Less Metrics, More Rando: Recomposing Software to Transform Private Tech into Public Space

Ben Grosser

Abstract:

The world is learning more every day about how data collected by the dominant software platforms is not just used to “improve the lives of as many people as possible” (Google), or, to “give people the power to build communities” (Facebook), but is also producing broad negative effects for the cultural, social, and political future of humanity. In particular, the designs of these systems compel users to provide increasing amounts of personal information, enabling rapid expansion of corporate and state infrastructures for the purposes of surveillance, profiling, and profit. While recent outcries over resulting events such as Cambridge Analytica’s manipulations of the electorates in the US and UK have led to campaigns like #deletefacebook, most users remain unwilling to disconnect. Given this resistance, an alternative approach is the author’s artistic strategy of “software recomposition,” treating existing websites and other software systems not as fixed spaces of consumption and interaction but as fluid spaces of manipulation and experimentation. This talk will highlight several of the artist’s projects that aim to not only investigate the cultural effects of software, but to also restore user agency over where, how, and when user data is (ab)used.

Biography: Ben Grosser

Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences, machines, and systems that examine the cultural, social, and political implications of software. Recent exhibition venues include Eyebeam in New York, Arebyte in London,Museu das Comunicações in Lisbon, Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, and Galerie Charlot in Paris. His works have been featured in The New Yorker, Wired, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, El País, Libération,Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Der Spiegel. The Chicago Tribune called him the “unrivaled king of ominous gibberish.”Slate referred to his work as “creative civil disobedience in the digital age.” Grosser’s recognitions include First Prize in VIDA 16, and the Expanded Media Award for Network Culture from Stuttgarter Filmwinter. His writing about the cultural effects of technology has been published in journals such as Computational Culture, Media-N, and Big Data and Society. Grosser is an assistant professor of new media at the School of Art + Design, and co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. https://bengrosser.com