Small Data Squad’s Internet Reincarnation Autobiography Research Service

Small Data Squad is an internet forensics agency for the discerning surfer, an investigative unit founded by artists Melanie Hoff and Dan Taeyoung. I paid for the service at Internet Yami-ichi this past year so they could “extensively research [my] current and past internet lives” so as to “reincarnate past selves and provide a full report.”

The team speaks out my usernames from the past, at times naming identities that I‘ve completely forgotten (which takes me by surprise because I feel like I know my internet past pretty well), and I am mortified but also somewhat pleased to learn that out of the SDS customers, my data is “on the big side.” We talk about SDS’s experience going through my 2004–2006 LiveJournal posts in detail and how the process of getting to know my past self through reading my very personal writings felt heart-warming against the ephemera of today’s disappearing Snapchats and Instagram stories. Small Data Squad admitted that as I grew older and my posts were becoming more thought out, they weren’t as fun or “juicy” to read anymore. Example of juicy content:

Right-hand column denotes juiciness level
SDS’s organization methodology

The interview makes me think about something that I’ve always casually mentioned to others: that I enjoy taking a “curatorial” approach to the self; I think of living in the world and online as an performance that entrusts myself to those who bear witness. SDS takes a similar approach that is rooted in something like cyber-trust by both questioning what sort of behaviors are accepted, but also empowering us to imagine taking back power over our internet data. “If it’s creepy and it’s consensual, and everyone’s doing it, is it creepy anymore?” If our most private and embarrassing stories and darkest thoughts become normalized, they could be shed of their stigma while helping others find comfort in feeling not alone.

In 2011, my portfolio page had a screenshot of my conversation with close friend Kira Lum about whether or not I should go to grad school.
A scan of an ink wash I made when I first started college.

SDS explains their internet sleuthing techniques: “We all can [do this]. Though, our founding principle is that we don’t use any tools that a civilian couldn’t pick up. So what we’ve found out about you, any one of your friends or acquaintances or anyone that finds your email would be able to do the same. We Googled the combinations of your email address and your name, and once we found one username, it just kind of spanned out from there. There’s also Whois — if you type in whois.sc and then the URL then you can find the registration information for that domain. When you register your domain you can opt-in to making all that info private. All that information is public. If you ever can’t reach your friend and you don’t have their phone number anymore, chances are, their phone numbers are just out there.”

Dan, Melanie, and myself in our teens at the height of our LiveJournal era
Dan’s, Melanie’s, and my room when we were teens

Melanie Hoff brought up that the project would have never existed without the prompt of exhibiting at an internet-related goods flea market at Internet Yami-ichi:

“This ties into the idea of the dominant understanding of technological objects as commercial products. As artists working with technology, we can either push back against this classification or use the perception of technology as product to talk about capitalism, branding, and advertising. And this venue provided a space for the lines between installation, performance art, commerce, and shop-keeper, were totally blurred.” — Small Data Squad member Melanie Hoff

SDS members is looking for new collaborators — if you are an amateur internet stalker who is “looking to professionalize and legitimize,” please reach out to smalldatasquad@gmail.com.

TRYTOBEGOOD is an iTunes podcast!

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