Science Gallery exhibit shows role of personal data in future tech

Lifelogging to raise awareness of how personal information can be used in development

"Lifelogging: Do You Count?" is a new exhibition at Science Gallery, made up of sixteen exhibits and ten week-long lab residencies which explores new ways to track everything from heartbeats to heartbreak. Video: Bryan O'Brien


It’s often denigrated as a worthless waste of time, but whiling away the hours on social media may be worth a lot of money in the future if a new exhibition in Dublin’s Science Gallery is to be believed.

The Lifelogging showcase aims to raise awareness of exactly how much personal information social media users divulge on a daily basis, and explores how seemingly trivial details may be coveted by corporations keen to capitalise on the tastes and experiences of potential customers.

“At the moment, we’re at the cusp of emerging wearable technologies, and data being analysed and collected about a lot of people. A lot of people don’t really realise where we are in terms of how much information is being collected about you, and the possibilities that it offers,” says researcher Gina Kelly, speaking ahead of the launch.

“Now is the optimal time to do the exhibition before the idea becomes mass adopted. With this exhibition, we really want to look into the positives of these technologies, how they can be integrated more into society in the future, and the impact that they can have on society.”

One particularly eye-catching project displays the contributions of technologies such as GPS trackers and Google Glass to a more data conscious world, and speculates on hypothetical future developments such as Tinder phones (in reference to the popular dating app), celebrity tracking devices and a “confessional crucifix” offering a direct line to the local parish priest.

Delving into the practical implications of existing habits, designer Yosuke Ushigome envisages a situation where people can make a living out of turning themselves and their phones into walking data monitors.

“It’s not so much about technological advancement, it’s more about finding alternative ways of using our visual daily assets,” says Yosuke, whose exhibit explores the idea of harvesting environmental information through phone screens as well as internal health-related data, which could then be sold on for profit.

“I’m depicting it in a way which reminds you of how some homeless people may live - scavenging resources within the city which can be valuable, and can be sold on for a tiny amount of money in the hope that an accumulation would make yourself a living.”

Historical significance

While some displays grapple with the prospect of the monetisation of personal data, Alberto Frigo sees his own project as having some historical significance in documenting what the world was like over the course of his lifetime.

Since 2004, the Italian has photographed every thing he has ever held with his right hand, with the ultimate aim of creating a 12 x 12 metre mosaic of his life’s activities which he hopes to have completed in 2040.

“I was fascinated by the possibility of recording my life and my thoughts.

“The idea is perhaps that audiences in the future will be able to look at these various records as a Rosetta Stone, where we have a media language of this time, and then they may be able to compare and analyse and come up with their own interpretations,” says Frigo.

Frigo is aided in his efforts by a battered mini-cam which he can deploy at a moment’s notice from a holster on his right hip.

While his dedication to the cause was admirable, some people didn’t appreciate Frigo’s unusual methods quite so much as others, forcing him to rethink his approach in certain situations.

“I was very naïve at the beginning. I was going to shops, taking out my credit card, sliding it in the machine, photographing it and it occurred several times that the guy at the cash desk grabbed my hand thinking ‘This guy is trying to rob us’.

“Now I’m more sensitive in these kind of occasions, so I learned to photograph my credit card before I slide it inside the machine.”

Bigfoot project

The exhibition also has an active research element, where visitors to the Bigfoot stand are asked to fill out a questionnaire indicating whether or not they would be willing to sell on their pictures and other social media musings for a profit.

Bigfoot researchers Kevin Koidl and Parsa Ghaffari have developed a system for exporting data and metrics from social media feeds such as Twitter and Facebook, which could then be used to generate a visual “digital footprint” demonstrating how shy or extrovert the user is, and how much information they release.

The Lifelogging exhibition runs in the Science Gallery, Trinity College, from February 13th to April 17th.