Mirror, mirror on the wall

Thursday, 19 May, 2016

It’s Friday the 13th. Together with my colleague Sandra, we took a walk around Amsterdam’s Java Island. All around us we read slogans like ‘the future has arrived’, ‘drinking water is getting scarcer’ and ‘how do we use and abuse data?’

Already a special feeling is coming over me. The future has arrived on Friday the 13th? What does that mean for our visit here in Amsterdam?

Between all the pavilions, installations, and prototypes about the future of everyday living, we easily found what we were looking for: the We Are Data - mirror room.

We are data

The big container of We Are Data immediately attracts the attention. It’s surrounded by mirrors. You can see everything in these mirrors: what your hair looks like, whether you’re smiling at your reflection, the flag that’s waving on the wind, an old bike garaged somewhere, the other visitors walking around. It’s all data.

Every movement, every action, every emotion is data. I am data. But what data do I want to reveal, and what data do I want to keep to myself?

Who do we see

For a second it feels like I’m going to enter a haunted house when I ‘m standing in front of the mirror room. I have no idea what to expect, what I’m going to face, how scared I will be or how much fun it will be. I feel excited.

When I walk into the two square big room, all I see is myself, reflected a thousand times over. A female voice greets me by my name and tells me “You are data. And this data is continuously measured and used, whether you like it or not.”

Inside the mirror room

The lady tells me things I already know. That I’m a woman, of a certain age and with a certain height and weight. No surprises there.

But a few moments later the mirror room turns into a completely different location and shows me a situation which makes my heart beat much faster. “You look a little tense” she tells me, and she’s right. The stimuli the mirror room exposes me to makes me feel scared.  

Result of the mirror room

The room is filled with all kinds of sensors and is equipped with FaceReader. None of this is visible to me, but I know it’s there. I’m aware that I’m being watched and monitored. This feels intimidating.

And although I’m not wearing a heart rate monitor, my heart beat is known to the mirror room. It uses the remote photo-plethysmography technique (rppg). What is going to happen with all this data they are collecting from me?

The mirror room

Before I leave the mirror room, the lady asks me if I want to delete my data or have it published on the internet. I decide to have my data deleted. I trust that this is what’s going to happen with my data. 

Slightly astonished I step out of the room. This was very special. I can recommend everyone to step into this mirror room and experience how it feels when a computer tells you what your emotions, your preferences, and preconceptions are. 

We are data

We Are Data examines how far technology might enter your private domain, and is aimed at finding out how deep technology can penetrate your private life for you to still feel comfortable. So take your chance and find out how it feels to ‘become data’.

The installation is now open and will travel a number of festivals, public spaces, and conferences in the Netherlands and neighboring countries until the fall of 2017.

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