In 2020, Madeline Greenberg asked three artists to
portrait of her based on a shared portfolio of her personal data.
is the data
When Madeline sent over the Google Drive folder containing all of her personal data, I kept thinking about
refrains spoken in conversations around digital surveillance: "I've done nothing wrong," some will say, or
nothing to hide." Overall, yeah, this may very well be true. But that doesn't mean there aren't still
probably rather keep private. Asked to create a "portrait" of Madeline based on her data usage, I wondered
what kind of
files I might find that felt like the "would rather keep private" kind...
As I moved from her Google Search history to her Instagram messages to her Spotify playlists, I felt like I
putting together a puzzle of a person. I was unsure what aspect I wanted to focus on for her portrait until
I found a
folder nested inside of her Apple data that held every entry she had typed into her Notes app since 2017.
through that felt criminally invasive, like reading her diary. Or maybe more like reading her
mind. I felt
like her heart was on the screen in a way it can never quite be when we're sharing content online that's
intended for an
unknowable, ever expanding audience. The notes she typed over the years into Apple's app on her phone or
clearly always intended for herself and herself alone.
Combing through the files, I learned that her mom passed away when she was 13 years old. She gets her
eyebrows waxed and
recently got her ears pierced. She previously attended NYU before transferring to Brown. I learned that
she's Jewish. In
the fall of 2018, she travelled abroad, got high, and made new friends. She's dairy free. She reads often,
wants to write a play, and is part of a sorority. She's extremely driven and self-reflective. She
herself and the world around her.
None of this information was gleaned because her phone tracked her location, listened in on her
analyzed her search/browsing history. All of these details were self reported and recorded by Madeline
Thoughts, to-do lists, dreams, important addresses... it was all written there for her own safe keeping.
In her manifesto Glitch
Legacy Russell writes that "the machine is a material through which we
bodily experience." A physical notebook, journal, or diary has long served as a way for us to process our
but what does that exercise look like (and feel
like) when our digital
version of those tools
is uploaded to
I'd like to end by highlighting some words Madeline typed into her Notes app on December 10, 2020: "Ghost in
What is the soul, the self, if you can open up the brain?"
Please move through this site with care and compassion.