The Last Day is a video work and installation that sets out to provoke thought about contemporary culture and lifestyle. Made up of “found” video and images from the artist’s various social networks and using the language of contemporary media advertisement, The Last Day is an intense examination and reflection of the artist’s choice of living publicly while exploring themes of technology dependence, narcissism, and privacy. The resulting video is 2 minutes and 15 seconds in duration and follows the fictional last day between the artist and his partner.
In just the first 10 seconds of The Last Day, the viewer is given a lot of information about me, the artist; from what time I awoke, how much I moved during sleep, my daily calorie intake, and what time I went for a run. The video would go on to document what meals I have had, including their weight and quantity. It would traverse through my day showing the exact locations I have been, what I did there, and what I did up until that point. All of this information being conveyed using mobile and personal applications that logs user data and even photographic and video evidence.
I depend on these applications daily and I use them without any extra thought. There is no thought as to who’s copyright am I infringing when I chose to upload a video of band I saw in the city centre. There is no thought about what liberties I am forfeiting when I chose to log and share where I am eating lunch, nor do I even think about the memories I am losing when I take a photograph to share and remember an event.
A recent poll taken in the United States revealed that millennials are more forgetful than seniors. The young adults, aged 18 to 34, were more likely to forget what day it was, where they put their keys, even to take a bath or shower. The seniors, on the other hand, were only more likely to forget names. The reason, as highlighted by the family and occupational therapist Patricia Gutentag, is stress: “Stress often leads to forgetfulness, depression and poor judgment. This is a population that has grown up multitasking using technology, often compounded by lack of sleep, all of which results in high levels of forgetfulness.” But perhaps our memory suffer because we are not experiencing everyday life, we are instead, living our own lives second hand. In a Newsnight segment, Stephen Smith examined the difference in audience when the Queen visiting BBC’s current studio earlier this year versus when she visited in 1953. The difference between the two events were similar to the crowds at the Vatican after Pope John Paul II died and when Pope Francis was announced; In the more recent of the two events, the audience was filled with smart phones and tablet. People were not experiencing these events, they were documenting it for future remembrance. But how can one remember something they did not experience? Perhaps a better question is: Why do we chose to photograph and share rather than watch and experience?
According to Ian Brown, curator and adjudicator of the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival photography competition, our obsession with digital is “a form of neurotic masturbation, fueled by an unstoppable sense of technological entitlement.” Brown, along with three other judges, announced that for the first time in 18 years they will not be awarding a winner for the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival photography competition. There was not even a runner up. One judge described the entries as “trying to make up for a lack of vision with a bag of tricks.” What it comes down to is that photography, in our current age, an age of seemingly endless storage capability and convenience, we take pictures for the sake of taking pictures. There is no preconceived thought or foresight of what we intend to communicate. It is perhaps a pitfall of unlimited storage and retention capacity that Freud did not foresee when he excitingly wrote about the advancements in remembering which the mystic writing-pad could achieve. Craig Richards, curator of photography at Banff’s Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, believes “people no longer have to think… Instead of looking at something, we’d rather sit down and have it entertain us” It is a sentiment mirrored by Mary Ellen Mark, “Everyone’s entitled to take pictures. But it’s not easy to take a great picture. Too many snapshots.” But I believe Magnums Photo’s Larry Towell put it best with reference to current digital photographic services such as Instagram, flickr, and facebook, “If you are photographing to share an image, you are not photographic to keep it.”
The Last Day tells a story using publicly shared pictures and videos from my personal social media accounts. It is a story available to anyone willing to put the pieces together. And anyone that has seen a Google advertisement for their products such as Chrome or their Nexus line noticed, there is benefit for corporations such as Google or Apple to focus on the story or relationship rather than the products.
Focusing on the relationship keeps the attention on the user and their life, full of the experiences that would seemingly, make others jealous. And in turn the user would provide useful data which would allow the service owners to personalize the user experience; i.e. advertisement. This is an agreement the user consents to when they sign up for a service and reenforce every time they use said service. And it is something we are comfortable with. Going back to the Newsnight segment mentioned earlier, when asked why they take pictures of events on their smartphones, some responded, “[to] keep the memory”, ”[to] prove it”, “[to] make people jealous”. This led Dr. Jay Watts, an academic and clinical psychologist, to conclude “one doesn’t experience something unless one represents it.” But what happens when people find out that these experiences they are sharing are being watched by people other than their friends and family? In light of recent reports of surveillance efforts undertaken by governments, it would be interesting to see not only how users respond, but how the corporations respond. Who’s interest will they fight for; their users, their customers, or their leaders.
In an experience I can only liken to Nietzsche’s concept of Eternal recurrence, creating The Last Day required me to relive portions of my life exactly as they were, or at least how they were documented. It is too far gone for me to realize if or how my perception was changed from when these events happened. This installation is my way to exploring my desires to share information along with the collateral damage that comes with it; rights, privacy.
The Last Day will be on display to the public as part of Cambridge School of Art’s MFA/MA Show running from Wednesday the 28th of August to Thursday the 12th of September in the Ruskin Gallery.
Study Shows Millennials Are More Forgetful Than Seniors
Are Smartphones Killing Memories?
Humanity Takes Millions of Photos Every Day. Why Are Most So Forgetable?
A Note Upon The Mystic Writing Pad// 1925: The Archive (2006) pages 21-24