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A Cartography of Human Connection
Mapping our online existence
Our “Cartography of Human Connection” was part of Barcelona’s first digital art exhibition: Digital Impact, which looked to stimulate contemplation and conversation on how our digital existence is having real world physical impacts.
We created an installation that mapped online interactions in real time for 121 days, and inspired over 40,000 visitors to consider the physical roots of the digital world. We wanted visitors to ask themselves what it means to record information, how much of an exclusive privilege that has been for most of human history, and how we can decide the stories worth keeping for the future, in an age of such data abundance.
The data online is essentially the sum of all the information we value.
In that sense, it makes up the building blocks of future history, and is not just abstract numbers on a screen. It is precisely the digital footprint we leave behind that will define what future generations learn from us, and understand about our time.
That said, the internet is not representative, nor is it sustainable. Only half of the world is online, and everything we store has a real world impact, with the internet currently producing as much greenhouse gas annually as the airline industry.
Throughout history every great civilisation has needed a class of scribes to record what they had to offer to future generations, and to regulate the everyday running of society. It was their responsibility to decide the information that was worth holding on to.
We wondered, what would a modern scribe look like? And how would they navigate the chaotic landscape of online data generation?
Our trusted scribes take the form of mechanical data critters whose duty it is to physicalise information as it is generated in the online space. They are programmed to transform these invisible inputs into ink marks, visualising the quantity of information in real time. Their ever changing paths remind us that behind every data input online we find human behaviour that fluctuates and shifts according to many varying factors.
There is a facade of perfection and infinite possibility in the digital world but it will always be rooted in our imperfect, unpredictable human reality.
When the time came to open this work to the public, we saw certain unexpected interactions that upset the rhythm of some of our critters. As with any of our installations, they are never really complete until the public has had their say, and in this case, their curiosity reminded us that the digital will always be a space of trial and error, despite appearances.
Our data critters don’t dwell on the info they receive. They mark the physical space tirelessly, without distinguishing or prioritising between the data. Observing this hive of activity we are encouraged to ask: What content should remain? Should we even be curating our digital content? And, if so, who has the power to select what matters and what doesn’t?
The Rhythm of Violence