KeyTweeter, Twitting Without Filters

Kyle McDonald

It has been almost ten years since the launch of Life Sharing by the (then) enfants terribles of known as The project, which lasted three years, involved the automatic publication in real time of all the data stored on the artists’ computer. Documents, emails and incomplete projects could all be accessed via a web interface mirroring the local file system. With the provocative slogan “privacy is stupid”, Life Sharing anticipated the mass sharing mania that informs the contemporary web 2.0 industry. The most representative example of this trend is the success of the microblogging service Twitter, which enables people to publish short updates from various devices. Artistic interventions on Twitter aren’t really the norm but some interesting examples can foretell the emergence of a new strand of The mime became a Twitter celebrity with more than 12,000 followers – all people who decided it would be amusing to receive a random flux of messages without content. It’s hard to say if this is a joke that has gone too far or a subtle commentary on microblogging as a somewhat vacuous enterprise. Similar in a sense, but definitely more conceptual is the profile of the Japanese artist On Kawara who simply posts a daily message reading “I AM STILL ALIVE”. In our networked society, the well-known Cartesian statement becomes “I tweet, therefore I am”. The frontman of the New York-based band Francis and the Lights has found a brilliant and meaningful use for Twitter. Every day in real-time Francis Starlite posts information about his income and expenditure, including each piece of merchandise sold and each sandwich bought. The messages end with a figure representing his modest personal balance. More than just bohemian exhibitionism, this is a reality check/reality show, offering insight into what it is like to survive as an independent musician in the 21st century (all the band’s songs are free for download from the official website). But the closest example to Life Sharing in terms of radicalism and “machinism” is KeyTweeter by computational artist Kyle McDonald. KeyTweeter is a performance of data nudism based on a Twitter account interfaced with a keylogger. Keyloggers are applications generally used by identity thieves to record everything that is typed on a keyboard in order to gather sensitive information and passwords. In this case the software is tweaked to broadcast everything except the passwords. Kyle McDonald’s Twitter profile is a wild stream of consciousness that reflects the frenetic multitasking activity of the author: you can spot fragments of code belonging to projects he’s currently working on (exposing himself to plagiarism?), personal communications (publishing information about friends that are not meant to be known?) and even errors and corrections, paradoxically putting the twitter-voyeur in a position of broader awareness than the recipient of the email or instant message. Possibly imagining a world of absolute transparency, the artist makes the source code available with instructions on how to set up your own KeyTweeter.

Paolo Pedercini