"Visualizing Instagram: selfies, cities, and protests" - lecture by Manovich in Belgrade, 5/26/2015

Interaction with On Broadway installation currently on view at New York Public Library (NYPL).

Visualizing Instagram: selfies, cities, and protests

Belgrade Cultural Centre, Belgrade
May 26, 2015 - 7pm


The explosive growth of social media and cultural content on the web along with the digitization of historical cultural artifacts opened up exiting new possibilities for the analysis of cultural trends, patterns and histories. Today, thousands of researchers have already published papers analyzing massive cultural datasets in many areas including social networks, urban data, online video, web site design fashion photography, popular 20th century music, 19th century literature, etc. While most of this work is done by researchers in computer science, a number of very interesting projects were also created by data designers, media artists, and humanities scholars. Here are selected examples of this work.

In my lecture I will show a number of projects created in our lab (softwarestudies.com) since 2008. They include comparison of 2.3 million Instagram images from 13 global cities (phototrails.net), interactive installation exploring Broadway street in NYC using 30 million data points and images (on-broadway.nyc), a web tool for comparison of selfie photos from 5 cities (selfiecity.net) and analysis and visualizations of 1 million manga pages and 1 million artworks from the largest network for “user-generated art” (deviantart.com). I will also talk about our current work in progress - analysis of 260 million images shared on Twitter worldwide during 2011-2014.

I will discuss how we combine methods from data science, media art, and design, and how the
use of big cultural data helps us question our existing assumptions about culture. More details about our research

Finally, I will also offer comments about the new emerging "social physics" that uses big data and computation to study the social. Our spontaneous online actions become source of behavioral and cognitive data used for commercial and surveillance purposes - improving results of search engines, customizing recommendations, determining what are the best images to be used in online ads, etc. The science used to focus on nature, with smartest people coming to work in physics, chemistry, astronomy and biology. Today, the social has become the new object of science, with hundreds of thousands of computer scientists, researchers and companies mining and mapping the data about our behaviors. In this way, the humans have become the new "nature" for the sciences. The implications of this grand shift are now beginning to unfold. Will we become the atoms in the "social physics," first dreamed by the founder of sociology Auguste Comte in the middle of 19th century? Will predictive analytics rule every aspect of our lives? What happens to the society and the individuals when they can rationalize all their communication - the way millions of people already using their Twitter and Facebook analytics to tailor their posts to their audiences?