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.

Social

 

An algorithm of eyes

Above is watching

Your likes it spies

Digitally notching

Personality boxing

Wrapped in bows

Adverts are knocking

Because it knows.

 

Late and weary

Reinforcing thoughts

Conspiracy theory

Connect the dots

then caught in knots

nation divided

from robots

information one sided

 

They’re not casting lots

You are being guided

Curated thoughts

A battle lopsided

 

Brittle popularity

And marketed polarity

If you didn’t pay for the product

You are the product.


     When I look at the United States right now, from the vantage point of being Canadian, one thing that
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.

Comments

Sue said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sue said…
We are talking in echo chambers of course. However, may I add that it is very unbalanced. The right wing sympatizers get silenced and shadowbanne so I believe the left side does not see the other point of you as much as they should. Conservatives are being dragged in the mud or silenced day in day out and left side is not, by the medias that is. I started being a the left side, just because I always have been and thought it was the right side to take but saw some truths along the way that have been hidden from me. I started to go down the rabbit hole and my views of the world we live in changed compeletly. I have been on both sides, i get it.
Izi Shinohara said…
From across the big pond, I have been quietly watching the developing political and social polarities in the USA with increasing incomprehension and horror. Where is this all going, not only within the USA, but in its greater sphere of global influence, both positive and negative? What effect does all this nonsense have on the way Western 'democracy' in general is perceived by the common man/woman in Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan, China? Does it even matter? Lord above, yes it does! But do those who proudly self-identify as Red or Blue (or any other 'supreme' shade) care about that? Apparently not in the least.

I have always detested even the most passive and innocuous marketing. Even advertising leaflets posted through my front door by the Royal Mail (who are paid to do it!) are immediately deposited with a bucketful of irritation straight into my recycling bin. Hopefully the irritation is not recycled!

So.. thanks for your explanation of White Veil, Bryn. Thank you indeed for all its challenges - physical and intellectual!

Izi
Allie Tomsen said…
I am one of those people standing on middle ground in this battle of "he said, she said." It is peppered with rabbit holes, and I long for a truth to emerge. Is there no one able-- or willing-- to provide this?
ionsilver said…
..., I have seen your explanation of your work on the blog, you are absolutely right, the media manipulate and polarize society. They decide
when a fact should be considered a problem of society, or when it is silenced and ignored. Not being swept away with these currents of opinion,
it is usually swimming against the current, the response of the people, before it was because they had read it in a newspaper or seen it on TV,
now it is that they saw it on the Internet.
It is sad to observe how society becomes dehumanized and is carried away by infamies, hateful messages and contempt for the most basic values
of humanity. Even so, there are lucid people who try to stand firm amid all the media waves.
Keep it up and again congratulate you on your work .. game (in case life is not a game that we will not get out of alive ...)
And congratulate Cica also for representing the "Big Brother" who diluted in society, observes and influences our lives ...
ionsilver said…
I have seen your explanation of your work on the blog, you are absolutely right, the media manipulate and polarize society.
They decide when a fact should be considered a problem of society, or when it is silenced and ignored. Not being swept away with these currents of opinion,
it is usually swimming against the current, the response of the people, before it was because they had read it in a newspaper or seen it on TV,
now it is that they saw it on the Internet. It is sad to observe how society becomes dehumanized and is carried away by infamies,
hateful messages and contempt for the most basic values of humanity. Even so, there are lucid people who try to stand firm amid all the media waves.
Keep it up and again congratulate you on your work .. game (in case life is not a game that we will not get out of alive ...)
And congratulate Cica also for representing the "Big Brother" who diluted in society, observes and influences our lives ...
Grace said…
I haven't visited your artwork yet but wanted to say that I found your observation about the divide and lack of middle ground intriguing. You are saying that those seemingly innocuous (albeit sometimes annoying or creepy) technologies that predict what we like (based on previous behaviours) and give us more of the same, is polarizing people in the U.S.

Very interesting and insightful :) Not to mention scary... I guess they don't test the technologies in the way you are implying they should, before implementing them because the humans did not expect/realise that the machines would have that kind of effect on humans. ("Humans did not realise the machines were psychologically manipulating them, until it was too late.." )
Bryn Oh said…
The first post by Sue was posted twice so i deleted the first one.. wasn't due to something she said just since it was a duplicate.

Grace as we are talking about this Timnit Gebru, a ethics researcher for Google, was fired. A person whose job it is to help evaluate how Google should use its technology on us. They didn't like her suggestions i suppose. But yes that is how I feel, that as humans we introduce amazing technology but there is no real oversight or discussion before it is released. So here is an example, when drones came out and began to be sold everywhere I thought to myself that it could be abused. I was thinking drones carrying bombs or poison gas etc. fortunately I have not seen that but... I have a friend in the countryside (no houses for miles) and they called the Police because regularly a drone comes to their house and looks in their windows.. and it has a camera. The police officer said that they need to get a picture of the person controlling it, but it's not uncommon for a drone to be able to fly 7 kilometers (4.3 miles)away from the controller. So my friend keeps the blinds down most of the time.. how unfair is that?
I am not saying remove drones, but rather perhaps there should be a technology oversight body made up of people who see potential problems with technologies before they are released. So what if when you bought a drone it had a fingerprint scanner or embedded information on its user? This is just off the top of my head but it seems reasonable to me that there should be some kind of oversight, because some of them, like algorithms combined with politics and biased information are a recipe which could cause much greater problems than anticpated by those creating them.
Toy said…
Hey Bryn and others..... you are right on track and if you want to see the Real life extend of how much all of us are nothing more than a commodity being harvested for those that desire our identity and understanding every thought, trait, and behavior we are... Watch the Netflix documentary THE GREAT HACK. it will leave a chill in you when you finish watching. This actually happened and keeps happening as many of us play those silly so called innocent Facebook mind quizzes as it helps them better phycho-analyze who you are.

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