'Data Drive': The Disturbing Dystopian Facebook of the Future

“The year is 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has absconded to parts unknown, making off with the data of Facebook's millions of users."

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Aug 3 2015, 4:55pm

Screengrab: The Data Drive

You log into Facebook and are greeted by a shared post with business tips from Texas mattress tycoon Buck Calhoun, a direct message from Chipotle asking how your job review went—oh, and also letting you know about a sweet deal at Chipotle today—and a pop up asking you to contribute to the social network's "data drive." Welcome to the dystopian social media of 2016, as imagined by artist and internet dreamer Daniel Kolitz.

Kolitz, a 24-year-old from Brooklyn who wouldn't reveal his day job to me but assured me he has one, used to run a Tumblr called The Printed Internet where he would create original content by printing, cutting, pasting, collaging, and then scanning pages from the internet. Take this faux BuzzFeed post he created, one of his last pieces:

Image: Daniel Kolitz/The Printed Internet

"I wanted to use these websites as a means to tell different kinds of stories or do different bits, but I don't know how to use Photoshop," Kolitz told me over the phone. "So the extremely roundabout idea for a way to do it was to use paper and scissors and glue."

The Printed Internet launched in 2013 but Kolitz stopped posting about a year ago. He said he thought he had "retired from satirical collaging," but earlier this year he got an email from freelancer journalist Adrian Chen asking if he wanted to work on a new project for Useless Press, Chen's new site. After batting around a few ideas, they landed on creating a dystopian Facebook of the not-too-distant future called The Data Drive.

"The year is 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has absconded to parts unknown, making off with the data of Facebook's millions of users," a blog post explaining the project reads. "Texas mattress mogul Buck Calhoun has purchased the gutted social network in a fire sale and has now launched a data drive to replenish its depleted stores of valuable personal information."

Screengrab: The Data Drive

It incorporates Kolitz's paper collage style with interactive elements courtesy of Useless Press's Sam Lavigne to create an striking, uncanny experience. Though it's done with a healthy serving of sarcasm, the future depicted in Data Drive seems all too easily reachable.

"Maybe not as soon [as 2016], but I do like the idea that these social networks are not infallible," Kolitz said. "With one big mistake or gesture or controversy these things could become spammy ghost towns like the Facebook depicted in Data Drive. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking."

Since Kolitz had to print, cut, paste, and scan the 100 pages used in the project, his collaging took about four months to complete (while also working at his mysterious day job), he says. All of the links on the page are active and bring you to a new, collaged contribution, from the open letter by new CEO Calhoun ("I wear a bigass sombrero and I sell mattresses by the god damn metric ton") to a faux New York Times article on NSA cell phone usage data, complete with a paywall letting you know you've missed out on such hot content as "a bunch of Cathy cartoons," and a story titled "I was a Human Bong").

Image: Daniel Kolitz/ Useless Press

A lot of people are vaguely aware of the massive amounts of personal data that Facebook, Google, and so on have gathered from us over the years. Many also grasp the value of that data. But few of us have any solutions for what to do about it. Even abandoning the internet whole hog won't win back the data these tech giants have already collected and sold, and the Data Drive, while comically hyperbolic, gives us a glimpse of just how crummy this could all turn out.

Still, Kolitz says he isn't particularly paranoid about it all. He still has a Facebook account and checks it regularly, though he says he doesn't post as much these days.

"I don't think about it as much as I should and I was working through some of that by doing this project," Kolitz said. "But I think I take a nihilistic attitude to the fact that these companies have all this information on me. I don't worry about it as much as I should. I almost take it as a depressing fact of life."

Amen, Kolitz. Happy Monday everybody!