Five days before the Memory deadline, I had no idea what I would do. But instead of sitting quietly in the corner, I decided to just say I don’t have a clue and see what comes out of it. It happened during a development workshop, and I ended up in a conversation with my tutor about my concept of memory, how I keep memories, that the last 5 years of my life have been mostly ‘living out of a suitcase and a laptop’… Having no place to call yours means you don’t want to accumulate stuff, and you need to justify each possession you have for its functionality first, and then any emotional value.
So in the digital age, this means digitising everything that could be digitised, storing and backing up as much information as possible ‘in the cloud’, and literally living online. I recently came up with the phrase ‘Home is where my email is’, and in my case it can’t be closer to the truth.
So having all this in mind, and keeping the very basic meaning of the word ‘memory’ as in keeping memories, and also as the technological, digital meaning of ‘bits and bites of data and storage’, I started developing a few statements and asking questions that might help shape an idea.
Here are some of my notes (assorted):
- Everything since 2000 is online
- I live out of a box / suitcase / cloud
- What is my permanent address? Is it my home address, or my email address, or my website?
- Where is my life? What do I do day to day? Where is the majority of my time spent?
- How do I remember things? I take notes, email myself, set reminders, calendar entries, alarms, take photos of documents, working times, schemes and all sorts of information that I need to refer back to; I bookmark things and categorise notes; I even ‘tag’ my emails to myself with keywords so it’s easier for me to search for them when I need them
- Who I am is defined by the information about me and what I can prove. Does that mean my online identity is that avatar? Who is she? Is that Rumena?
- How do I ID myself? Offline? Online? Is it with my passport / ID card? Is it with my bank details? It is with my physical address? Or is it, like the majority of activities, with my email address?
- When people need to contact me, the only reliable way in years to come would be my email address; I keep all my old email addresses active and check them occasionally.
- The work I’ve done is online; the work I do is online; I need to be online to work;
- Even my degree is online; I need to be online to study; I can’t be a student with no internet. My degree wouldn’t even exist wouldn’t there be the internet
- I can be anywhere in the world and still do work;
- The only place I can’t be for too long is offline. If I go offline I need to let people know I won’t be available.
- My digital identity is there for people to interact with, even if my physical self is not checking those spaces; there is no clear identification whether your message has been seen / received. Interestingly, Facebook is tackling this with the ‘seen’ feature for messages. Both creepy and useful. Will probably become the new default soon.
- I don’t own my memories. My hosting provider owns them. My email provider owns them. My cloud storage provider owns them. My social media providers own them. WordPress and Vimeo are where most of my Media Production work is; in essence, my degree is based on those spaces where my work is hosted, where I don’t own and only have limited control over.
- Online identity; identity in the cloud; degree in the cloud; career in the cloud; displaced and fragmented personality.
- Take this to a logical conclusion, take things to their extremes: I am actually concerned about my digital assets if I die; would people still try to email me and not know if I’m alive or not? I remember taking care of my dad’s mobile phone and email when he died – and he didn’t even have much digital life; what about someone like me who has so much online? Do I need to include my email & passwords in my will? Who controls the accounts of dead people? How do you mark a profile as ‘dead’? Do you inherit the digital rights & responsibilities of your dead relatives?
While coming up with those kinds of ideas, the most obvious association was ‘Living in the Matrix’. When initially trying to develop a visual idea, I ended up looking at VJ loops in the style of the Matrix, such as this:
I was planning to create a voiceover of myself talking about all this, and covering it with abstract visuals similar to The Matrix, plus adding my online avatar and screengrabs of her interactions on social media, things like buying things, booking tickets, checking her online bank account, writing emails, sending messages, etc. When I wrote the script, I wanted to test how it sounds, and how long it would take, and I remembered about Xtranormal – that I can easily copy & paste it in there and the software would convert the text to speech.
Here is a piece that I saw using Xtranormal, that is also relevant to the idea of Digital identity – the author is Botgirl Questi, a personality that exists only online.
As soon as I signed up for Xtranormal, I started feeling like this was a more appropriate form for putting my idea across; it would be me, but not quite me; it would be an avatar, just like my online avatar, reading out my text, controlled by me but having a bit of random and unpredictable behaviour to add – as if the avatar has its own life; it turned out Xtranormal avatars do sometimes make gestures that you haven’t programmed; so it made an interesting point in itself. I decided to use the white, empty, digital matrix type of background, to accentuate on the digital reality concept; I also decided to make the avatar look as close as possible to my still image avatar, though have its own personality. As soon as I found out I could add a music track and sound effects from a pre-loaded gallery, I knew I was looking to create a lonely, disconnected feeling – and the electronic track fit perfectly. What is more, this track very much reminds me of a Jean Michel Jarre piece from his early albums – when he was one of the pioneers experimenting with synthesisers and using electronics for creating music. It was in an era where technology was becoming a significant part of people’s lives, especially in the city. I recently watched a documentary film about electronic music in Britain, and there was a quote that reflects this quite well:
At the time, we were trying to reflect the sounds around us, in some weird way. Our studio was in an industrial area and there were lots of different noises going on all the time, and we were trying to reflect all these sounds and the way they all come together, in this weird mish-mash of electronic experimental textures.
Here is the Jean Michel Jarre piece I mentioned:
The first version of my artefact turned out to be a bit long and wordy, but I got stuck in editing it and decided to show it as it is and ask for specific feedback in the screening sessions. Here is the initial version:
In the feedback session, I was told to cut down some of the statements in the middle to get the stronger first and final points across, which I did. Here is the final piece that I submitted for assessment: