Using theatre to make sense of our digital identities

3 May 2017

Shermaine Slocombe tells us about an innovative project her students were lucky enough to take part in

Myself and practitioner Tas Emiabata from Emergency Exit Arts recently took eight students to partake in an International Youth Encounter entitled ‘A Bit of Me - My Digital Identity’ in Tallinn, Estonia.

The Youth Encounter designed by Platform Shift+ enabled young people from different European Countries to come together to participate in workshops, artistic collaborations and digital technology explorations. Corelli students worked with students, teachers and theatre practitioners from the UK, Norway, Germany and Estonia. We worked towards devising a final site-specific performance in Estonia’s National Library, inspired by our digital and real life identities, challenges, addictions and opportunities linked to innovative theatre. We explored how social media is a manipulation tool in how we present ourselves online and we personified apps such as Instagram and Snapchat with human characteristics and physicality.

Estonia is the birthplace of Skype and after spending a day in a Tallinn School it was obvious they are far more advanced in terms of their digital habits. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Estonia rebuilt its government and chose a digital solution for their country to prosper. Much to the delight of the students, wifi is pretty much unrestricted everywhere you go.

I realised I needed to do my homework before we embarked on the trip. I learnt very quickly the need to question the digital world where reality is customised or suspended, how it influences our life and the choices we make and how important it is for our young people to not just be consumers, but responsible and competent in a forever increasing online participatory culture.

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Our prep with the students involved learning about ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘echo chambers’ through drama and team games to demonstrate creatively how news becomes distorted and how it feels to recruit team members from an opposing side by guessing what they would like, buy and sell.

How did it feel when your offer was rejected or accepted? A ‘filter bubble’ is a website algorithm that guesses what information a user would like to see based on their search history.

What happens if a friend of yours likes or positively comments on something you really disagree with? More alarmingly, an ‘echo chamber’ is where your ideas and information you judge as correct is reinforced and amplified by communication and repetition with friends who think the same as you. The result may be a disproportionate view of the world and users become detached from information that doesn’t fit their point of view. Cesar Hidalgo (MIT Media Lab) suggests Facebook should design a ‘flip feed’ button to show stories from the other end of the political spectrum to widen perspectives.

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump and the Brexit Leave campaign - they built profiles by collecting people’s data and Facebook profiles of what they liked and who their friends were. Big Data is a conglomerate that knows everything about you and tells everyone.

So how do we control big data and use it to our own advantage? Our devices never stop learning and scrutinising our opinions, patterns of our behaviour, purchases, interactions and our locations. It could be used for our convenience by transport companies responding in the moment to the queue at the bus stop and providing extra buses, or innovatively as part of a large community artwork where our city is the canvas and we are the pins, but equally it can violate our privacy. It’s a collective challenge and the project didn’t give me all the answers, just more questions. Whether you are interested in social and digital media or not, it affects you and it’s important to stay informed.

Click here to see a TedTalk by Eli Pariser about filter bubble.

For more info on the project in Tallinn see www.CorelliCollege.org.uk


Shermaine Slocombe is Arts College Manager at Corelli College Cooperative Academy, and is also one of our AND Advocates. Click here to find out more about her and the Advocates programme.

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