‘One study concluded that if all web users were simply to read (once) the privacy policies of the sites they visit, they would each spend about 244h a year on the task, more than six work weeks.’[1]

In times of urgency, the best way to ‘tell’ stories is to ‘create’ and therefore ‘become’ the story.

00:21:16:32[2] is a personal intervention on the means of deceit that employ the human to accept a self-manageable and accountable relationship with their privacy. Signing away our rights to our ‘self’ on a daily basis has become a small price to pay to exist in modern society.

According to Shoshana Zuboff,[3] our ‘data self’ has become raw material that feeds a new economic logic. Classifying human experience, codifying, recording and managing human individuality pushes our ‘being’ into a fixed state. The calculable individual is predictable, manageable, and, most importantly, profitable.

To control our privacy, we must take at least 21 hours, 16 minutes and 32 seconds out of our day before we submit to an online entity such as Facebook. Assigning a measurement of time to this act reveals, however, a hypocrisy of self-managing privacy methods being a viable part of our day-to-day lives. It is virtually impossible to know and understand exactly what we are consenting to everyday and, somehow, this has become normalised. Our online connectivity is so engrained into our social lives that we have become dependent on it. This new economic logic advocates self-management and asks the individual to accept that the nature of privacy is precarious and subject to our own moral failures.

The internet is constantly asking me to prove ‘I’m not a robot’ and, to be honest, I’m not sure anymore. Ironically, the word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word robota, which means ‘servitude,’[4] ‘forced labour,’ or ‘drudgery,’ and was first coined by the playwright Karel Čapek (1890-1938) and his brother Josef Čapek (1887-1945). In a sense, having to prove you’re not a robot dehumanises the individual by forcing them to accept the only conditions that are already presented. If you don’t accept, you don’t get to live within society, but because it is enforced, does that not mean you are a robot, anyway? We know that we will accept the terms before we have even read them and so do the powers that created them. Perhaps the language used within this design isn’t alluding to the precarious future we face, but in fact the devastating reality we already live in.

The ecological urgency Zuboff refers to as ‘surveillance capitalism’ is a silent power that reduces the human experience to a living, quantifiable object. This regime places a value on the ‘self,’ and yet the act of consent forces the individual to alienate from herself. Our ‘data self’ is exploited by depriving us of the right to privacy in exchange for the use of a product, while simultaneously making us into a product.

For my research, I chose a performative intervention with myself and others because surveillance capitalism is essentially playing with life, and I wanted to embody that system. What are the implications of enforced labour when no one involved knows how or what they are contributing to? The participants become immaterial and unknowing working actors in a performance of their lives.

In becoming the mechanics of surveillance in 00:21:16:32, I hope to bring into vision the powers carefully hidden within design systems that have made us into commodified machines. It is easier to succumb to terms and conditions because the loss of that product will affect our lives in the short term. However, only being able to envision a future in the short term encourages a self-serving point of view. Surveillance capitalism is an urgent crisis in our notion of ‘self’ because it benefits the few at the top and abuses everyone below. Terms and conditions are designed in such a way that they are never supposed to be read, and we are never supposed to think about the long term. We need to question the inevitability of this system and the notion of the quantified ‘self’ it designs to push society to understand the ‘self’ as being part of a shared experience.


Hull, Gordon, ‘Successful Failure: What Foucault Can Teach Us About Privacy Self-Management in a World of Facebook and Big Data.’ Ethics and Information Technology 17 (2015): 89-101. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-015-9363-z.

Markel, H., ‘Science Diction, The Origin of the Word “Robot”.’ NPR. April 22, 2011. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2011/04/22/135634400/science-diction-the-origin-of-the-word-robot?t=1597006386742.

Zuboff, Shoshanna, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2019.

[1] Gordon Hull, ‘Successful Failure: What Foucault Can Teach Us About Privacy Self-Management in a World of Facebook and Big Data,’ Ethics and Information Technology 17 (2015): 89-101. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-015-9363-z.

[2] Voice credits—names and Instagram handles—for 00:21:16:32: Andrei Oiegas, @readingorcgent; Gábriėl Fabiyi, @gabi_fabiyi; Iris Kilsdonk, @iriskilsdonk; Laura Scheffer, @laur.4; Lola De Coster, @loldecos; Rosan Quattrocchi, @rosan.q; Ross Stringer, @_living_lines; Ryan Stringer; Stijn van Casteren, @mstr.cddles; Yasmin Rezai.

[3] Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2019).

[4] H. Markel, ‘Science Diction, The Origin of the Word “Robot”.’ NPR, April 22, 2011. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2011/04/22/135634400/science-diction-the-origin-of-the-word-robot?t=1597006386742.

Disclaimer: This video makes use of images and videos from several Instagram accounts. All images are copyright to their respective owners.

Photo credits: @chr.sric, @toriwest, @monroebergdorf, @desmondisamazing, @mia___clark, @melmadestationery, @designershumor, @d.chapman28, @rickeythompson, @adriennebailon, @sandycandykim, @helenparsons_, @tashllewx

Rebecca Stringer

Rebecca Stringer is a visual and performative artist working at the London College of Communication studying Design for Art Direction. She completed the installation for the performative part of 00:21:16:32 during her exchange to AKI ArtEZ in Enschede, the Netherlands, on the Crossmedia Design course in response to the brief ‘How to Survive…’ under the guidance of Remco Oude Alink. For her, design mechanisms are best understood through experience and interaction with the voice and body. To further her research into forms of labour, she is currently working with underrepresented and vulnerable workforces to continue shedding light on the precarity of labour and work today.