We Are Surveilling (and Photographing) Your Tweets

We’ve scraped tweets from all across the United States. Now they’re in a book and you can peep us peeping at others.

by Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman

For the last seven years, we’ve listened very carefully to Twitter.

We select tweets and use publicly available embedded GPS information to track the locations of posts and then make new photographs to mark the location in the real world. Collectively they make a series called Geolocation.

We’ve traveled extensively to make these photographs.

Geolocation started in Chicago and western New York. Since then, we have worked with a supportive group of art centers, galleries, and museums to travel and collaborate on site-specific iterations — from Baltimore and the Washington D.C. area to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in England; from the Canadian Maritimes around Saint John to the southern California desert; from greater Atlanta to the Eastern Shore of Maryland; and from the Indianapolis International Airport to all of the boroughs of New York City. New Jersey, too, and most recently, Fargo, North Dakota.

We pair each photograph of the site of a tweet with the original text of the tweet.

We want to probe the expectations of privacy surrounding social networks. Our photographs anchor and memorializes ephemeral online data in the real world. These are tributes as well as warning shots.

Twitter estimates there are over 500 million tweets daily, creating a new level of digital noise. Add Facebook, Instagram, and the many other social networking platforms and we are surrounded by digital chatter. In a New York Times Magazine article Brave New World of Digital Intimacy Clive Thompson uses the term ambient awareness to describe this incessant online contact.

“It is,” he writes, “very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.”

Our collaborative work deals extensively with the isolation of the digital age. We work in the space where the physical world brushes up against the virtual, so closely mimicking it as to confuse the two at times. We think we have a day full of social interactions, when in actuality we have significantly lessened face time; in the office, with our family, even with lovers. The images are intentionally empty, vacant scenes to remind us of a persistent loneliness in a hyper-connected time. We are followed by a sea of digital noise but rarely are the voices singular or singled out.

Our photographs become a memorial for these small flickers of human experience and are a means for situating this virtual communication in the physical realm. We imagine ourselves as virtual flâneurs, ethnographers of the Internet, exploring cities 140 characters at a time through the lives of others.

We hope that you’ll be as intrigued to explore the world through our tweet-mediated lens, as much as we were intrigued to step out into it.

Small print of “Geolocation: Want You So Desperately” offered in the Fraction Magazine Holiday Print Sale

We’re proud to announce that now key tweets and photographs from all locations have now been collected in book form: Geolocation, published by Flash Powder Projects, is fresh off the press! It’s being bound as I type this and will be shipping very soon.

Photographs in the book are sorted thematically and paired with eight insightful short essays by Kate Palmer Albers, Jamie Allen, Chad Alligood, Julia Dolan, Mark Alice Durant, Paul Soulellis, Michael Wolf, and Natalie Zelt.

Geolocation is currently on special pre-sale, including book plus fine-print options, which will end on December 26. Books sold during this time help us with the production costs. Please consider extending your generosity to this project this holiday season.

Nate Larson & Marni Shindelman have worked collaboratively over distance since summer 2007.

Nate Larson is in Baltimore, MD. Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Marni Shindelman is in Athens, GA. Follow on Twitter and Instagram.

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