Answering/Questioning: Online Inquiry and the Demonstrate Project
Jane McGonigal
PhD. Candidate, UC Berkeley, Department of Performance Studies
January 2005

Who's watching the watcher? [82a]
Can I take pictures today? [121]
Praying and being bored are not mutually exclusive, are they? [202h]
Help! How do I get out? [219c]
Why are you always here? [248]
What do you think God is angry about? [250d]
Can I influence my own influence? [343a]
Will your next self-portrait be more revealing? [447]
Is she taking a picture of us? [456a]
Who will win? [474]
What are these people doing so late at night? Are they conspiring? [519]
Who is following whom? [586a]
Does anyone know why we can't zoom all the way in anymore? [590a]
Wow. How on earth did you manage that? [600a]
Do you identify with your captors? [620a]
Do these images have a voice too? [672a]
They look like they are dead! What are they doing? [[696]]
I wonder what's troubling him? [731a]
Where are the people? [831]
"Why isn't there anything interesting here?" [[870a]
Is That All There Is? [913]
Where is the camera located? [950a]
At what time exactly are the demonstrations? [968]
Hey, what's this we just stumbled across? [989]
Can you tell what time it is by the shadows?? [1013]
Is there more than one camera? [1055a]
What has become of our country? [1090]
Social circles… are you in? [1167]
What's going on there? [1228]
Questioning. [1246]

The Demonstrate team launched this installation with a diverse set of guiding questions about surveillance, collaboration, visual free speech, site-specific art, and public access to technology. How much privacy should one expect and protect in public spaces? What are the political implications and cultural consequences of granting public access to surveillance technologies? How does the shared history of a site impact the ways different communities see and use it today? Is Internet photography a form of free speech that deserves protection?

As it turned out, we were not the only one with questions. During the course of the six-week installation, Demonstrate users raised their own set of questions — about the project, about the camera, about fellow users, and more than anything else, about the people, sites and objects they discovered through the Demonstrate lens.

Between September 1 and October 15, 2004, the Demonstrate community recorded and captioned over 1200 images of the everyday life and nightlife of Sproul Plaza. These images were saved in a public database that enabled registered members to comment on specific photos. Demonstrate users populated this database with thousands more comments discussing, debating and interrogating the captured images. A startling number of the users' captions and comments took the form of questions.

Questions are a particularly expressive medium: they define goals, reveal perspective, raise challenges, and invite engagement. Above is a selection of questions posted by online participants in the Demonstrate project, taken in order and verbatim from the Demonstrate archive. These "found questions" are intended to evoke the sense of playful inquiry, practical curiosity, political engagement, sense of audience, and self-reflexivity that developed within the Demonstrate online community.

[Questions that originally appeared in photo captions are followed by their Photo ID in brackets. Questions that originally appeared in the comments section of the photo archive are followed by their Photo ID and a letter to indicate where in the chain of commentary the question can be found. ]