Unattended Access

26 Jun 2015

An experiment to intervene an online digital space and explore human behaviour by allowing free access to a computer remotely. Attempts were made to try and identify the patterns that visitors followed.

Unattended Access


The workshop which led to the realisation of this experiment was held by Angela Washko. She introduced the participants to her methods of intervening an online space and then guided them to come up with their own approach of doing so. Following were the basic guidelines:

  • Choose a digital space to inhabit regularly (or one where you already inhabit regularly) and produce experimental gestures inside.
  • Examine the specificity of that space and think critically about an interesting way to subvert, disrupt, or participate in a way that is unusual in that context. This does not necessarily need to be overtly political - but it should most definitely be unusual for the space that you’re working in!
  • Start regularly recording yourself inside of the space. Experimenting and planning your disruption/performance in the space.
  • Stage a performance in the space and record it using screen capture software (and a series of still images or a web site if that makes more sense to understand it over time).

In the last few years 9gag.com has built a community of (mostly) witty and intelligent humour. I was curious about how I could intervene such a form of social media and engage the users in an experiment related to privacy and vulnerability. The idea was to make my personal computer accessible to everyone in order to observe the interactions that strangers make on my system.

I setup an unattended access on my computer through a remote control software called Teamviewer. On the desktop, a note was left that said, “Hi there! You can write your name down here if you want.” Some personal pictures and documents were left on the computer in order to make the visitors feel that they were indeed invading a private computer. In the Videos folder, I created a folder called “Porn” and I placed gameplay videos from the MMORPG - World of Warcraft in it.

The following image was posted on 9gag, imgur and reddit with the title - FREE ACCESS - Control my Computer (Just for Fun) Unattended Access Post


First Attempt:

Within minutes of posting the image on the websites, I had visitors and the first person who came in introduced himself as Satan with an intent to bring hell to my computer. I was recording the session, but unfortunately due to technical problems the video was not completed. Unattended Access Conversation

By the time we were having the above conversation, multiple people had joined and they were all trying to control at the same time. Funnily enough somebody did find the “Porn” folder, checked its contents and decided to rename it to “Hardcore_Porn”. While many others tried to format my C Drive, and I had to interfere silently at times. A very strange guest played this particular video on the computer and then left. But soon my computer was forced to restart and some suspicious script seemed to have appeared in my system startup. So it took me a while to get the system back and running again. The video files were lost. Below are the comments from the first 9gag post:

9gag Comments 1

Second Attempt:

With the initial attempt failing to produce a video, I went at it again. Due to inactivity in 9gag post, nobody was joining inspite of leaving the connection open. So I posted again and I had activity. Branco was the first person to come in and unusually enough, he decided to actually have a conversation. Below is the video:

Soon the more common crowd came in and all they wanted to do is delete files. Somebody even started a file transfer session. It was quite a mess; here is the video:

The comments on the 9gag post after this session were like this:

9gag Comments 2

Final Performance

At the end of the workshop, Angela and my colleagues joined my connection as a performance with the intention to guide how the visitors interact. Below is the video of a guest connection to the open computer during the performance:

Closure Statement

I presumed that the visitors would be most interested in my personal folders. However the most popular actions were - looking for porn, deleting my files, uninstalling programs, transferring files from my computer and putting a script in my system startup and restarting it. Along with this, a very common thought among the visitors was that they thought this must be a trap in some way. I think many people joined to explore that curiosity. But the interesting part of this experiment for me was to talk to complete strangers on Notepad open in my computer.

This was one of the most unusual experiments undertaken my me and left me with an insight on human psychology.