So I’ve been slow on Purge because I have, regarding the project, a lot of balls in the air simultaneously… and prefer not to share until I have a cohesive thought. But share I shall…
I’m going to include the three texts which are the basis of the project… they are pretty self-explanatory.
This is, purposefully, a form letter.
I am writing because a new show that I’m doing, entitled Purge, will involve you and the rest of my Facebook community. From early June, 2011, in London, at four cafes in London (locations to be confirmed and announced soon), I will be inviting strangers to decide whether to keep or delete each of my individual Facebook friends. Here’s how it will work:
1) The show will run 6 hours each day, with 5 minute breaks each hour and one one-hour breaks for lunch and dinner.
2) Going in alphabetical order, each Facebook friend will be considered for one minute. Inside this minute, I will Describe my relationship with each person, Defend having them as a Facebook friend, and then it will be Decided whether to keep that relationship or not.
3) My computer, which will have each person’s profile on it while they are being considered, will be hooked up to a projector, so that the audience can see the profile as well.
4) Three audience members at a time will vote to KEEP or DELETE. If deleted, I will send the contact a form letter (much like this) describing that three strangers, based on the information I discussed with them, have decided that we should not be friends, or that we should not be Facebook friends.
5) Because the audience members on the three-person panel will change constantly, each new panel will bring to the voting its own ethics about who should be one’s Facebook friend, who should not be, etc etc.
6) The atmosphere will be a combination of casual coffee with friends and high-octane game show. The audience will be able to ask questions. There will be lights. And probably buzzers.
I will be making a few assurances to you, my friends, my Facebook friends, and all those in between.
1) I will not say anything untrue.
2) I will have a live stream of the event available to be watched. This will evidence that I am not acting in bad faith, lying, or doing anything otherwise unethical.
3) I will discuss each person for only 60 seconds.
4) If you are still uncomfortable with Purge, but still want to be my Facebook friend, email me and we can find a way for you to be comfortable.
I am writing because I am interested in having a transparent conversation with you about privacy, and the importance/unimportance of these kinds of connection. As I see it, you have a few options how to proceed from here.
1) Delete me preemptively.
2) Put me on ‘limited profile’ so that your information will not be seen by others.
3) Tell me about the story you’d like me to relate about us to the audience in hopes of keeping our friendship, even electronically, alive.
For the sake of the project and my own email management, if I do not hear from you, I will presume that you have no major objections to the arrangement in Purge. If I do hear from you, I hope it will be ok for me to anonymise your email and include it in the documentation of the work. Purge is as much about this conversation as it is about the live performance.
For more on the rationale of the performance, please go here: (I’ll have the rationale either on my website or on MotiRoti’s). Purge has been commissioned by motiroti, a London-based organisation that makes and produces interdisciplinary arts and creative projects, for a series entitled What Counts, responding to the UK Census and how people and relationships are counted and documented. It will be repeated for a second time as part of the ANTI Contemporary Art Festival in Kuopio, Finland in September 2011.
The project is not an endorsement of Facebook or its policies, nor is it a critique of them. It’s just that Facebook is the social networking site that I use the most at this time.
Thank you so much for reading. I look forward to hearing from you. I didn’t mean to be so formal in an email — especially because I bet we have a very playful, meaningful friendship — but I wanted to get everyone this information. I look forward to responding (or trying to respond) to your emails.
In the space will be A4 papers with this being on one side:
Dear Friend, or, rather, Dear Former Friend
This email is to notify you that we are no longer Facebook friends. As part of my performance Purge I asked three strangers to vote on whether to keep or delete you from my list of friends. I described and defended our relationship for one minute, but apparently, what I said was not good enough. They have decided to DELETE.
I miss you already.
There are a few choices moving forward:
1) We could never speak again, if you never want to speak again.
2) We could become Facebook friends again in the future, either now (if you choose to re-friend me) or sometime down the line.
3) We could create a different path for our relationship in this world, to be determined by you, and, I guess, by me.
Thank you for your friendship, past, present and (I hope) future.
And this being the other:
After Grant died, I began compiling all of our emails into a single document, an attempt somehow to archive our tumultuous relationship from first loves, to first heartbreaks, to something that was difficult to describe in words.
But our very first exchange was not via email, but rather on Friendster message… Friendster was a pre-Facebook/Myspace social networking tool that whet my appetite for online social networking. In 2003, Friendster rejected a $30million buyout offer from Google, which began a slow spiral to irrelevance for users in the USA (where I was living at the time) and users in the UK and Europe. I tried to hold on to my Friendsters but by 2006, most of my friends had migrated to Facebook or Myspace.
Grant and I only shared two exchanges on Friendster, each heavy with geek-love-wordplay that were intended to impress the other with our wit and to hint at our romantic interest. He was a magnificent writer. When I went to find those first Friendster messages, I noticed something… Add As Friend, it said. Add As Friend. Why would I have to Add Grant as a Friend? We were friends. Or were we?
This was the moment that I realised that Grant had de-friended me on Friendster. We had become Myspace Friends and Facebook Friends, and when he died we were still best friends… but apparently, at some point along the way, in 2006, Grant had decided that we shouldn’t be friends. Perhaps it was too hard. Perhaps he just didn’t like me very much at the time. I hadn’t been on Friendster in over 4 years, but the severing of this electronic relationship left me bereft. And searching for answers.
Unfortunately, these answers will remain open during this lifetime; a point that is as unsettling as perhaps it is comforting. I am not sure of the origin of my obsession with an obsolete, vestigial social networking site, or of the loss of this relationship that is made up of no more than pixels on a page, but it feels worthwhile spending time figuring it out.
In April, 2011, Friendster deleted all of its user content but until then, Grant had stayed (virtually) alive. On his Friendster page, he was 30, male, living in Chicago and single. Even if our relationship has been severed, I was so happy to see him there.
This is all I have to say now. I’ve been mostly running around trying to get dates confirmed, a logo created (which will go onto my Facebook account when I am PURGING and appear on marketing), and prepare to delete my friends. Logistics logistics logistics are generally boring to me, but in them I find many answers to many questions I didn’t know I had.
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