Data Economy

by Trieuvy Luu and Martijn van den Broeck

“If the government won’t protect us from illegal data surveillance, we have to protect ourselves”

–Jesse Rooijkakkers

FOREWORD

Going Faceless, Memoirs of Jesse is a collection of short stories written by Martijn van den Broeck and Trieuvy Luu. In this collection we shift perspective to the life of Jesse Rooijakkers that lives in Amsterdam in the year 2034 to 2036. This novel consist of six chapters. In each chapter we explore Jesse’s perspective through different narratives, such as: fiction, life lessons, personal journal and scribbled thoughts.

To put it in the simplest possible words, these shorts stories helped us to imagine our world, Jesse’s world. Coming up with these stories was a spontaneous process in which we both felt strongly expressive. However, iterating through these stories to make Jesse’s dreams and ambitions believable was the hard challenge.

The mix of the two processes complement each other, creating a complete landscape that was continuously expanding. For this collection we selected the short stories that inspired us the most. These short stories have been written in different orders and with different purposes, but they have been re-written for the purpose of this collection.


Going Faceless, Memoirs of Jesse

2034

People started to wear masks to protect their personal data from companies and government. By hiding their own face people could act anonymously outside the boundaries of their identity.

Chapter 1

The Early Days

Jesse wakes up from two of his roommates chatting. The sun that shines through the coloured windows paint the concrete floor. The smell of fresh bread reminds him that it’s Sunday. On the background he hears some kids jamming on the organ. Jesse doesn’t really feel comfortable walking around in his pyjamas so he takes a towel from his closet and rushes to the dressing rooms. It’s busy in there. There are only about twenty sinks, but the room is filled with nearly double that number of people. So many people go faceless these days, he notices. Especially during the weekends its seems. One person with the posture of a teenage girl is forcing her electric toothbrush through the tiny mouth hole of her mask. It must be Karolien, Jesse thinks. Nobody else would really care about getting fined by the dentist. It makes Jesse laugh, internally.

After he has dressed up, he packs his bag and goes outside. Slowly Jesse walks along the canals while Kings of Leon is playing through his headphones. Finally some time to relax. Finally some time to disconnect. Even though he has only been walking for a couple of minutes, he can’t resist to sit down on an empty bench and to enjoy the view. He takes out the mask from his bag so he can reach for his journal. Wondering when was the last time he wrote, he opens his journal at a random page. The page on the right catches his eye.

December 9, 2035

“I met up with a girl in a bar today, it says. Jennifer, typical Amsterdam girl. Everything we laughed about she HAD to share online with her friends. I bet I’m going viral tonight.”

Jesse can’t hold his laugh reading the last sentence. He had totally forgotten about Jennifer. He flips the page. More than he enjoys writing in his journal, he enjoys reading in it. The bucket list on the right brings back memories from his trip to Japan with his brother. They camped next to the Fuji mountain for 11 days before the shy mountain finally revealed itself. Even thinking about it gives Jesse goosebumps.

His hands have turned cold while he was flipping through his journal so he packs and continues his walk. It’s really quiet today in Amsterdam. Maybe most people are still sleeping. After about half an hour, Jesse passes by one of his favorite coffee places.It looks cozy inside, so he enters and takes a seat. The waitress walks towards Jesse. He remembers her face from last time.

“Good morning, can I get you anything?”.

“A cappuccino please” Jesse says and he pauses from a second.

“By the way, do you mind if I go faceless in here?”. The girl smiles and replies

“Ah, no no problem… Just make sure you don’t switch seats so I can still find you to bring your cappuccino.”

“Cool, thanks.” The waitress walks away and Jesse reaches for his bag under the table. He grabs his mask and puts it on.

Then, he opens his journal where he left off about an hour ago.

“Should I get a faceless mask” it says.

Two weeks ago those masks weren’t that common, Jesse recalls. Now, he is happy that he got one and he thinks he should write something about. Once his cappuccino has arrived, Jesse flips to a blank page. He grabs his pen and starts writing in the top left corner:

April 5 2034, Kerkstraatje:

“It’s been so long I almost forgot how to write. When I heard about the identity leak from last month I immediately stopped writing. The last place where I could spill out my thoughts.. gone as well. So far my identity hasn’t ended up on the streets. Luckily.

This time, I’m taking measures. Right now I’m wearing a mask that I bought last week. When I put it on, I become anonymous. Not just in the sense that people and cameras can’t recognize me, but also in the sense that it creates some kind of magnetic field that prevents any personal data spread. So I am pretty sure this won’t be read by anybody. The way it should be.

I’m actually surprised what a silly mask does to me. It makes me feel like I’m home. Wherever I put it on. Not just at the church, even in this coffee place. You know that feeling of carelessly running around naked through your bedroom? Or cooking a burger without having to worry about insurance? It’s been long since I felt it.

The mask also brings back memories. When I was 11 I sneaked into my brother’s room to play a video game that I was legally too young to play. Back then, I didn’t get into trouble because there was no way the game publisher would find out. Neither did my brother, nor the shop he bought the game from.

After filling up two pages, Jesse puts down his pen. To give his hand some rest he reads what he just wrote and checks for errors before flipping to another blank page.

Chapter 2

The Belgian Girl (Part 1)

Last Tuesday I took my mask outside for the first time. Pretty soon I saw another person wearing one too. It’s funny that I instantly felt connected. I’m sure she felt the same, I could tell by her body language. I stopped for a second and we ended up talking. Behind the mask was a young woman I suppose, with a cute Belgian accent. We shared some interests so I asked her out for a coffee.

