On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Nobody knows if you’re Mark Zuckerberg, former Facebook chief executive officer and “conceptual art terrorist,” who fled the country with all user data, leaving the company in the very incapable hands of a Texas mattress salesmen, either. This is all, of course, according to a new, interactive, surrealist digital art project by Daniel Kolitz called “The Data Drive,” which launched on Monday.
It's a parody on social media, and the first project posted by Useless Press, a Brooklyn-based digital art collective. In this fictional Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg has fled, and a clause in Facebook's terms has allowed him to keep all personal data as if it were a gift to his supreme monarchy. A secret society of Zuckerbergs secure the site's propaganda, and Buck Calhoun, who has taken over the company and is running it out of a Dunkin' Donuts in Sacramento, Calif., needs people to submit their user data again or else the company won't survive.
This is just the base plot. The Data Drive is so much more: a chaotic complex vision of Bizarro Facebook where Chipotle is interested in your personal life.
It‘s a satiric experiment that follows an alternate Internet collaged into clickbait, stemmed from social media, and mimicking of reality. The observer is placed into Mr. Kolitz’s paper-scanned version of Facebook and met with all the familiar experiences of those on the network and an uncanny valley of its environment.
"I clearly have stored up a lot of thoughts and feelings about Facebook," Kolitz jokes.
With somewhere between 30 and 40 distinct pages, all coded and put together by Sam Levigne, The Data Drive’s goal was to mimic as much of the online experience as possible. From a fake New York Times paywall to teen social media to exposés and even a tech article parody called “Tech Bubble? Maybe, Maybe Not.”
This project is the spiritual successor to a Tumblr blog Kolitz made in 2013 called “The Printed Internet.” The site’s posts, such as a Kickstarter from the Great Depression and “Disney Princesses reimagined as alienated Brooklyn Longshoremen from the 1950s,” are ways Kolitz satirizes and interprets online culture. It, much like The Data Drive, uses scanned paper to create the image of Web pages.
“I wanted to play around with the Internet and some of the recognizable iconography,” he says, “but I didn’t know how to use Photoshop.”
He likes the look of the paper, he says. Where most websites have a very corporate and clean sheen, scraps of paper "almost humanizes these websites in a way."
In January, Kolitz was contacted by prominent freelance journalist Adrian Chen who, along with Alix Rule and Mr. Levigne, runs Useless Press. They wanted to commission Kolitz to create an interactive Printed Internet as the collective’s first project.
The difficulty was to figure out how to get all of the Internet into scraps of paper.
“I figured a [social network] news feed would be the easiest way to get as much of the Internet as possible all in one place,” says Kolitz.
Useless Press, which aims to create “eclectic Internet things,” is part of a recent trend in digital art working to create pieces using technology as its own medium.
Previously, "digital art" or art where technology is central to its process, was confined to physical exhibits of technology – video games or digital design and 3-D printing. But groups such as Rhizome, which funds and features contemporary art, and New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program are two of the many working to make the digital sphere a native medium for future works.
With wider access to technology, more digital artists are emerging.
In 2014, Tim Nolan and Jen Lu created cachemonet, a viral Web art project sampling looped gifs and putting them to music. Also in 2014, Levigne helped found "Stupid Hackathon," a forum for technologists to create "useless,” entertaining things such as endless.horse.
So why do we create digital art pieces like this? Is it just the idea that if there is a canvas it must be painted?
For Kolitz, his projects were ways to tell a more immersive story in an interesting way. Isn’t it weird, Useless Press says on their website, that everything on the Internet looks the same?
“You can do more on the internet than just write a standard opinion piece,” Kolitz says.
And there is this type of aimless non-purposedness that is part of this niche of digital art, and one of the reasons The Data Drive was able to make such a wave when it launched. For many operating in today’s digital world, the chaos of interaction and mindless scrolling was familiar.
The Data Drive – from mocking the media's interpretation of Generation Z, to lampooning the very idea of some digital magazines or capitalist millennial publications – looks to interpret the Internet and society that surrounds it by basing itself in the culture its audience knows.
That mentality is one of the reasons Clickhole has been called "the best thing on the Internet": it uses the Internet as a platform to make comedy about the Internet.
"I love Clickhole," Kolitz says, noting that he especially is fond of its Clickventures. "I’d like to see more fun, interactive, sort of experiential stuff on the Internet.”
“More stuff that is just there for pure joy.”
A strong technical or design background is useful but not necessary for this kind of art, says Kolitz. After all, he started this series of projects using scissors, paper, and glue sticks.
“For someone who made this whole ‘alternate Internet,’ I spend most of my time reading paper books,” he says. But with so much opportunity online to make digital art, it's a field he's been giving more thought. "I really am more of a writer, I think, but now I think I’m eager to explore this."
[Editor's Note: This post was amended to fix a transcription error.]