Digital Evolution vs Self-Identity

With the heightened use of the web and the evolution of digital technologies, our sense of self-identity has become an image of distortion. What new image are we becoming? With the new laws of AI culture rising, impacting our economics and the internet become a place where information is being hacked daily - the rise of issues digital evolution propose are becoming more and more evident.

2002 led us out of the analogue dark ages and with velocity pushed us into the digital world. By 2007 more than 94% of global information was digitally encoded. The acceleration of technological evolution and the speed at which we adapt to it mean it’s almost incomprehensible that many of the digital platforms so intrinsic to our daily lives are still less than 15 years old. Data is being accumulated at an exponential rate, leading to the creation of a big bang of data. Yet is this impacting us more than expected? Is the weight of the cloud becoming too much and slowly distorting our self-identity and society? These are the questions promulgated by a new breed of artists within contemporary practices.

Artist Zach Blas engages and challenges biometric data through his work “FACE CAGES”. The work gathers data from facial recognition software such as used on phones for identification and verification process. The data constructs focus points upon the face, creating a facial grinding map. Through the use of 3D scans, these maps are transformed into wearable facial structures. His work echoes the sense of isolation and anonymity created by the persona we generate online. The metaphorical statement this exploration proposes is how we are all encaged within technology as well as how our outward perspective of self from can be distorted. When moving across social media, our attitudes change in relation to different apps we present ourself on. In a world where image is key, how is this affecting our personal views on self and the way in which we connect with others?

The issue of body dimorphic disorder can also be explored in Blas’ work. With camera modes allowing different outcomes and snap filters on the rise our faces are being distorted through these aspects. Our world is viewed through a constant square, whether it be Facebook profile pictures, Instagram or even Tinder. We are on a constant mission to post that ultimate photo or capture the best selfie we can. Yet these technologies can change the very structure of our facial proportions. So is any image we capture of ourselves truly an ascent of self? Or just a trick of camera angles and filters? And with all these images we generate, do we really know who is watching or better yet who is taking our information from us?

“FACE TO FACEBOOK” by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico originates from a social experiment and highlights the reality of our social vulnerability online. The artists downloaded one million Facebook profiles and profile information from Facebook’s database before posting a selection of them on a custom-made dating website entitled Designed to calculate personality traits by analysing facial expressions, the piece constructed an important statement about how we represent ourselves online and the information we put out about ourselves. The project addressed mass surveillance, privacy and the economy of social media.

This idea of self-identity is explored further through Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s “STRANGER VISIONS” in which the artist sculpted a series of 3D faces based on DNA samples gathered from chewing gum and cigarette butts found in public places. Dewey-Hagborg’s piece delves into the concept of anthropomorphism through the data reconstructive process with the human-like images falling between the uncanny valley complex. The pieces show the advancements of technology in relation to DNA, but could this DNA engineering impact Artificial Intelligence? The display of human data and identification in these works imitates the AI style of Alex Garland’s indie film Ex Machina through the recognition of patterns within human biometric formations and its realisation of possible outcomes. The faces have a great sense of anonymous emotions.

With the seemingly unstoppable rise of Artificial Intelligence and the velocity at which our technologies are being developed, is it possible that we as humans could we lose our sense of identity?

Our need for constant online presence means we are losing out on the things in front of us. Countless studies highlight the correlation between extensive social media usage and a lower sense of overall happiness and self-worth. Yet can we really avoid social media and technology? Without it we face an increasingly severe disadvantage in society: technology is the money-maker, the social life, the digital interaction we appreciate and we need, the apps we use, the news we hear — all in the palm of our hand at the pressure of your fingertips. But this pressure is becoming a reality and these works express our technological anxieties. They also raise the important question of what could be next for us. Could our DNA be hacked and cloned? Our online data stolen? Or could we have everything taken away from us with a click of a button?