Digital Stowaway Workshop

With Etoy for the Mission Eternity project

13 Mar 2009
13 Mar 2009

Following the Etoy lecture on Thursday night, participants of the Digital Stowaway workshop got together with Agent Zai on Friday morning. The aim was to work on compiling a mini-Arcanum Capsule for the Mission Eternity project. Contemplation proved to be a key focus.

The group of 'stowaway' participants was comprised of a diverse lot: two artists and an econometrics student, as well as a number of people with a background in new media. Agent Zai gave a brief introduction to Mission Eternity and revealed that this Digital Stowaway workshop was a first for Etoy, too - it is an experiment in including a larger number of people in this project. Up until now, pilots involved in Mission Eternity go through a comprehensive process with the Etoy agents to preserve an enormous amount of data in an Arcanum Capsule. In the new workshop format, stowaways receive a limited amount of space and time for the creation of a virtual mini-capsule. What they get in return is complete freedom to bring along anything they want and the possibility of staying anonymous; two characteristics that are also instrinsic to the notion of a stowaway on a ship or plane.

The mini-capsule's imposed restriction of 32 megabytes of space made the experience all the more intense. It forced every participant to think long and hard about what material to bring. With the desire to include photographs, home videos, letters and sound bites came the realisation that it is impossible to compress the archive of a person's life into 32 MB.

Everyone had to make choices and ask themselves: what is important enough to store? Is collecting my personal data a purely narcissistic act or will it be interesting for people in the future? Do I feel comfortable storing and sharing this information? A capsule unavoidably contains information about other people, such as family and friends. Is it okay to release them to eternity without asking permission? What about copyrighted documents such as songs and books?

Dreams of a stowaway

One participant came up with a beautiful answer to all of these questions. She envisaged the capsule as the container of a dream. This way, she could choose documents by free association, and avoid the burden of being 'complete' or applying a rational logic. Another participant realised that much of her data is already circulating online; spread out over Flickr, Facebook and her e-mail inbox. Therefore it made sense to her to take a thematic approach to the capsule and to think of it as a small art project in itself.

For artist Bogomir Doringer, the workshop was a means to explore suitable formats for his research on the Balkan syndrome. His art project highlights the largely ignored effects of depleted uranium-weaponry on soldiers in the Balkan war and Gulf war. By placing the disregarded narrative in the capsule, he is returning the impact of this horrendous infection to the public. Artist Mhairi Macfarlane worked on making a composition out of her collection of ambient sounds recorded over a period of ten years in a rural area of Scotland.

One workshop participant was diagnosed with cancer last year. Together with an Assistant Professor of New Media and Literary Studies of the University of Utrecht, he is searching for a fitting way to preserve his personal data and to store his memories after he dies. After long discussions with Zai, they agreed he will become Etoy's first 'encapsulated pilot'. He will be a true Mission Eternity pilot that has the stowaway's benefit of collecting data without the involvement of Etoy agents.

While each person worked on their individual capsule by collecting, scanning and recording data, Agent Zai took the time to discuss concepts and contributions with everyone personally. At the end of the day the group sat together to present the results and go over all the issues and ethical dilemmas that had come up. Zai collected the capsules, which each received a 16-character-code name. What will happen to them is not yet clearly defined. They can soon be found online, but only by those who are in possession of the codes. The capsules may also appear later in one of Etoy's exhibitions. Perhaps some images will enter the Mission Eternity sarcophagus. The only certainty is that they are off now - travelling digital eternity.

Video record of the day in fast time.


Digital Stowaway workshop - An introduction by Agent Zai of Etoy. Tanja Baudoin