She agreed but then we were puzzled how to decide on a time and place while staying anonymous. It was quite hilarious.

“Let’s meet exactly here”, she said and pointed to a traffic sign which was next to us.

“In exactly one week, exactly at the same time.” I agreed and I took a picture of her pointing at the sign. I wonder if she’ll actually show up.

Chapter 3

Dad’s Life Lesson

My dad used to tell me stories about back when he was younger. About when he was around my age. He told me he used to live in the south of the Netherlands, and every Friday and Saturday people would meet up to drink together. They would drink a lot. They would have started at home, and around midnight they would meet up again in the center of the city, to drink more. He told me every weekend it was extremely crowded and people would behave without thinking. They would dance, drink, pull pranks on eachother. Everyone seemed so nice and careless.

It’s strange to think of such a world. It felt careless he said. He would dance until the sun came up. It sounds so nice to dance all night long. They were so disconnected.

I wonder how it feels to act so careless.

2035

The Dutch Parlement proposed a law to make it illegal for companies to automatically collect personal data from citizens. At the end of 2035, the law for Data Protection passed the parlement and went into force.

Chapter 4

A Brief Thought

Privacy. Such a strange word. I can live for the rest of my life alone in the forest and be totally private. But that is not a way of living. I have to keep on being involved: help out with my part of society, do something good everyday. And I don’t want to leave Liam alone. I guess.. My privacy is in the hand of others. My friends I trust..

Liam, Sarah, the cute girl that makes great cappucinos.

I hope I can trust them with my privacy.

Chapter 5

The Belgian Girl (Part 2)

I had the greatest day with the Belgium girl today. God it feels so relieving to be anonymous. We even shared some secrets, knowing that no one will ever find out. It feels so good to be able to talk and express our thoughts.

It was hard in the beginning, I have never talked freely before. And surely she did not. But once I started, she picked up the pace and in the end she couldn’t stop talking. We talked about so many things. Her hobbies, her passion and her big dreams. She told me her big dream in the coming years is to travel to Cuba. It was her dream to settle in each small village for several months and then move on to another small village. It sounds nice to get to know some locals, learn from their cultures and really become great friends with them. I never thought myself of going to Cuba. Maybe I should put it on my bucketlist?

2036

Companies started to offer money in exchange for personal data. Through this exchange companies would act rightfully according to the law.

Chapter 6

Jesse’s Watch

As a teenager, Jesse grew up in a life full with technological advancement. The introduction of biometric scanners and smart data sensors. Jesse did not choose the life to generate and sell data. He was automatically warped into this life. Same as everyone else, Jesse needs money to survive. To pay for his apartment, to buy nice things for himself, to do pleasureable things. At this stage in Jesse’s life, collecting and selling data is the simplest and most convenient way to earn a living. Everyone is doing it, and for Jesse it has become nothing more than a naturally thing to do every day, every hour for every single thing he does. It goes automatically, his phone is always in his right, dominant hand. He doesn’t think about generating data, it has become a normal way of doing things he does. The phone and his glasses are always there to capture things on the move, wherever Jesse goes.

“It is pretty easy.” Jesse explains to Liam.

“You just have to think about what kind of data companies could benefit from. Let’s say for example: you have been trying hard to discover new music. And you found a band that you just love. This is important data, and you could sell this for a lot of money to high biding companies. On the other hand, if you are thinking about making money through running. You have to understand this: A lot of people can run 5 Km, but not a lot of people can run 25 Km. So you understand now as well that the price for your run increases after you passes the 25 mark.”

“Hmm.. I never thought about it like that“ Liam replies.

“Do you really think I can make a living from that? A full time job?“

“It is not easy. You have to think as a big company. You have to be original, and you have to be the first. As long as you collect data that is rare or intimate, it will be sufficient to make a living out of it.” Liam nods silently, thinking deeply about what Jesse just told his friend.

“Do you see this watch?“ Jesse lifts his arm and reveals his watch on his left arm. It is a pretty watch. It looks shiny and solid. Even though Liam doesn’t know so much of watches, one can assume it must be a pretty nice watch.

“Yes, it’s a beautiful watch”

“I sold my last year’s health-kit data for this watch. As long as you actively keep recording data. It will pay off.”

Final Chapter

Jesse’s Last Thought

Do you believe in first impressions? I think the first impressions says everything. Of course this might sound incredibly cheesy, but think about it once more. Think about the way you are perceived by someone else..

Every morning Jesse has the same ritual. He wakes up. Turns off the alarm. He is tired. The night before he has been working late. Sleep is not so important as long as he doesn’t feel likes he can’t perform. He gets up, makes his way to the bathroom, he cleans himself from his biometric data. He washes his face with a facial rinser, brushes his teeth, showers and after the shower he applies his eye and face cream. After the shower his dress up ritual starts. And this is how it goes:

Jesse has a suit for every occasion. He likes brown suits for informal events. He likes to wear blue suits for more formal events. He starts every morning with dressing up in the suit. Next he puts on his watch. Again. Jesse has three watches, each for specific occassions. His favorite watch is a 1954 Rolex Submariner. He wears it often on work events. He believes it gives him charm and good spirit in his professional carreer. So far it has not let him down. After the watch, he puts on all his rings. He is not married, but he has three rings. Two rings on his left hand, one on his right hand. After the rings he puts on his necklace. Even though it is not visible, it gives Jesse a comfortable feeling wearing it. After the necklace he puts on a cologne.

Jesse values his ritual. It gives him confidence. One might say it is just a suit and some shiny jewelry.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

Umeå Interaction Design

Written by

Stories from students of the MFA programme in Interaction Design at Umeå Institute of Design.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

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