Surveillance, Alibis and Streaming Autobiographies

Artist Hasan Elahi developed a surveillance and security project he calls “Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project.” Inspired after the Department of Homeland Security erroneously detained him, the project compiles GPS data, photographs, purchase records and maps to present an up-to-the minute account of his whereabouts.

I find this project fascinating and poignant for several reasons. First, is presents another way of using surveillance technologies as a form of new media art. In a similar manner to Manu Luksch, Elahi sees the opportunity present in increasing surveillance for art, expression and cultural criticism. Second, it presents a very interesting twist on the traditional fear and paranoia of Orwellian surveillance. Instead of feeling trapped by mandatory and pervasive surveillance, Elahi proposes voluntarily cataloguing his own movement in meticulous fashion to serve as an alibi.

Elahi’s project also presents interesting possibilities spatial mapping to discover habits of movement through the urban environment. If patterns of use or desired use could be determined it may present opportunities to plan buildings and urban space to better suite people, rather than people conforming to the patterns of the built environment.

Further, Elahi’s project opens up the possibility of creating a minutely detailed account of one’s life, a streaming autobiography available in real time as it happens. This autobiography could capture not only events but also sights, locations, purchases, movements, etc. all finely captured for those who may care to see. I’m not sure if there is a practical (and non-panoptic) purpose for it, but it may become an interesting experiment or serve to fill the increasingly media obsessed and narcissistic desires of our society.

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