Welcome to 2016. Mark Zuckerberg has stolen our data, fleeing Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park with a mysterious, “charismatic hustler” known as Maurice Carbonneau. Now known as a conceptual art terrorist, he’s been spotted somewhere in East Texas, and the social network is in the hands of Buck “The Onion King” Calhoun, a “straight-shootin’, bear-skinnin’, pistol-twirlin’, high-cholestrol-havin'” former vendor of sturdy mattresses who loves steaks and big sombreros. In this near future, Facebook is drained of information, but we can give back by donating to its ongoing Data Drive, which needs to raise 100 petabytes — just 100,000,000 gigabytes — to keep us all plugged into each others’ lives.
This is the world presented in The Data Drive, a web project created by Tumblr artist Daniel Kolitz and launched to introduce Useless Press, a new publishing collective run by Sam Lavigne, Adrian Chen, and Alix Rule. It’s an absurdist rendition of Facebook where navigating the links and buttons — which almost all work — becomes a journey that’s as convoluted as the project’s mythical narrative. Only a couple of click-throughs, however, are needed to make clear the imminent devolution of our familiar social network: flooded with ads (sidebar, banner, and pop-up), this new Facebook is home to a timeline of grade-A spam consisting of statuses, articles, and sponsored posts that perfectly parody today’s media culture. Articles on faux outlets adopt the established voices of publications from Buzzfeed to Vox, where an explainer of Kolitz’s Zuckerberg resides. Google has launched yet another endeavor, this time a digital archive of mundane scraps; meanwhile, Chipotle is sending you a stream of direct messages, easing into its pitch to sell you a burrito bowl before promising that “advertorial messaging is just a job for me.” It’s a perfect illustration of how today’s brands promote their products, thinly veiled under chummy commentary. And Facebook is here to facilitate just that.
I asked Kolitz how thirsty today’s brands are, to which he responded: “Whereas before [brands] settled for a by-necessity incomplete thirst-slaking, these social networks have introduced them to whole new unimagined worlds of refreshment. Facebook’s circling the room with these enormous, sloshing jugs of cheap data, just pouring ’em down the brands’ throats for a dime.” As Kolitz’s narrative tells it, future Zuckerburg also uses the stolen data to carry out all kinds of acts of “art terrorism,” including leaking especially humiliating, personal information to Pirate Bay.
“I like to think of him as a kind of bizarro Edward Snowden, acting on an equally grand scale but with no philosophical justification for his acts,” Kolitz said.
The Data Drive highlights our risky surrender of personal data to Facebook and its corporate partners (while letting us take pleasure in doing so). But what’s especially impressive is the painstaking craft behind those visuals, which Kolitz spliced together without the aid of Photoshop. Armed with just a pair of scissors, a ¢99 gluestick, paper, and a printer-scanner, he sourced, cut, collaged, and scanned each image before handing the collages off to Lavigne, who built the code that weaves the pieces into one interactive platform. The result is a raw mishmash of flimsy scraps, gracelessly stitching together a network that covers over one billion users.
“It’s fun, for me, seeing this imposing, world-conquering website kind of … humanized,” Kolitz said. “It’s like seeing Facebook at the supermarket in sweatpants, maybe.”
The site’s call for data also makes light of our habit of providing information of all sorts to the giant network unprompted. The Data Drive is aimlessly soliciting data of all kinds, declaring, “No sliver of data is too small to help … just toss it all into the box below and hit ‘Send.'” So help a weak corporation recover from an information deficit, and donate some data today — you don’t even have to drink 16 ounces of water or check your iron levels beforehand.