Unconscious Data: Generating Digital Trails in Physical Spaces is a multisensory interactive installation focusing on the non-consensual data we provide to corporations. How is our digital footprint collected, consumed and disposed of? We can go back on our browser history to pinpoint our digital trail, but what if we could see it in a physical environment? This installation visualizes the trails people leave in physical spaces as they experience data created by the ones before them.
Arduino (C++) Coding
The viewers initially interact with the installation by moving around, which triggers binaural audio feedback that also changes the saturation of the image. When the viewer presses the button a humorous AI (heavily inspired by Glados from Portal2) talks down on the stupidity of humans and how they are unaware of the data they create unconsciously. Printer prints out a receipt of data the viewer has created, which can also be seen on the lower left part of the screen. When there isn’t anyone interacting with the installation, the screen switches to a photo slideshow of all the people who pressed the button and provided the installation their visual and location based data.
For my graduation project I wanted to design and produce an interactive installation because I wanted to exceed the limits of what is expected from the Interaction Design major. I was inspired by behavioural economics while working on this project. Thinking about how we generate data just by existing in a certain place. We can check our browser history but what if we could do the same in a physical environment? This project focuses on how we leave digital trails in physical spaces. Unconscious Data is built in Touchdesigner and uses Arduino for some of the interactive components.
I wanted to make an inquiry into consumer privacy more engaging and accessible to the public. That’s why I chose to turn this opportunity into a spectacle instead of a generic UX Design project where visitors who come to the graduation show wouldn’t spend that much time on - especially for something like data and privacy. As a designer, I am curious to learn and study emerging tech that’ll help me express my research and design the best way.
Surveillance was a topic I wanted to tackle with my project without being too direct about it. When visitors press the button, the installation captures the data they create just by being in the space (motion, coordinates and audio levels). In addition to printing out this information on a personalized receipt, the installation also captures a photo of the viewers in real time - which is then added to the slideshow of all the people who has pressed the button before and gone through the same process. I was interested in questioning how our data can be so easily generated, collected and disposed.
Getting to this stage of the project took a lot of trial and error. I was both learning new software and gaining experience in creating my first interactive installation. Even though the outcome of this project is artistic, I followed the same UX Design processes to create this installation. I am a firm believer that not everything has to be an application when it comes to UX. As a designer, I am curious to learn and study emerging tech that’ll help me express my research and design the best way.
I was very tempted to know more about Post-humanism. I started reading about Cyborg Anthropology by feminist authors Amber Case and Donna Haraway. Cyborg Anthropology suggests that we are all cyborgs now. The way we interact with machines, technology, and people defines who we are. Phones, tablets and computers become and extension of us when we load them up with our data and memories. How I can pierce a hole through time and space to talk to my parents across the world is a superpower and magical. The concept was incredibly compelling, especially after I went to a show at the Patricia Hotel by Patricia Piccinini during the Vancouver Biennale that explored topics around monsters, creators, creations and maternity.
After Piccinini’s show, I decided to create my own creatures and somehow make them interactive. After doing some precedent research, I decided that the best and easiest way to have something interactive might be through animation, video and projection. So, for a couple of months, I decided to create these creatures by learning how to use Cinema4D. Before starting this I had a lot of confidence from my previous independent project 365 Posters for 365 Songs and being an ex-Industrial Design student. Cinema4D had a completely different interface, which was intimidating, but I managed to create the animations below.
Everyone I showed these animations to were impressed since I was only using Cinema4D for a month now. I was exploring some great content with these animations but I had to figure out how they make the stories interactive. I had wanted to user test interruption as an interaction to activate the space. I didn’t know the dimensions of the space I was going to install this yet so I explored both large scale and small scale options.
I didn’t seem to get the effect I wanted with still projections so I decided to switch my technique and add a new software to the mix: Touchdesigner. I also didn’t know how to use this program but my mentor, Tim Rolls, showed me the basics along with an open-source library on using the program. Derivative explains TouchDesigner as '“a visual development platform that equips you with the tools you need to create stunning realtime projects and rich user experiences.”
I realized I would get better results with using Touchdesigner compared to Cinema4D. The interface allowed me to play around with real-time interactions with ease. I wanted to carry out some of the concepts of post-humanism into this new format but this time integrating the user into my design.
Kerem Has An Epiphany
I first didn’t appreciate using my webcam as an input compared to other devices like the Kinect. But I soon adopted the webcam because of it glitchiness and how it connected with capturing data since most of us are paranoid about the government or Google or the FBI watching us through our cameras and we always put a sticker on it. By then my thesis was really coming together and I started to explore how we leave digital trails in physical spaces and how we generate data just by existing in a certain place. We can check our browser history but what if we could do the same in a physical environment?
I did more research on how we unconsciously overshare our data. How we have to let go of some privacy in order to help the online services we use. However, there is hardly any virtual transparency when it comes to how companies use our data until after the Facebook scandal and we keep on over-sharing our personal information. I looked into how conscious we really are of the decisions we make both offline and online. How many times have we really made a decision based on our gut feeling? When in fact we are already making decisions from things that have already been decided for us.
I’ve done some aesthetic explorations and settled on a more pink/purple color because they are colors we don’t always get to see out in nature so predominantly, which made me respond to the artificial quality of it. One of the things I wanted to focus on was leaving a digital print on the physical space you were interacting with. Therefore I was eager to highlight how we generate data just by being and that has a value to it.
I was prototyping in any empty space I could find almost every day for two months; tweaking, adding, editing things about my installation as I user test with people. After trying out various methods of projecting, I decided to build a screen for the webcam to live in along with all the cables used to display the installation.
Special Thanks To
Amanda Huynh, Tim Rolls, Bob Werner, Katherine Benjamin, Eugenia Bertulis, Haig Armen, Ryan Betts, Jill Anholt, Alex Beim, Bobbi Kozinuk, Maxe Fischer, Geoffrey Wallang, Brian Fossl, Trevor Osborn, Renee, Harry.