Cookie Conversation with Tomo Kihara
IMPAKT Exhibition Don't Be Evil
Tomo Kihara is an artist who designs “toys for thought” – experimental games and interventions that challenge people to confront unexplored questions. TheirTok is an installation that presents different filter bubbles on TikTok, highlighting the way algorithms are increasingly curating our world.
Your work TheirTok presents different TikTok filter bubbles, and invites visitors to reflect on what experience has been algorithmically curated for them. What is the best way to break out of these filter bubbles?
To effectively break free from filter bubbles, I think it’s crucial to first acknowledge that your digital information landscape is distinctively tailored to you. A straightforward way to understand this is by exploring the algorithm-driven content shown to others. For instance, you can ask people to share their TikTok “For You” pages or YouTube’s homepage on their smartphones. Seeing this can provide a clear insight into how personalized your digital environment is. Another approach is to log out of your accounts to view the generic, uncustomised content. This helps you understand the standard recommendations and see how they differ from your personalised feed. Additionally, discussing your feed with others can be revealing; what you consider normal might be quite distinct from someone else’s digital experience.
A similar work you made before, TheirTube, focused on YouTube filter bubbles. The code for the work was freely available, and adapted and improved around the world, including by the Dutch NOS. What is the importance of making the work open-source?
TheirTube was a project that illuminated how personalized the “Recommended for You” section on YouTube can be for each user. This web service enabled users to delve into the filter bubbles of others by experiencing the recommendations tailored for various personas. These personas were crafted from real interviews, representing a range of perspectives from conspiracy theorists to individuals with distinct political leanings.
It’s essential to recognise that filter bubbles can vary significantly depending on geographical and cultural contexts. For instance, the regulation of content in non-English languages is often less stringent, leading to a higher prevalence of harmful or misleading information, such as medical misinformation. Making the source code freely available on platforms like Github encourages widespread adaptation and innovation, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers. This was exemplified when the Dutch NOS utilized TheirTube‘s concept and code to analyse the representation of political parties on YouTube during the 2021 election. It’s fascinating to see how different cultures interact with and adapt the tool to their specific needs, emphasising the importance of open-source projects in fostering a diverse and inclusive understanding of digital information landscapes.
How does your broader artistic practice relate to the IMPAKT festival we held recently with the theme Our Terms, Our Conditions?
In my artistic practice, I focus on using play as a means to draw out unexplored questions from people and provide new perspectives. I believe that enabling people to interact playfully with new technologies is a powerful way to provide agency over it. In a world heavily influenced by the algorithms of big tech companies, I think it’s essential for individuals to set their own rules and reclaim agency in the digital realm. In my work I try to make things that enable this, offering people the means to understand and interact with technology on their terms. I think this way of doing things also aligns with the theme of the recent IMPAKT festival, ‘Our Terms, Our Conditions,’ highlighting the importance of self-determined experiences in the digital age.
In the theme of the festival, this year we created a series of Fortune Cookies with wishes for the future of technology and privacy. Currently, each visitor to the exhibition gets to take one with them. Which fortune cookie wish would you hope to find?
“Our attention is finite; let’s use it for what truly matters.”