The Hidden Life of an Amazon User
19 January–11 February 2022
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana
WED, 19 January, 12 PM–9 PM
Buying a book on Amazon is usually a simple, fast and seamless process. You enter a title or author in the search bar, select the item when it appears and click “Buy now”, and if you have an account with shipping and billing data, the book is just a few clicks away from your shelf; meanwhile you can lurk into what people who bought it also purchased. Behind this functionality and apparent simplicity, there are in fact hundreds of pre-programmed processes, happening instantly and invisibly in the background as we wander through the store, recognising us when we enter from any device, making suggestions based on our previous purchases and collecting more data about us based on what we search, click and buy.
According to media theorist Wendy Chun, on Amazon and any Web 2.0 platform, we are usually controlled as we read online, and not unlike how an author controls the characters in a novel, readers become “characters in a drama putatively called Big Data.” (Chun 2016)
The Hidden Life of an Amazon User is a web-based project offering one of the many versions of this drama, with the Amazon User as its protagonist. The project aims to shed light on Amazon’s often unacknowledged but aggressive exploitation of its users, which is embedded at the core of the business strategies of so-called internet companies. Such strategies rely on seemingly neutral, personalised user experiences enabled by attractive interfaces. These interfaces obfuscate sophisticated business models embedded in endless pages of indecipherable code, all activated by user labour. These strategies have a significant energy cost, part of which is involuntarily assumed by the user. In other words, the user is not only exploited through free labour, but is also forced to bear the energy costs of such exploitation.
By analysing the otherwise trivial experience of buying Jeff Bezos’ book The Life, Lessons & Rules for Success (2018), the project makes transparent what is usually opaque: 1307 different requests for all kinds of scripts and documents, totalling in 8724 A4 pages worth of printed code, adding up to 87.33 MB of information, with a total energy consumption of about 30 Wh.
Data Extraction, Materiality and Agency
16 February 2022 at 7 PM
Registration required! Apply at email@example.com
Our so-called networked society has so far failed to bring the logic of interconnectedness into our lives. Citizens are becoming more machine-like and data-dependent, threatening the connection between humans and their natural habitats. Although most of our daily transactions are carried out through electronic devices, we know very little about the apparatus that facilitates such interactions, or in other words, the factory behind the interface. In this talk, we discuss the interface as a well-engineered capitalist machine that disconnects users from the material complexity of global chains of commodity and data production — and also social reproduction — in order to maximise economic profit. It is therefore necessary to trace the connections that exist between things — as well as the workload involved in the basic maintenance of these connections — if the user is to fully understand the systems in which they operate, in order to balance and repair the profoundly asymmetrical distribution of agency, energy, labor, time, care and resources within these planetary networks.
The Hidden Life of a Browser
16–17 February 2022, 2 PM–5 PM
Joana Moll is a Barcelona/Berlin-based artist and researcher. Her work critically explores the way techno-capitalist narratives affect the alphabetization of machines, humans and ecosystems. Her main research topics include internet geopolitics, data materiality, surveillance, techno-colonialism and interfaces. She has presented her work in renowned institutions, museums and universities around the world, such as at the Venice Biennale, MAXXI, MMOMA, CCCB, ZKM, Ars Electronica, transmediale, ISEA and the British Computer Society, among many others. Her work has been featured in The Financial Times, Der Spiegel, National Geographic, Quartz, Wired, Vice, The New Inquiry, Netzpolitk, O’Globo, La Repubblica, Fast Company, NBC and the MIT Press. She is the co-founder of the Critical Interface Politics Research Group at HANGAR [Barcelona] and co-founder of The Institute for the Advancement of Popular Automatisms. She is currently a visiting lecturer at Universität Potsdam and Escola Elisava.
Author: Joana Moll
Production of the exhibition:
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2022
Part of the series:
Tactics & Practice
This work was realized within the framework of the European Media Art Platforms EMARE program at IMPAKT.
the Municipality of Ljubljana