A few months ago, Tom Cruise made waves in both Chinese and Western media by announcing that he had joined Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging tool used by Chinese and, now, Western celebrities. “We’re having fun talking to you and our new friend at http://t.sina.com.cn/” his Chief Information Officer announced. Cruise is a special case, of course. But his popularity reflects something of an “Ashton moment” in terms of the attention Chinese social media have been received lately from the West. Sina’s strategy, which was to bring prominent public figures in both entertainment and politics to the service, has paid off.
On November 1, one of People Magazine‘s Top 50 Hottest Bachelors, conceptual artist and Internet start Marc Horowitz, took a line from Subservient Chicken and let the Internet tell him what to do. He agreed to bound by these decisions, no matter how absurd, and to broadcast the results online for the wider world to see.
For the entire month, with the backing of the New York-based public art organization Creative Time, Marc has been crowdsourcing his life. Everything from what he should wear to how he should celebrate Thanksgiving becomes open to the masses. The piece continues in the tradition of Marc’s extensive body of enormously popular Internet-based works, from “Talkshow 247,” where he broadcast his life continuously for three months, and the “Google Maps Roadtrip,” a journey across the country using only Google Streetview.
For #TheSocialGraph, I proposed a look at the next step in social media — telepresence, which, in its simplest form is a large-scale video chat meant to mimic the presence of someone in the room, and at its most complex can take the form of a roving, camera-enabled robot.
Since almost as early as the invention of the telephone, human beings have imagined the possibilities of video communication. How amazing would it be to see each other over the phone? That technology now exists, as cameras become embedded in our computers and our smart phones. But even Apple has had trouble pushing it past niche uses. Video chat, for most people, is just too weird.
My journey took me from midtown Manhattan to the steel mills surrounding Pittsburgh, then the museums in our nation’s capital, down the Appalachian mountains to the bayous of the Gulf Coast and brass bands of New Orleans, up to the soaring towers of Chicago, the urban ruins of Detroit, the vineyards of southern Ontario, across the Great Plains into the high mesas of northern New Mexico, the art murals of Albuquerque, and finally into the palm deserts of Los Angeles.
As Frog design Creative Director Adam Richardson noted in an influential talk he gave at the most recent Next Web Conference, the Internet until recently has been like the railroad, which has forced us to adapt to its rules. In the coming years, it will be more like cars, which adapt to us. In other words, the digital is getting physical … so, how does art fit in?
The most striking aspect of social media art is that it contains facets of net.art, by being digital; visual art, by existing on a two-dimensional surface; public art, by existing in spaces used habitually by hundreds of millions of people; and performance art, by being inherently social. Whether the aggregate is greater than its sum remains to be seen …
Some time in 2004, I logged onto Facebook for the very first time. My alma mater was one of the few allowed coveted access to the Harvard-originated social network. I filled out a profile, uploaded a picture and began adding friends. A coast away, Tim O’Reilly coined the term “Web 2.0” … Computers and the Internet, after decades of association with nerds and misfits, were on the brink of mainstream cool.
Just as social media have quickly gone mainstream, we’re starting to see social media art received more attention from the mainstream art world. I’m currently writing a survey of social media art’s (brief!) history for Hyperallergic and as part of my research, I’ve invited a number of contemporary social media artists to a roundtable discussion on Hyperallergic’s Facebook page.
One of the most popular art feeds on Twitter right now doesn’t have a name or a face or a gender. It doesn’t represent an established arts institution or magazine, nor does it have any kind of credentials. And yet, less than a year since it started, it now boasts 10,000 followers.
An Xiao organized a 40th Anniversary tribute to Vito Acconci’s “Following Piece” (1969) for @Platea, the social media art collective she performs with. She likes to call what she did a form of “cover art” and she explains why.