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Data collection by our smartphones is not only valuable for advertisers. It can also be used to tell interactive stories, as ‘story designer’ Steye Hallema has discovered. A form of narration that fits in an era wherein our media consumption is becoming more personal than ever.

Social Sorting

Around a hundred people are able to participate simultaneously in the Social Sorting Experiment, an interactive performance that has meanwhile happened in several countries. The participants judge each other on the basis of various questions. Who has the most beautiful ears? Who would you give your kidney to? These ratings allow the public to have a wide range of sorting options. But in the meantime, the phones collect much more data via numerous sensors, which means that people suddenly know a lot about you in a way which is quite disconcerting. “Like the way you hold your phone, for example, says something about how at ease you feel,” Hallema explains.

This experiment stems from another concept devised by Hallema, notably the Smartphone Orchestra. Smartphone Orchestra. Groups of people together with their smartphones form an ‘orchestra’, which are able to subsequently give a concert. Previously, Hallema had primarily been experimenting with virtual reality, for example at the VPRO Medialab in Eindhoven. He made the world’s first 360-degree music video in 2009.

Key issue

The underlying theme behind the Social Sorting Experiment is how tech companies use our data. Hallema sees a major problem in this, because ‘it’s all actually just being stolen’. The artist even dares to say that it is one of the great issues of our time, along with climate change and migration. The experiment is attracting worldwide interest. Following its launch at the IDFA documentary film festival in Amsterdam last year, the experiment was recently presented in Korea, Singapore, Mexico and at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

New narrative form

Hallema has a lot of ideas on how to use the technique. Ultimately, this should lead to the creation of a new interactive narrative form that fits in with the current media landscape. “Our media usage is becoming more and more personalized,” Hallema explains. ” Numerous algorithms slowly make us a protagonist within our own world. You used to turn on the radio; nowadays YouTube and Netflix offer personal recommendations.”

Cooperation with Fontys

In order to respond to this shifting media landscape, the Fontys School of Journalism in Tilburg has entered into a partnership with Hallema. In that way, students can become acquainted with experimental narratives. “More and more it is about creating a user experience using a holistic approach. Consequently, this way of thinking is also becoming more important for journalists.”

Soon the Social Sorting Project will take place at De Parade theater festival. Hallema also wants to see if the concept could ne developed into a game that people can play at home.