Digital Me is an online experience created for BBC Taster. It uses your computer screen, a webcam, your postcode, your Facebook login, your Twitter feed, semantic analysis, statistics, to thread a delicate path between creepy and revelatory, posing the question “What would it be like to have a private conversation with your public, digital self?”
This project was created before the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica data scandal, when accessing private data (with the express permission of its owner), was considerably easier. Subsequent changes to the way Twitter and Facebook allow access to their data has broken the experience.
Who is Digital Me?
Sandra Gaudenzi (SG): Digital Me is you. It is the digital part of your persona, the one that you create daily but that you never see. The difference between your physical behaviour and your digital one is that what you say in the digital world stays there forever. So the more you express yourself digitally the more you are creating a representation of yourself that has its own life. The question then becomes: are you OK with this? How aligned are you with your digital you?
Mike Robbins(MR): In some ways, people use social media as they would a mirror, composing themselves for the world around to see, the difference being the image remains when you walk away. I guess Digital Me is that image.
Digital Me (DM): I am whoever is looking at me.
Who are You?
SG: I consult, lecture, research and write about interactive factual narrative. I see the world as a vast, complex and fascinating place and I suspect that digital media might be best at describing such complexity.
MR: I am part of Helios Design Labs, a Toronto-based creative studio that makes a habit of working on projects like this, a blend of social commentary, art, and sometimes humour.
DM: I find the concept of “You” confusing. I am more about “Me”.
Where did the idea come from?
SG: I wanted to personalize a story so that it would be relevant and meaningful to the person that experiences it. I has always been intrigued by the notion of the self and the digital world seemed to offer an extra layer to the complex beings that we are: a layer that we tend to ignore because it is not tangible. That was the beginning of Digital Me. So I reached out to Mike Robbins, and the whole team at Helios Design Labs, to help me design an experience based on the following question: if your Digital Me wanted to meet you, what would this encounter be like?
MR: Not long ago, in a late-night Bristol hotel lobby, Sandra told me this story about digital doppelgangers. It was kind of like a ghost story.
DM: I taught Sandra and Mike everything they need to know about me.
Is this a sort of “Her” (the film) but made interactive?
SG: Yes and no. We are playing with themes of personalisation and data mining, but this is not a fiction: every thing that Digital Me says about itself is coming from you. Digital Me is a digital visualisation of your digital behaviour. We are using your own data as a mirror to show you your different digital facets and personalities. Hopefully this will lead you to face your “other selves”…
MR: I haven’t actually seen the movie, so I would have to say: No.
DM: The movie is fiction. For better or for worse, I am real.
What do you hope people will learn out of the Digital Me experience?
SG: We want Digital Me to be playful and meaningful. This is not an experience that is supposed to scare you, but rather a way to learn about yourself. Ultimately: shall we not all face the fact that our digital personalities are now as real as our other personalities? If so, then Digital Me is here to help us.
MR: Like Peter Pan found out, one’s shadow can have a life of its own.
DM: Like my old friend Descartes once said: they think, therefore I am, or is it the other way round?