My name is Ayah Bdeir, I am a first year Master’s Student at the Media Lab in MIT. For those of you who are not familiar with the Media Lab, it is a research lab that opened in 1985 in Cambridge, MA and is viewed as a separate entity from the rest of MIT. The Lab’s work is researching new technologies and applications in electronics, digital video, multimedia, computer human interaction, and other fields and how they overlap with the every day physical world.
I am part of the Computing Culture group, a group of engineers/artists/activists that look at how artists can refigure technology to address the full range of human experience
(http://weblogs.media.mit.edu/compcult/). I have degrees in Computer Engineering and sociology from the American University of Beirut and my work is at the intersection of technology and social activism. Being from Lebanon, a country where belonging and identity is both a strength and a source of problems, I am very interested in the role technology plays in the representation of identity and dialogue amongst cultures.
Some of my recent work includes search, a subtle, reactive undergarment that records and shares the experience of invasive airport searches on behalf of our silent, abiding, fearful bodies. The piece is both a performance piece and a data collection tool that addresses the issue of racial and nationality discrimination, invasion of the body, authority abuse (http://web.media.mit.edu/~ayah/~randomsearch.html ).
Another project I am working on, the one that triggered my interest in netporn is SP4M. D0 Y OU SWA1LOW?. It is a webserver that retrieves spam emails from the internet and displays them in public spaces. Rather than look at spam as trash and disregard it, Ii try to face this overwhelming phenomenon and use it as a manifestation of values/problems/issues in contemporary culture. Over the span of 1 year, an average of 12.4 spam messages are sent on the internet every second, a large portion of which is related to pornography and adult content. The relationship between spam and pornography is something I am very interested in. Spam seems -to me at least- to help make pornography more easily available and accessible to people because of the low cost and universality of email. And by looking at that I hope to investigate the role technology plays in the porn industry.
When I am not spending hours scrutinizing my junk mail, I struggle with being productive in the summer in Cambridge and am counting the days till I go back to Beirut in 2 weeks so I can go to the beach and lay back with a good book.