This lamp is secretly live-tweeting conversations from a McDonald's in New York

The 'Conversnitch' is an art project from Kyle McDonald and Brian House

From the NSA revelations to the ‘Women Who Eat on Tubes’ Facebook page, we all know that technology has eroded our privacy - but the ways in which it does can still be surprising.

Tapping into this frequently unsettling part of life are a pair of artists from New York who have created a lamp that live-tweets overheard snippets of conversation and installed it in an unknown McDonald's in New York.

Kyle McDonald and Brian House have dubbed their creation the Conversnitch and although the device’s Twitter account hasn’t been active for a couple of days, you can scroll back through the timeline to see conversations it’s picked up.

So far they seem to cover the sorts of things we all talk about: money troubles, the weather and – somewhat predictably – the internet itself. Scroll back far enough to October and you see what was presumably the artists testing out their device – “so this is actually up and running, which is kind of cool ... not sure how long I have to talk”; “Is the mic in the bulb” and “Do you want me to say something stupid in passing?”

The technology of the Conversnitch itself is simple: it comprises just a Raspberry Pi (a cheap, miniature computer the size of a credit card), a microphone, a light source and a flower pot for a shade. The Pi draws power from the light socket, records the conversation and sends it via the McDonald’s Wi-Fi to the Mechanical Turk – an Amazon service that pairs up temp workers with simple online tasks. These workers then transcribe the audio and post lines to Twitter.

Speaking to Wired, McDonald and House say that they want their creation to raise questions about the nature of public and private spaces. “What does it mean to deploy one of these in a library, a public square, someone’s bedroom? What kind of power relationship does it set up?” says House. “And what does this stream of tweets mean if it’s not set up by an artist but by the U.S. government?”

This defence will sound familiar to anyone who followed the Women Who Eat on Tubes saga, with the page's creator (Tony Burke) claiming that the page was “observational art” and likening the images on it to wildlife photography.

The Conversnitch being installed. Identities were obscured to avoid legal problems. Credit: Kyle McDonald

McDonald and House’s project seems far more defensible: any identity markers (the names of those who have been recorded; the location of the lamp) have been obscured, and the gender-blind transcriptions have none of the misogynistic, gender policing overtone of Burke's 'art'.

However, McDonald has certainly indulged in more provocative projects in the past: in 2011 he was the subject of an investigation by the Secret Service after he installed a program on computers in a New York Apple Store that took pictures of unsuspecting customers and uploaded them to a site named “peoplestaringatcomputers”.

It's obvious that this part of modern life, where the fast pace of digital change rubs up against societal norms, is a rich one for artists, and creations like the Conversnitch do certainly provoke a response. However, do they really offer us anything in return? If you have any answers just speak into the nearest light source and someone (be they artist or NSA) will get right back to you.

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

    Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week