20 March 2012

Increasingly, our lives are played out online. Our real-world activities are represented in digital form and plenty of what we get up to today is exclusively in the online domain. Our digital footprints are growing exponentially and we are more interconnected than ever before.

Our digital selves are even beginning to look after themselves, automatically posting notifications of the articles we've read, the music we're listening to and the games we're playing to our social media accounts - digital footprints begetting digital footprints without agency. It all seems so impersonal.

The Electronic Man, part of the newly opened Robots and Avatars exhibition at FACT, injects some humanity back into the cold, unemotional code of the Web. A truly collaborative project, Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico's 'data body' pulls together the emotions submitted by people all over the world into a representation of its contributors as a whole.

We can view the make-up of the body and see it shifting and altering as new emotions are added. Ecstasy, interest, joy and serenity are the most reported emotions. We can also see from where people are reporting their emotions - providing a glimpse into the global and collaborative nature of the project.

The Electronic Man is inspired by the theories of Marshall McLuhan (Wiki), who coined the term 'the global village'. The concept references the increased extent to which we are all effectively closer and more interconnected through developments of technology. The Electronic Man doffs his hat to this, actively exposing our commonalities in mood and Web's potential for facilitating collaboration. We may not know the other contributors, but the project's basis in mood let's us relate to them and feel as if we are part of a community.

But an Electronic Man already exists. It's a far bigger body of data with an unlimited scope for input. It is, of course, the World Wide Web. The Web shows the best and the worst of people. Our moods, emotions and feelings are captured in our posts, photos, comments and searches. The body is always growing and changing. Whilst it may not be designed as a representation of a person, everything we add to the Web is, by nature, reflected back at us as part of the whole. The web is the definitive digital representation of humanity and if Iaconesi and Persico's work does one thing, it is to remind us of that.