Your iPhone is more than a phone, it’s part of your life. It knows what you’re doing now (putting out fires with your boss? planning for drinks?), where you’re going for lunch and where you wish you were.
Even if you’re an open book — frequent Foursquare check-ins, Instagramming dinner, Spotifying all over the place — you probably wouldn’t broadcast every single thing you do with your iPhone, right?
That’s just what self-dubbed “interface artist” johannes-p-osterhoff will be doing for a year with his iPhone live project: letting the world see his every email, round of Mega run and lunch date on his Apple device. Berlin-based Osterhoff is a techno-provocateur whose previous exploits include pornifying iPad ads, creating a real-life OS X icon house and playing William Tell with iPhones.
He tells Cult of Mac why he’s doing it, what makes his mom worry and how you can reach him to be part of the project.
Cult of Mac: You’re broadcasting everything you do on your iPhone over the internet; what do you want to say about privacy? There have been a lot of concerns about what apps know and share about us – you’re sharing everything…
Johannes- p-osterhoff: Yes, that’s the experiment. With the exclusivity of information comes its value. And especially on the iPhone, user data is an important currency in the app business. The more exclusively it is used, the more valuable it gets. The approach of iPhone live is to broadcast everything to everybody and let the audience determine the value of it.
Another point is that user tracking is usually hidden in the technological layers behind an application (e.g. data sending, cookies, IPs, shared objects) and that it is usually not visible to the user. The performance disclosures this process on a very upfront layer by showing the common user interfaces as screenshots.
CoM: Are you beating them to the punch? Or is it about being an open book, having nothing to hide?
JO: I suppose I have a lot to hide… On one hand, our notion of what is private and not is modified by technical progress anyhow. But there is also a commercial interest in a rapid and unreflected abandonment of privacy. And I fear one can clearly see this in the case of the App Store.
The project started with a vague discomfort when using apps. A lot of them are free and that’s nice of course. But we don’t know in detail how value is generated by these apps and how our data actually is/will be used or shared. It is certainly connected to users’ behavior, the “performance of users” so to say, and this is why I chose the format of a “typical user” performing in public this time.
As an interface artist I started to make works from the UI of Apple’s OS X. Mainly because I admired its beauty. Apps are beautiful of course, but sometimes their interface could reflect more what they do with the data provided…
CoM: What kind of reaction have you had so far from people you know?
JO: Other artist colleagues kind of liked it. For example, I liked this contextualization by Kevin Holmes.
With my friends I have been speaking about this project for quite some time now and they were relieved when I eventually launched it, I think.
When I met a friend last Monday, it was a a very one-sided discussion at first, because he already knew everything I did during the last few days.
I am on holiday right now to launch the performance. But of course, I also have business email on the iPhone. We will see… The home button still gives me the choice in which state I close an app. And as an artist, I luckily work for understanding artist bosses, who appreciate what I do.
It is probably like a future version of a social network that tracks your actions mostly automatically and even in closer detail and than current ones do.
CoM: You put a phone number on the top of website – are people going to be texting you during public projections?
JO: Yes, I think this will work. I am still organizing a few projections here in Berlin this summer. And also Seoul in Korea as it seems. How about SF?
The website automatically hides all navigational elements after some idle time so it’s an ideal source for public projections!
CoM: Flipping through the archive, it looks like you’re playing a lot of games, listening to music. How do you spend most of your time on your iPhone?
JO: I just checked the database. The apps I used most are Mail (42), Spotify (32) and Tweetdeck (32).
The Phone app I used only 12 times and I only played the game “Megarun” seven times, for example… I am still pretty cautious when I use the iPhone right now. But this was the same when I used Google publicly last year . At the beginning, I hardly googled anything, but after a while I got used to it and normal usage took over…
CoM: What does your mom have to say about it?
JO: My mom saw the performance the first time yesterday. And, for example, she saw my next show coming up (which she liked) and an email mail from my tax accountant (which concerned her). I am actually not so worried about what she can see. I worry more about her emails and I wonder in how far I have to respect her privacy from the openness of the screenshots…
CoM: What do you hope to understand at the end of the year?
JO: For sure, I will have contemplated more on my own usage of the iPhone. And that’s a good thing.