passing protocol

For this video hack, I was interested in exploring ideas of death, social death, and social media.

The hack prompted us to “repair” something — or to give something an afterlife, or a new purpose. With the advent of social media profiles, death has a strange, new dimension: a person can be physically dead, but with social media profiles that still exist.

Many European countries, including France, have passed legislature in the past few years regarding the “right to be forgotten,” or the right to ask search engines to remove inadequate or irrelevant information about themselves.  Add death into this and it creates an interesting situation if pushed in the opposite direction — what if a person doesn’t want to be forgotten once they physically die? What if they wanted their social media profile to exist forever?

I used this line of thinking to form an absurdist future social reality, wherein social media profiles are “passed on” once a person dies; the new owner is tasked with continuing to act within the social identity of the profile. The more social and cultural capital a profile has, the more likely it is to be chosen — driving people to invest the bulk of their lives into carefully curating and socializing on social media through the profile, to ensure that it will continue to be passed. The purpose of the human life becomes to ensure the profile is passed. Instead of a human life reincarnating, I was thinking of this as the profile itself reincarnating, and by being passing from life-span to life-span, coming closer to immortality.

It also brings up a point regarding nature vs. nurture. Sociologist Irving Goffman argued that there is no “essential self,” or no nature based self. Our identities and sense of self are shaped by the societies we grow in; we access our identity and our self only through socialization, or pure nurture. So, when a profile is passed on, can the new owner successfully take on the social identity of what came before? What happens in the liminal space between the human life experienced and the social media profile created & performed? They are almost separate entities — the profile this separate personality that draws its staging from a person.

This is a familiar trope in futuristic, sci-fi works — the human consciousness being fully exploited by alien, or machine, or other humans (or in this case, immortal profiles). For this project, I reflected on some of my favorite written works, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, George Saunder’s short stories (Civilwarland in Bad Decline, Tenth of December), and Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story as an inspiration points. All these authors explore the relationship between humans, exploitation, technology, and self.

I imagined the video as a sort of template “training” or explanation video to assimilate people into the new passing protocols of this “social reality.” The text reads:

“CHOOSE PROFILE

YOUR SOCIAL DIFFUSION AND ENGAGEMENT DETERMINES IF [PROFILE] WILL BE CHOSEN AGAIN.

IMPERATIVE GOAL: SOCIAL DECAY ALONE WILL NOT ERDICATE [PROFILE]

[PROFILE] CURRENTLY CONTAINS [n] PERSON-SPANS

[PROFILE] TRANSFER IN PROGRESS

GOOBYE. [PROFILE] SUCCESSFULLY PASSED.

CHOOSE PROFILE.”

The text points to the importance of social engagement via the profile, the goal of making a profile “immortal” by containing successive life-spans, and also points to the transfer process. People still die, but profiles can live “forever.”

I glitched found time lapse footage to evoke subliminal experiences and prompt viewers to reflect on the potential limitlessness of technology. By presenting an altered view of scale and time from how it is typically experienced, viewers are meant to feel the vastness of time and technology.

I specifically chose time lapse performance footage beneath the “social diffusion text” to allude to the immortality of our online social systems and inter-connections by visually presenting a stadium filled with tiny flashing phones gathered at the alter of the main performer. So many of our social spaces reflect this dichotomy — the masses gathered around the few “chosen” who are singled out. The profiles would work in the same way — the profile at the center, drawing power from those masses. I also chose time-lasped cities for their immense size and gigantic proportion to human life (concrete buildings can outlive a human many times over).

For sections about profile passing — or the moment of the current profile user nearing death — I chose time laspe and glitched nature footage, which I meant to highlight the passage of the time and change (stars passing, snow melting, water freezing, etc).

For the section on “person-spans,” I used a time lapse video that I sped up and glitched, which showed 6 hours of Photoshop re-touching. Another root line of thinking was about social archetypes in society — Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian all fulfill the same societal archetype at different points in time. But what if the variation in person was flattened, and instead expressed by different people at different times but through the same profile? The re-touching was an allusion to the perfection of these archetypes as profiles accrue more and more life-spans.

I dealt with a lot of figurative/imaginative thinking for this project, which I really enjoyed. If I had more time, I would turn it into a short story and extend the video to create a web space that fully represent this imagined “social reality” by combining text and video.