode (in the best of all possible ways) on both an intellectual and a personal level. The Twitter-length post is easy: “Wow, #qseu13 was so awesome!” A few chapter-length essays would be easy as well, given enough time. A blog post, though…blog-length is hard.

For the sake of continuity, I’ll start this first post by picking up where I left off last week. On the first day of this year’s Quantified Self Europe, I hosted a breakout session [pdf] called, “The Missing Trackers,” in which I posed questions about who might be missing from the Quantified Self community, what we might learn about the Quantified Self community by looking at who’s missing from it, and whether those absences might be a problem. more...


People, I am certain, use Snapchat in myriad ways and for all kinds of reasons. Surely, people use the disappearing-message app to document juicy gossip, send goofy but not save-worthy photos, cheat on an exam, share an inside joke, engage in insider trading, or co-view a sunset in the fleeting moment in which the red-purple sky loses its light. I especially like Nathan Jurgenson’s deeply theoretical and thought provoking analysis of Snapchat in terms of image scarcity and abundance. And yet, when I think about Snapchat, my mind always goes to the same, possibly immaturity-induced, place: sexting.

Sexting, made particularly famous by such figures as Tiger Woods, and Anthony—I can’t believe this is your real name—Weiner, is the act of sending illicit images of oneself and/or erotic messages via SMS. Humans are sexual, and have long engaged the technologies of the time in their erotic practices (if you don’t believe me, read James Joyce’s pen-and-paper love letters to his wife).Despite moral panics surrounding sexting (especially among *gasp* teenagers) the problem with this phenomena has less to do with erotic communication, and more to do with the medium of erotic communication coupled with the affordances and dynamics of networked publics. Snapchat is a technological solution to the problem, but one with unique—possibly problematic in a different way—implications of its own. more...

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part II will argue that the media also overstate how public we have become, sensationalizing the issue to the point that the stigma associated with online imperfections erodes more slowly. It is no stretch to claim that we have become more public with social media. By “public” I mean that we are posting (1) more pieces information about ourselves online in (2) new ways (see the Zuckerberg Law of Information sharing), and are doing so more (3) honestly than ever before. We are connected to the web more often, especially given the rise of smart phones, and new layers of information are being invented, such as “checking in” geographically. And gone are the days when you could be anyone you want to be online; today we know that online activities are augmented by the physical world. People are mostly using their real names on Facebook and nearly everything one does there has everything to do with the offline world.

But we are not as public as this suggests. We need a balance to this so-called triumph of publicity and death of anonymity (as the New York Times and Zygmunt Bauman recently declared). “Publicity” on social media needs to be understood fundamentally as an act rife also with its conceptual opposite: creativity and concealment. And I am not talking just about those who use false identities on blogs (see Amina) and pseudonyms on Facebook, those with super-strict privacy settings or those who only post a selective part of their multiple identities (though, I am talking about these folks, too).  My point applies to even the biggest oversharers who intimately document their lives in granular detail.

I’ll describe below how each instance of sharing online is done so creatively instead of as simple truth-telling, but will start first by discussing how each new piece of information effectively conceals as much as it reveals. more...

PJ: First, begin by telling us the title of your installation. Then, please give brief description of what you are trying to accomplish and of the mechanics behind it.

Artist: Ned Drummond

Ned: The title of the installation is “Public/Private,” which refers to the increasingly public nature of our private data. On a daily basis we offer up intimate details of our lives to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Myspace. It’s really amazing how much we’re willing to share with strangers over the internet, and how it can wind up being profitable in some cases and damaging in others. What I want to achieve with this installation is a visual distillation of that.

The heart of the Public/Private is a website that displays a twitter feed and a set of images pulled from the content of that feed. Twitter is the perfect venue for this because of its hashtag feature which allows users to search for given topics, and anyone who knows the hashtag can participate. The code for the installation takes that data and uses Google Images to search the words in the tweets, in essence taking them completely out of context. The most important part of the search to me is the “anything goes” mentality; there’s a size filter on the image results, but otherwise it displays the first image from that set of results. Sometimes it’s humorous, other times it’s gross or offensive. For example, in the testing phase for this project, I tweeted the phrase “some of the weirder art related stuff is falling into place”. The image result for the word “falling” was an icon image of a man falling from the World Trade Center in NY on September 11. This is the sort of random association I wanted, because at the end of the day, anything you say in a public forum can be taken out of context. more...