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Follower – Attention, surveillance and physicality of social media

Created by Lauren McCarthy, ​Follower​ is an uncanny performance project that examines our feelings towards attention and surveillance. In the social media age, one’s importance or relevance is typically measured in online followers—as that number goes up, the level of validation we feel does too. But how would a ‘real life follower’ change those dynamics? Would it fulfill our desire to be seen, acknowledged, and connected in a more meaningful and satisfying way? Would it expose the disturbing nature of the online surveillance through government and corporations we all willingly subject ourselves to?

The project is an ongoing performance and currently Lauren is the only follower. Using NYC as a site for the project, anyone can sign up to be followed or apply to be a follower. If you have been accepted for either, you’ll receive a link where to download the iOS app which if you are follower provides you with the GPS coordinates and a map of the person followed while if you are the person being followed you will receive notifications when the following has begun and when it has ended (1 day). Interestingly, the follower has to at all times keep distance from the subject and not interfere with the user’s daily doings. The only contact you will have is a photo of you when the following has ended, taken by the follower.

“There’s something both exciting and intense I feel each morning not knowing where they may take me. I follow them all day watching, starting to imagine what they are like, what they are thinking and saying, trying to guess where they might go next. There is something strangely intimate about the whole thing for me. By the end of the day, I feel as though I know them, and we have had a prolonged experience together. I’ve followed them through the rain, watched them play tennis, eat with friends, watch a movie, shop for groceries, walk to and from their homes. At times it seems they’re doing things just for me, or maybe they even notice me, but I can’t ever be sure. And at the end of the day, I leave them, having never actually interacted with each other, and that’s the last contact. The theme of following is something explored by various artists over the years — Vito Acconci, Sophie Calle, Jill Magid, to name a few. Today, this is complicated further by our desire for followers and connectivity, and the normalization of surveillance and reliance on sharing economy apps and services.”

Furthermore, the project received quite an attention during the approval process in the AppStore. Lauren was asked questions like “I don’t see how this is an art project, it sounds more like a social experiment. But where does the art / performance actually take place? How can anyone ever see it?”. Lauren was even told that she had to make her app description more persuasive because “people need to be told why they want to use an app, you can’t expect them to just decide for themselves.” It is interesting to see Apple employees taking on the role of artist advisors. Nonetheless, when Lauren tried to draw comparisons between this app and Uber or TaskRabbit they shut her down immediately saying, “these are service/account based apps, it’s totally different”. She explained that she was also providing a service/account based service, the only difference being that instead of driving you, the person follows you, but they didn’t seem to buy that an art project could take the form of a service. After much back and forth and a helpful good word from someone on the inside, the app was finally approved.

To learn more about the project and how to become the follower or followed, see the links below.

Project Page | AppStore | Lauren McCarthy

The video was made in collaboration with David Leonard, and the design in collaboration with Michelle Lin.



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