I am very excited to tell you all that I was able to interview Hasan Elahi last week! He is a freelance artist who likes “art that barely passes as art.” In addition and more importantly, he has changed the concept of surveillance forever.
If you are more interested in watching a video than reading the following synopsis, please look at Hasan’s Ted Talk or if you are looking for the really short and funny version, watch his interview on the Colbert Report. Both are pretty awesome.
Hasan Elahi is primarily an artist with a unique interest in digital media. In 2002, he was picked up at an airport in Detroit as a suspected terrorist because of his ethnic background, extensive travel to art exhibits, and his “suspicious” storage unit. Although the FBI could not find any evidence to suggest that he was a terrorist, they kept pestering him for the next six months. Elahi, due to some wit and genuine kind nature decided to help the agents out by sending the FBI regular emails as well as calling them up on the phone with updates of his whereabouts and travel.
This was a lot of work, but Elahi came up with a much better solution for reporting to the FBI. He developed his own website which keeps track of his whereabouts. In addition, he decided to post up to a hundred pictures each day of the food he eats, the places he has been, and the toilets he uses, all with date and timestamp. The site even keeps track of his financial transactions. This can all be seen on his project’s website, TrackingTransience. This bank of information would be a surveyor’s dream, and Elahi has coined the term for his work “self-surveillance.”
His original site was extremely easy to navigate, but he realized that by organizing his information in a linear fashion, he was doing all of the work as an investigator himself. The current version is the opposite of user-friendly in that there are no identifiers of how to browse his website–frankly because you cannot. It was made to be extremely difficult for the user to navigate and randomly cycles through pictures, coordinates, or timestamps from any day or time that Elahi recorded. With this all of this unwanted “spam” of information, a surveyor would have to spend days–if not weeks or months—to collect and analyze data so that it would represent a fraction of his “linear” existence.
The current version (2.0), though containing the same information, is extremely random and out of order, thus protecting his privacy with a massive shield of unorganized extraneous data.
In explanation, I created this little diagram. Ignore the meaning of the event values for the data points (the y-axis); they are merely symbolic and represent what he was doing and where he was for that given time value recorded on his project website. The change in the y values with respect to the x values (time) just shows his change in location.
Note: If you found this diagram to be less than helpful, it merely elaborates upon how the arrangement of data, even thought it is all available, can be extremely difficult to interpret in a meaningful way.
His self-surveillance has even taken on new purpose as an art project. Elahi has already posted more than 60,000 pictures on his website and has done exhibitions all around the world for his project.
Some of you might think that there is nothing really special about posting many pictures of yourself on the internet. Do we not have Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram for that? But he started his project in 2002 when not a single telecom company would back his plan because it was “too creepy.” It is two year older than Facebook and Flickr and eight years older than Instragram. He is really a pioneer of social media and culture.
Oh and I almost forgot! I interviewed him! I would really appreciate it if you were to watch and comment on it!
Would you say that a friendship over the Internet is different than one in real life?
I met Tanja Hollander yesterday, September 13th! If you do not know her, she is a truly visionary artist with her concept of what it means to be a friend on Facebook and in real life. She has traveled throughout the United States in the attempt to visit all of her 626 Facebook friends in person for her Facebook Portrait Project: Are you really my friend?
This effort is rather impressive on its own, but Hollander has added a crucial key component to her undertaking that has turned her mission from an ambitious social experiment into a true work of art!
She has documented every place that she has gone with pictures and geo-mapping as well as blogged many of her experiences along the way! She has visited close and distant friends (geographically), and even friends that one might not really consider “real life” friends. She has relied mostly on fundraising and the hospitality of her Facebook friends throughout her entire aspiring project!
She has already visited 252 of her friends and plans to visit the rest within the next few years. She hopes to begin visiting more of her friends that do not live in the United States very soon!
So what happens during her visits?
