Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne: What is data?


ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) · Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne – What is data?


Data is an abstraction. Data is a simplification. Data is a way of understanding and shaping the world.

Synthetic Messenger explores what’s known as engagement data.

When you browse the web, your activity is recorded and schematized. This activity might include your mouse scrolls and hovers, the amount of time you stay on a website, and of course, every time you click on an ad. These records go on to be analysed, sometimes by people, sometimes by automated systems. And that analysis is used to make decisions, decisions about what content gets published, and how it might be promoted.

But we mostly don’t know the specifics of how this analysis is done nor how it is used to make decisions. The data systems that drive media platforms and digital advertising marketplaces are black boxed and how these systems work on different websites also varies.

But we do know that engagement data is used to shape and curate the media we see online and this is what we’re exploring in Synthetic Messenger. The bots attempt to synthesise human like data in order to amplify climate reporting. And as they click on the ads running alongside articles, the value of that article would therefore theoretically increase and the story would become shared in more places online.

Synthetic Messenger explores how data acts back on the world and curates reality.