Listening Post, opinion by Gintaras Rishkus

 

The Listening Post installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin consists of a grid of blocks with text (seemingly Facebook statuses, like: “I’m in Pennsylvania”, or: “I’m 18”) scrolling on them. Simultaneously, a synthesised voice reads the messages out. The voice is the same throughout, never changing its pitch or intonation. This technique disconnects the text from emotion, from personality. “I’m a hot girl!!” and “I’m a professional killer” become mere bytes in an infinite stream of information.

The “Listening Post” in question could be the office of a state security agency, monitoring the network activity. The texts used in the installation are fished out of the internet in real time. Everything posted on the internet becomes an object for investigation. But the sheer amount of data is overwhelming, and the supposedly different personalities behind these statuses all sound and look the same, which makes the viewer ponder, whether they are all that different and complex, or does it boil down to just a single byte of difference? The way the information is presented, both visual and audial, stresses its dehumanized nature, strips the text on the screens of any individuality, and, ultimately, of any meaning.

The visual style of the medium brings to mind eighties cyberpunk novels, like Neuromancer by William Gibson, which also explored the representation of humans in cyberspace, and Schismatrix by Bruce Stirling, which introduced the concept of the remnants of human souls still lingering on in the network. This installation feels like a digital graveyard, complete with animated tombstones and dynamically sourced epitaphs, haunted by the disfigured bits of human consciousness uploaded to the global network.

This brings us to Marshall McLuhan and his concept of Media as the extensions of man. In the world seen and heard from the Listening Post our extensions become more and more independent from the centre, until the centre gets obliviated completely. Nobody ever dies on Facebook.

The video of Listening Post can be  found here:

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