Studio Julia Janssen /
Today, more than ever before, media literacy is a crucial part of a responsible and self-aware approach to digital network technologies. In
an era where nearly all of our online activity is processed to extract personal data, we all have a specific value in terms of our multiple,
interlinked online profiles. Our identities are thus commodified by data collectors and analysts, who monetise this information as predictive indicators or criteria for targeted advertising. Dutch designer Julia Janssen first became interested in the idea of personal data as a currency in her final project at ArtEZ University of the Arts in Arnhem. In
Bank of Online Humanity, her bachelor's graduation project, Janssen collected a variety of online profile typologies based upon individual characteristics, from “Superficial Ambitionless Savers” to “Informed Conceited Enjoyers”, each with discrete behavioural patterns and value within the network.
This year, Janssen has continued to explore the meaning of the “online user”, translating her research into a physical installation consisting of several games, each focusing on a particular aspect of her findings. She designs tools for people to understand how they are tracked and quantified—not only on social media, but in terms of their health, financial status, stage of life, and online browser history. These data are combined across platforms and systems in order to build more complex profiles. Different profiles also have different financial weight: for example, profiles of pregnant women are seen as particularly lucrative given their tendency to buy new products for their babies, their homes,
or themselves. Finally, Janssen models a game inspired by slot machines whereby users pay with their data in order to gamble for free. As
Janssen describes, we are the product of our individual information.
In her investigations, Janssen has transcended the limits of the design discipline: her research shows that many of the socia orchestrations and categorisations enacted by mass data collection are invisible to the end user, but highly instrumental to the organisation that collects, manages, or analyses that data. In order to acquire a clear picture of the status quo, she spoke to behavioural scientists, data journalists,
cybersecurity experts, and analysts for Rabobank and KPMG, as well as researchers at the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam. She believes that working within the context of art and design allows her to investigate these themes more speculatively, weirdly, sceptically and lightheartedly, encouraging a more open-ended
and creative response to issues that may seem beyond our control.
Text: Tamar Shafrir