Off the Wall Networking

3 Nov

After the recent post on the class blog mentioning the death of the floppy disk, I found it quite appropriate that I stumbled upon an art project involving the injection of USB flash drives into random public spaces around New York City. The project “Dead Drops” is an idea created by German media artist Aram Bartholl, who has cemented the flash drives into brick walls and curbs around the city for  “anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space.” A dead drop is essentially a secret location where two people can meet to exchange information without actually seeing each other. Most commonly used by spies, Bartholl’s idea is more for creative and experimental purposes.

He describes the true form of a dead drop revealing only the metal sheath of the USB drive protruding from a wall, barely noticeable to passersby.

“Dead Drops don’t need any cables or wireless technology. Your knees on the ground or a dirty jacket on the wall is what it takes share files offline. A Dead Drop is a naked piece of passively powered Universal Serial Bus technology embedded into the city, the only true public space. In an era of growing clouds and fancy new devices without access to local files we need to rethink the freedom and distribution of data. The Dead Drops movement is on its way for change! Free your data to the public domain in cement! Make your own Dead Drop now! Un-cloud your files today!!!”

This project is somewhat of an understated form of social media. While it is making personal information available to the public, it is still somewhat private. The locations of the Dead Drops are published on Bartholl’s blog, yet they still remain camouflaged among everyday city life. The concept is similar to having a Facebook or Twitter account with the information you share—pictures, videos, links, etc.—yet it all depends on who is looking at these various snippets of your life. If no one is following you on Twitter, who cares what you post, other than for your own public diary. The Dead Drops are an interesting idea because, as of now, it appears to be only a small population using the hidden networking outposts. It would be worth following to see if the idea evolves into something bigger or something viral. The anonymity of the project is appealing in the sense that people can share their secrets with the world without having to reveal anything about who they really are. Much different from the Facebook realm where it is near impossible to escape tagged photos and the like. It reminds me of another similar project, Post Secret, where people send in anonymous letters confessing their secrets. There is definitely a trend to watch out for here.

One concept that caught my eye from reading the comments people left was from one person who said that Dead Drops were like a digital form of “geocaching.” I did a little investigating and found that geocaching is a modern day treasure hunt where your map is a GPS device. The basic idea is that there are “caches” or the equivalent to a treasure chest, which are hidden all over the world in secret locations. To find them, the treasure hunter just has to log onto the geochaching website and plug the GPS coordinates into their device. The adventure begins and the coordinates lead you to the general site where the cache is located, but it is up to the treasure seeker to find the hidden cache. The idea reminds me of a hide and seek game with a time capsule, since the caches contain little trinkets and items that other people have left behind when they have found the cache. When you find a cache, you can log onto the website and record your adventures and findings. Since many new smart phones have GPS devices in them, almost anyone can play the geocaching game. The integration of technology and media with a physical adventure game is pretty innovative if you ask me. And not to forget, you can find Geocaching on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, so treasure hunters can stay updated.

Lately it seems as if everything in the social media world has become more about publicizing what you are doing, where you went last weekend, who you were hanging out with, etc. It has become information over share in my opinion and everyone seems to be too hung up on what their Facebook status says or which celebrity tweeted what. Dead Drops and Geocaching are two refreshing ideas that are focused more on content and the experience, rather than who is responsible for it. It may be bizarre, creepy, or just plain strange things that you encounter from these projects, but it is very likely that it will be something interesting and memorable. Definitely something sticky.


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