White Veil by Bryn Oh and Cica Ghost
Open now is a new artwork called White Veil which I created with Cica Ghost. http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Kimkeat%20Lane/207/13/25
Cica made some really adorable penguins and trees and I spent my time building a large tower and balls that squish you, cubes that attack and so on. And many of you who are reading this post are saying... yes naturally you did Bryn. And also, because I can't seem to resist, I inserted a little narrative into the work. And again you are saying.. .yes of course you did Bryn you little weirdo. Well hear me out. This was actually an interesting experiment artistically for me. The overall theme of my portion of the artwork is the idea that Cica's poor penguins are being spied upon and manipulated from above by my additions. So for example at the top of the tower is a man in a penguin costume being filmed relaying messages to the trusting penguins, while showing a backdrop of him far away from the cold of their land on a tropical beach. And in the communities of Cica's penguins I made a few humans hidden and spying. There are drones observing and the tower is well protected from unwanted people with various traps. But what I also wanted to do was to gamify the concept. Why gamify (to turn into a game) for this topic? wouldn't that detract from the work? No because to me there is a danger affecting our society that is not really talked about a great deal yet I personally feel that it is disproportionally responsible for many of the current problems in our world. And taking this topic and gamifying, hiding, making more palatable with cute sounds and fun.. represents what that problem is to us.
Now what are you on about Bryn? you might be saying. First let me post the poem it is based upon.
An algorithm of eyes
Above is watching
Your likes it spies
Wrapped in bows
Adverts are knocking
Because it knows.
Late and weary
Connect the dots
then caught in knots
information one sided
They’re not casting lots
You are being guided
A battle lopsided
And marketed polarity
If you didn’t pay for the product
You are the product.
stands out for me is the sheer divide between people over various issues ranging from mask wearing to Donald Trump. I never seem to meet someone whose views are grey or mixed. Many of the topics are black and white with very firm angry sides to them. This to me seems very strange as, over my lifetime, I come across so few things that really have no middle ground. It feels as though the middle view, which naturally should exist, is somehow absent. And I believe that absence is caused by algorithms. Now I am not saying algorithms are evil, they are merely doing what they were programmed to do. To create engagement and to essentially give you things you are interest in with the hope that marketing can sway you to do something. So for example, if you watch a cat video on Facebook it is cataloging information based on how long you watch the video, whether you "like" it and a multitude of other bits of data that help them build your identity so they can understand you and how to engage with you specifically. If you like cat videos they will suggest more cat videos. If you like classical music they will send you more of that, but also perhaps cat videos which have a classical music soundtrack. And so on.
So here is a story. I have a google nest in my living room. I talk to it and it will play music for me or tell me the weather report and news. It is always listening, just in case I need it. You say, Hey Google! and its wee lights come on and it says hi Bryn!. What is fun to do is whisper hey google... and sometimes it wont hear, but other times if you are close enough just the lights go on.. and it doesn't say hi Bryn. It just listens. When I first got my nest it said my name as Bryn, sounding like Brynnnn in a definitive way with the N lilting downwards. The nest is by the front door so over time as people came to visit, often they would call out to the studio hey Bryn?? and over time Google began pronouncing my name as a question because all those times it was listening and wanted to pronounce my name correctly. So when I say hey google it now says hi Bryn? Also once I mentioned, out loud, that I needed an ironing board that hangs on the back of a door and folds down. Well later that day I got an email from a store selling ironing boards that hang on the back of doors. So yes google was listening again and told an advertiser what I was looking for. It wasn't a coincidence.
So where am I going with all this? If you like Donald Trump or Biden and read a positive article on them then it (algorithms) notice. If you read a negative article and then stop reading, it notices that too. Negative = bad so lets send another positive article. And another. We are being fed that which we already agree with and like. We are being reinforced with views, whether right or wrong, which, I think, creates a situation where people have seen such indisputable masses of evidence focused and solidifying their currently held view that when they talk to another person with a different view it seems like they must be a complete fool to believe that contrasting view based on the overwhelming evidence you have seen. And that other person also has been reading an avalanche of information that supports just one side of the conversation too. So you have two people who have not seen the same things as each other but they don't know that. They think that they have both seen the same information the same evidence of corruption or whatever and the other has chosen to be on the side of the corrupt one. An almost unbelievable decision based on what you have been fed by the algorithms and it makes them easier to hate. Now this isn't a huge problem if its related to Nerf guns and Minecraft but when it divides a nation and creates deep anger on both sides then to me, and hopefully I am wrong, it feels like a very dangerous situation which could get out of control. Dehumanize the other side and create, perhaps unintentionally, an existential threat to defend. To me this seems like extremely powerful implemented technology with unexpected results that could be catastrophic. We are currently testing a covid vaccine to see if it is safe, but then why don't we test technologies before we implement them?
Now if you combine an algorithm with a product we get for free, a product which is designed and packaged to be addictive and fun then it really doesn't seem dangerous or alarming. So my portion of this artwork was gamified because I wanted to show a dark idea but then paint it pleasant. Hide the message behind cute things and funny noises. Does this artistic method work? I am not sure but that is the experiment I had with this artwork and I hope you enjoy it.