Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Digital Painting Using a Virtual Social Network


How many people do you know on Facebook? No, I mean really know. Would they be willing to meet you if you randomly called them up and asked them to? Would they give you a memento of the meeting? How would you get past the awkwardness?

These are the questions that Graham Smith set out to answer. He and (real life) friend Josh Baron traveled 1800 miles to visit Graham's Facebook friends. He discovered along the way that contact changes everything—that the Facebook profile is a data point, not the entirety of a person. This is a message that can easily get lost in between Tweets and assorted updates about lunch and Glee. The representation of our lives online is not the sum of ourselves though it may sometimes seem that way—it's more of an outline than a complete narrative.

One of the many interesting points to emerge from this project is the concept of digital degrees of safety. Graham describes the varying stages of comfort that mark interactions as they transition from the digital to the real world. Facebook and texting provide a distance that makes communication easy. The digital barrier makes it easy to agree to connect, and Graham's initial contact with subjects occurs through these methods for this reason. Phone contact represents the final stage—a bridge to be crossed only after you're sure that the person is safe.

Graham created a digital painting following his trip, which you can see here, creatively linking the pulses of his friends to tokens he collected. It's a fantastic project that uniquely attempts to visualize—and humanize—our online networks. You can view some of Graham's experiences on the road in the video below.

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