San Jose State Professor Hasan Elahi was suspected of being a terrorist after re-entering the United States from a trip to Africa in 2002. After nine hours of questioning, he was released — but the burr of being re-incarcerated made him fearful, and so, he became his own self-reporting public Panopticon:
If government agencies
wanted to track his movements, Elahi would do it for them, letting his
life play out in surreal time for the whole world to see on the
Internet. If Big Brother was watching, Elahi would bore him to death.
Part paranoia, part performance art, his project — titled
“Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project” — went broadband nearly five
years ago at http://tracking transience.net.
Since the 36-year-old Elahi began, he has documented the vast seams of
incident and insignificance characteristic of the non-jihadist
lifestyle. He has taken more than 22,000 pictures of virtually every
meal he has eaten, of the rooms — including most of the public toilets
— he has visited, and of the roads he has traveled down.
He has turned his life into a data stream, and recently
redirected that stream through Silicon Valley, where he has been
teaching at San Jose State University’s School of Art and Design since
August, hoping to create something brand new: database art. “We don’t
know what the next generation of art is going to look like,” he says.
“We’re kind of making it up as we go along. Not unlike the tech
The news I hate to break to Professor Elahi is that his self-panopticonicism
is likely just duplicating the Department of Homeland Security
surveillance he’s already under. I guess he can compare notes with his