Hollander usually catches up with the friends she has not seen for long periods of time and has even solidified friendships with those who she did not really think of as “real life” friends before her visit! In addition, Hollander says that a friend is someone who you can have a meal with in their home (paraphrased) and she has accordingly eaten with the friends she has visited. She has eaten all types of meals from small to multi-course seafood dinners, all which she has photographed and posted.
One of the main goals of her project is to keep a living record of her journey. She believes that historians have sometimes chosen to leave out the parts of history which they have not liked, but with social media records like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her blog, she has a constant visual and geographical record of where she has been, what she has seen, and who she has met! This information has been shared through social media and is now a permanent record of her project that could someday be an important piece of history regarding culture and social media decades from now.
She uses every form of social media that you can imagine!
Before I end the post, I would really like to thank Tanja Hollander so much for visiting the University of Maryland, having dinner with us DCC members, and giving such a great presentation on such an innovative project!
Science fields have always had the stigma that they are “nerdy” or “dorky.” People tend to think that they require some sort of special interest in the subject matter which deems them as socially awkward or out-casted from the realm of “normal” people. This stigma has been perpetuated in media like television programs and movies which for the most part tend to portray scientists as loners, weirdoes, party poopers, and in some cases, freaks. For example, think of the characters from The Big Bang Theory. Can you really think of many nerd roles on television shows or in movies that refute this assumption? Scientists really have gotten bad raps.
In recent years, it seems that many scientists and scientific educators have lived up to the intelligence that is associated with their less than glorious labels. Rather than allowing old forms of media to slander their fields of study, they have harnessed new forms of media in order to “denerdify” themselves to the general populace. They have harnessed social networking and mass media in a way that makes science seem mainstream, exciting, and open to everyone. Never before has such a plethora of knowledge been available to so many people. Scientists have opened their studies, ideas, and actions to people who are interested simply by contributing to new forms of media like posting on Facebook groups, tweeting, or integrating their work into video games and simulators.
These new ways of bringing the science back from the shadows are currently shaping what people think about the science fields in general. Not only have scientists opened up their work to people all around the world, they have allowed people all around the world to open up their ideas to them in return. Science has transformed from a closed group of elite individuals who communicate amongst themselves by mail between distant Universities to a massive forum where a multitude of ideas can be shared, discussed, and judged. This can be counted for a principle reason why general theory in physics, to name one field, has expanded far faster and with greater scope in this decade than any previous decade.
Before I completely bore you to death, I should get into one example of a scientist who has adopted new media:
Michio Kaku. If you have not heard of him, he is one of the most famous physicists of the modern day. It is not because he has come up with groundbreaking ideas or discovered a new subatomic particle or diagram. It is because he has widely publicized his studies as well as interests. He is not only one of the foremost experts in String Theory, but he has a profound fondness for science fiction. He has shied away from the normal ways of physicists by being the most public physicist to have ever lived. He has written seven books on physics, some which have been best sellers like Hyperspace (1994), Parallel Worlds (2004), and Physics of the Future (2011). He has been on more than thirty different TV programs like the visionary 2057 (2007) and Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible (2009-2010). He also has a weekly one-hour radio program called Explorations, where he discusses science, war, peace, and the environment.
In 2010, he created a series called Science of Games on the website Gametrailers.com. This was truly innovative because he was the first physicist to discuss the physics of popular video game series like Mass Effect and the Force Unleashed in a forum context where physics enthusiasts and gamers alike could read his thoughts and get feedback on comments they made on his posts. Since then, science and physics have exploded in the visual software world. Dozens of physics sandboxes have been developed since 2010 like Crayon Physics Deluxe or Algodoo after this “epiphany.”
With regard to social media, Michio Kaku has taken it up like a modern day teenager even though he is 65 years old. He often posts on his twitter about where he is going to be and on what he is currently working. He always tweets when he is going to give a speech, go to a comic convention, or meet in an open forum so his followers can meet him in person. One of the reasons he has adopted social media is because he predicted that all people will be connected by a global network in his documentary, 2057.