[iDC] Introducing: Real Costs & Oil Standard

Michael Mandiberg mandiberg at gmail.com
Thu May 10 22:41:48 EDT 2007

Hello All,

Trebor Scholz has asked me to write a post introducing two recent
projects,"Oil Standard" (2006), "Real Costs" which I releasd a beta version
of last week.

"Real Costs" is a Firefox plug-in that inserts emissions data into travel
related e-commerce websites.  The first version adds CO2 emissions
information to airfare websites such as Orbitz.com <http://orbitz.com/> ,
United.com <http://united.com/>, Delta.com <http://delta.com/>, etc.
Following versions will work with car directions, car rental, and shipping
websites. Think of it like the nutritional information labeling on the back
of food... except for emissions.

The objective of the "Real Costs" is to increase awareness of the
environmental impact of certain day to day choices in the life of the
Internet user. By presenting this environmental impact information in the
place where decisions are being made, it will hopefully create an impact on
the viewer, encourage a sense of individual agency, start ongoing
discussions, and provide a set of alternatives and immediate actions. In the
process the user/viewer might even be transformed from passive consumer to
engaged citizen.

Experience the project by installing the "Real Costs" plug-in into your
Firefox application; the plug-in is available at
Currently, this plug-in pulls the origination and destination information
for each flight from the page, and then calculates and reinserts the CO2
produced. It compares the CO2 produced for that flight to making that trip
by bus or train, and to the average CO2 produced per capita for the average
US and world citizen. It is configured to work on the websites of the
largest North American air carriers (major global air carriers are currently
being added.) A list of these carriers and documentation of all scientific
calculations is available on the project Wiki ( http://therealcosts.com/wiki

"Real Costs" builds on many of my prior investigations into intersections
between conceptualism, Internet art, and activism. I make art that explores
the way the Internet shapes subjectivity and consumerism. I take common
genres including e-commerce, blogs and opinion poll sites and create
site-specific interventions into this digital vernacular to provoke a moment
of contemplation on the part of the viewer.  The key example here is the
"Oil Standard" ( http://transition.turbulence.org/Works/oilstandard/)
Firefox plug-in that converts all prices on a web page from U.S. Dollars
into the equivalent value in barrels of crude oil. When you load a web page,
the script seamlessly inserts converted prices into the page. As the cost of
oil fluctuates on the commodities exchange, prices rise and fall in
real-time causing the user to reflect on their relationship to the abstract
fluctuation of the price of oil reported on the news everyday.  "Oil
Standard" synthesized my interest in hactivism and net.art, sustainable
economics, and information design to create an art piece that opened up a
dialogue about oil, economics, and the environment.  It was used and
discussed by eco-techies, high school classes, progressive politicians, and
Internet artists. This project achieved the goal of making abstract
information legible so as to create dialogue about the important issues
surrounding how we use the earth's natural resources.

"Real Costs"  and "Oil Standard" very intentionally sit in the liminal
spaces between art and design, between hactivism and software development,
and between situationist intervention and green-tech tool making.  I have
situated this project in this position at the edge of art because it allows
me to present completely unexpected content in familiar forms.  The goal is
to seduce the viewer through what appears to be a comfortable and usual
situation and to create an experience of surprise and wonder.  I have done
this before, in "Shop Mandiberg", (
where I buit an e-commerce site as a container for self-portraiture, and in
"Bush Poll," ( http://BushPoll.com <http://bushpoll.com/>) where I made an
opinion poll of the other 153 George Bushes of the country. By making art
appear in everyday contexts the potential capacity for art to instigate
change is integrated into daily life.

I would contextualize this approach within a growing body of similar work.
I see this taking place in work like Angie Waller's http://myfrienemies.com/,
Ben Engebreth's http://personal-kyoto.org/, and xtine hansen's
http://delocator.net/ + http://yourneighborsbiz.com/.   One of the core
motivations in these works is to make something that has a function, and
which changes or articulates how we interact with (one small part of) the


Michael Mandiberg


Michael Mandiberg
Artist in Residence // Eyebeam
Asst Professor // CSI/CUNY
Michael -at- Mandiberg -dot- com
http://Mandiberg.com <http://mandiberg.com/>


http://TheRealCosts.com <http://therealcosts.com/>
http://Mandiberg.com/shop <http://mandiberg.com/shop>
http://BushPoll.com <http://bushpoll.com/>

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