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May 11, 2007

[iDC] Introducing: Real Costs & Oil Standard


Michael Mandiberg

Trebor Scholz has asked me to write a post introducing two recent projects,"Oil Standard" (2006), "Real Costs" which I releasd a beta version of last week.

"Real Costs" is a Firefox plug-in that inserts emissions data into travel related e-commerce websites. The first version adds CO2 emissions information to airfare websites such as Orbitz.com , United.com, Delta.com , etc. Following versions will work with car directions, car rental, and shipping websites. Think of it like the nutritional information labeling on the back of food... except for emissions.

The objective of the "Real Costs" is to increase awareness of the environmental impact of certain day to day choices in the life of the Internet user. By presenting this environmental impact information in the place where decisions are being made, it will hopefully create an impact on the viewer, encourage a sense of individual agency, start ongoing discussions, and provide a set of alternatives and immediate actions. In the process the user/viewer might even be transformed from passive consumer to engaged citizen.

Experience the project by installing the "Real Costs" plug-in into your Firefox application; the plug-in is available at http://TheRealCosts.com. Currently, this plug-in pulls the origination and destination information for each flight from the page, and then calculates and reinserts the CO2 produced. It compares the CO2 produced for that flight to making that trip by bus or train, and to the average CO2 produced per capita for the average US and world citizen. It is configured to work on the websites of the largest North American air carriers (major global air carriers are currently being added.) A list of these carriers and documentation of all scientific calculations is available on the project Wiki (http://therealcosts.com/wiki).

"Real Costs" builds on many of my prior investigations into intersections between conceptualism, Internet art, and activism. I make art that explores the way the Internet shapes subjectivity and consumerism. I take common genres including e-commerce, blogs and opinion poll sites and create site-specific interventions into this digital vernacular to provoke a moment of contemplation on the part of the viewer. The key example here is the "Oil Standard" Firefox plug-in that converts all prices on a web page from U.S. Dollars into the equivalent value in barrels of crude oil. When you load a web page, the script seamlessly inserts converted prices into the page. As the cost of oil fluctuates on the commodities exchange, prices rise and fall in real-time causing the user to reflect on their relationship to the abstract fluctuation of the price of oil reported on the news everyday. "Oil Standard" synthesized my interest in hactivism and net.art, sustainable economics, and information design to create an art piece that opened up a dialogue about oil, economics, and the environment. It was used and discussed by eco-techies, high school classes, progressive politicians, and Internet artists. This project achieved the goal of making abstract information legible so as to create dialogue about the important issues surrounding how we use the earth's natural resources.

"Real Costs" and "Oil Standard" very intentionally sit in the liminal spaces between art and design, between hactivism and software development, and between situationist intervention and green-tech tool making. I have situated this project in this position at the edge of art because it allows me to present completely unexpected content in familiar forms. The goal is to seduce the viewer through what appears to be a comfortable and usual situation and to create an experience of surprise and wonder. I have done this before, in "Shop Mandiberg", (http://Mandiberg.com/shop) where I buit an e-commerce site as a container for self-portraiture, and in "Bush Poll," (http://BushPoll.com) where I made an opinion poll of the other 153 George Bushes of the country. By making art appear in everyday contexts the potential capacity for art to instigate change is integrated into daily life.

I would contextualize this approach within a growing body of similar work. I see this taking place in work like Angie Waller's http://myfrienemies.com/, Ben Engebreth's http://personal-kyoto.org/, and xtine hansen's http://delocator.net/ + http://yourneighborsbiz.com/. One of the core motivations in these works is to make something that has a function, and which changes or articulates how we interact with (one small part of) the world.


Michael Mandiberg


Michael Mandiberg
Artist in Residence // Eyebeam
Asst Professor // CSI/CUNY
Michael -at- Mandiberg -dot- com




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Posted by jo at May 11, 2007 01:21 PM