Today is the birthday of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. On this day, self-proclaimed “interface artist” Johannes P Osterhoff begins a new performance work, titled “Dear Jeff Bezos.” The work stems from the artist’s realiziation that Amazon logs Kindle user data (through their “Whispersync” technology and "Whispernet" network) pertaining to bookmarks placed by the reader and furthest page read. Osterhoff has modified his Kindle such that whenever this data is logged, it is also emailed directly to CEO Jeff Bezos, and published publicly at bezos.cc. Rhizome spoke with Osterhoff about about his new project:
Why email this data to Jeff Bezos, and why make these emails public?
Not so long ago it was very simple to read a book in private. With the Kindle and Whispersync it is impossible. I am required to surrender my privacy during reading on my Kindle. So sending e-mails about my reading activity directly to the CEO of Amazon was just the next logical step.
With regard to making the emails public: The reasons are manifold. Companies like Amazon are interested in exclusive ownership of data, because with this exclusivity comes its value. As a user of such services, one loses not only control but also authorship of the data one generated. To make the data I generate public, is to devalue it. This is why I prefer to share data in an open format. I have done so with my two previous performances: the one year of public Google search, and also with iPhone live.
In many ways the solitude of reading has been inverted with e-readers… what we are reading is invisible to those physically near us – in the park, on the train – yet a data center knows far more than simply what we are reading, but when and how we are reading it.
Yes, it is like somebody is always reading over your shoulder. I do not voluntarily share my reading with a community (such as Goodreads), but do not really have a choice when reading on the Kindle, and with whispersync this data goes exclusively to Amazon.
Can other people similarly modify their Kindles?
Yes, I will post an instruction on bezos.cc in a few days. It is very simple actually. Jailbreak the Kindle first. There are useful wikis and how-to's on the web. The MobileRead Wiki is a good start. This post explains how to install a disk image with additional linux packages called Kindle Extend. This allows me to run PHP to send the new bookmarks from my Kindle to my server, and to email Jeff Bezos from there.
How do you know when your performance has been successful?
It would be obvious to wait for Jeff Bezos to reply.
But he would be wise not to, I guess.