consumption 3: never sent unsolicited

Our view of ourselves is built from a combination of factors including the technologies that enable us to examine ourselves. New technologies allow us to form different opinions about ourselves and force us to look at ourselves in certain ways.

The "portraits" we draw of ourselves are framed by what technology allows us to see. Mirrors allowed us to observe ourselves as an other, photography increased that gaze to include ourselves through time. Recording technologies give us ourselves as voice. The capture of self in motion, interacting with the world and others in it, started with film and continues with the omnipresent video camera, whose constant surveillance forces us to be aware of our presence and present. The latest technology, the Internet and its mass marketing, offer us another way to view ourselves and a new look at portraiture.

The two biggest changes apparent in this new technology is what is being caught in our portraits and why. These portraits are no longer artifacts of our physical appearance or social status. Rather they are artifacts of our actions - purchases on the web, requests for information, memberships and subscriptions. And they are being created, not for the normal range of historical reasons for portraiture, from momentoes to monuments, but for marketing and sales. Additionally, the "sitter" is often unaware of the process.

Mass marketing and advertising companies catalogue habits, traits, purchases and page views, building enormous databases on users. "Personality profiles" are extracted from these databases and marketers use this information to "target" key audiences. These descriptions, or "portraits" are not based on the "unique", instead they are based on statistical trends and patterns. They are meant to work as templates and are designed to force the "subject" into certain "demographics" or key marketing segments. Our personalities become "auto completed" - by looking at a person's age, sex, income etc, the rest of the information can be filled in with assumptions about our interests and activities.

As a reflection of ourselves these reports would probably strike most of us as superficial, or even laughable, but that does not take away from the fact that they are a reflection of how our current society views us and what it values about us. The data catalogued is a fascinating, if occasionally terrifying, look at what our consumptive society values about us as individuals - age, income, marital status, education level... By making assumptions about who we are and what we do, this process influences what information we are presented with and forces our attention to various topics.

never sent unsolicited reverses the marketing process, using the content received, junk emails, to create a database of content about the subject. Like information used in personality profiling, this information is separated from its context. It is word indexed, and categorized by word frequency and location. The portrait begins with the 14 most frequently used words, and is continued with the user's choices. Each word selected brings up a sentence fragment that starts with this word. The overlay of spoken words creates a narrative about the subject. Like profiling, the content the user is presented with is determined by a combination of the contents of the database and their actions.

The interface is based on two different visual representations of attempts to understand brain activity. The opening screen is a Victorian phrenology map. Phrenology was an attempt to predict personality through the actual physical structure of the head. While certainly misguided, it strikes me as an appropriate analogy for the assumptive predictions of mass marketing and profiling. The brain scans are a more modern look at what goes on inside our heads, and attempt to understand the connections and tangents drawn by thought.

never sent unsolicited catalogues the junk email I have received in the past 6 months. Despite its name it uses only what I classified as "true" junk mail. This does not include content from mailing lists I requested, but email that appears randomly and unexpectedly, sometimes inexplicably, in my mailbox. It also includes marketing efforts from online merchandisers and their assumptions about my interests.

This piece does not catalogue every junk mail I have received in that time frame - which would be truly monumental. Instead, taking a lesson from the masters, it provides a representative sample.

Pornography, snake oil schemes, get out of debt content and sales formed the bulk of email received. "Investigate Anyone on the Internet" proved to be surprisingly popular.

Content was collected from a variety of sources, my 3 or 4 addresses and a HotMail account. The HotMail account proved to be a treasure trove of junk - mostly for pornography, especially ones with relative innocuous subject lines. These emails were especially interesting to me because their subject lines referenced things I might be interested, such as technology or messages from friends, and then directed my attention to something completely unexpected. The accounts attracted more sales, and more "personalized" email - obviously informed by recent purchases or list subscriptions.

This piece was built with PHP and flash and relies on a mySQL database.

The email content has been word-indexed using an algorithm based on the Porter Stemming Algorithm for PHP, Release 1.0.0.

The email processing scripts use elements from RYMO V 0.1
GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Copyright (C) 1989, 1991 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

The text-to speech capability is the SpeaksForItself web plugin, developed by DirectXtras Inc.

For more information on the loss of context from information as it is turned into "data" see Michael Heims.

For more information on databases and their effect on culture and art see Lev Manovitch.

 browser check
This piece runs on IE on the PC

 plugin check
This piece requires 2 plugins:

If the above plugins are not installed, please click on the links above to install them.
 launch >>