Thanks to the relevations of Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers before and after him, the public has gained incredibly insight into the state of global mass surveillance in the 21st century. Platforms such as The Intercept continue to drive this high-level critical discourse on surveillance, while new leaks continue to shape the global political agenda.
In this context, Meta(data)morphosis (MDM) is a design research project with a drastically different scope, namely a local, low-key engagement with the public over the personal consequences of big data and global mass surveillance. Specifically, the project looks at metadata (defined by Snowden as ‘the fact that a communication occurred’ (VICE on HBO, 2016)), in the context of digital shadows–the online proxy versions of ourselves that intelligence services use to determine if we are prospective terrorists, Facebook use for fine-tuning targeted ads in our news feeds, and much more. By doing this, the project aims to heighten the metadata (and hence big data/surveillance) awareness of the public, offering a highly personal, low-level entry point to the massive issues.
Meta(data)morphosis is a longer research project consisting of several experiments, the key one being a workshop with members of the public that was carried out in Or Gallery, Berlin, on July 31, 2015 as part of the annual JVEA event. The workshop was facilitated by Søren Rosenbak, Henrike Feckenstedt and Régis Frias (with Régis also acting as a participant). Based on design ethnographic extractions of personal metadata from the workshop participants, each metadata set was designed into a short film script template by the designer researchers. These templates would contain metadata such as locations, characters and time stamps, but importantly no actual content such as dialogue. A concluding session saw each participant co-speculate on top of another participant’s script template by filling out the blank spaces, producing a narrative of an alternative present which was then finally read back to the participant whose metadata the template was based on. This was the uncanny moment when participants faced their digital shadows: plausible, perhaps more tedious, perhaps more disturbing, versions of themselves. Following this final performance, the workshop ended with a collective reflection session, connecting the digital shadows back to the larger issues of global mass surveillance.
A big thanks to the M(D)M participants, the M(D)M team, JVEA, and finally Kempefonden for financial support.
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VICE on HBO. 2016. State of Surveillance. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucRWyGKBVzo