Once I was visiting my Aunt Marge.
She was doing her laundry.
She turned to me and said,
“You know? I love this machine
much more than I do your Uncle Walter.” 

John Cage Silence

Today, we live in a world where our online interactions are reproduced for purposes we never intended. Modern computational advancements that allow increasingly large sets of data to be quickly processed and analyzed have transformed our most mundane decisions and everyday clicks into priceless (or very valuable, depending on where you stand) data. 

Take, for example, the media-streaming epicenter Netflix. In his recent New York Times Magazine article, “The Post-Hope Politics of ‘House of Cards,’”(1) Adam Steinbergh wrote, 

Netflix knows a lot about what you watch. Not just generally, but in a granular, data-driven, clicks-and-duration-of-viewing time way. It knows what everyone on Netflix watches, and how much they watch it, and how all of this might translate into what people want to watch next. 

The key here is that Netflix not only collects all this data, but through its specialized algorithms knows how to turn our information (number after number) into something truly valuable (in this case, the series House of Cards).

As users, our ‘usage’ is used in the service of the success of the corporation. Though many frame this as a problem of free labor, a symptom of the digital economy, UBIQ wants us to perceive our role not solely as used user, but as agent user. Through awareness, users have the ability to question and influence this power dynamic. Within the privacy of our own homes, when we commune with our personal mobile devices, we must be aware and willing participants in this economic relationship. If not, he asks, how else can we move forward with the hope of harmonizing?

In his Private Soundings, the gallery pieces iHear and iTones, UBIQ aims to redefine our relationships with the sounds of our ringtones and alerts. Both pieces utilize participant-based gestural interactive systems which transform the familiar sounds of the iPhone by manipulating their pitch and frequency. Giving these iconic noises yet another context, UBIQ asks a user to hear them differently, not with their cultural meaning, but rather as sounds given actual physical form. By leaving the public infrastructure for the privacy of the gallery setting, UBIQ speaks more directly to his audience-members; they are no longer passive and unknowing bystanders but willing participants. And by enabling users to manipulate the tones, UBIQ calls on them as empowered individuals. They make a choice to participate in the pieces in the same way they choose to use their personal technologies. Further, the experiences they have in gallery become a metaphor for the users relationship with the power structures at play in a digitized and abstract world of constant connectivity.

  1. Steinbergh, Adam. “The Post-Hope Politics of ‘House of Cards.’” NY Times Magazine, 31 Jan 2013.