Play Digital Spy with Covert USB Drives Hidden Around the City

by Matt Forcey

In a scrupulous world, this would be a really cool idea.  As part of his residency with EyeBeam in New York City, Aram Bartholl has created an interesting sociological experiment.  An anonymous, offline, peer-to-peer file sharing network.  On the sly, he has secreted USB flash drives into walls, buildings and street curbs, in publicly accessible spaces all around NYC. 

Bartholl’s hope is that, upon finding one of these digital dead drops, you will plug your laptop into the exposed drive and share an interesting file or two for future visitors to access, perpetuating a free form exchange of ideas and interesting content.  The crepehanger in me unfortunately believes that it’s probably just a matter of time until some asshole loads a virus onto one of these things. 

I’m trying to put my concerns of nefarious activity aside though, as this project really tickles my Cold War-James Bond-John Le Carre-Spy vs. Spy bone, while at the same time giving me a warm fuzzy, “we’re all in this together” feeling. 

Shrouded in trench coat and fedora, I meander around the city (in a serpentine pattern), throwing off any tails.  Finding the dead drop, I casually lean against this seemingly random wall.  Engaging the curiously protruding flash drive, I download a file  for later interpretation and leave a cipher of my own. 

Stealthily making my way back to the safe house, I draw the blinds, plug headphones into the laptop and… groove to a new song by some local band hoping for a break.  Ok, not very profound, but pretty cool none the less.  And hopefully, someone out there will be equally impressed by the video I left of my puppy being pulled around in the back of a Radio Flyer wagon.

Aram has so far created five of these dead drops (each drive contains a readme.txt file explaining the project), and plans to expand soon with additional sites, an online map, and a “How to make your own dead drop” manual.  In the meantime, New Yorkers can exchange files at these clandestine sites:

87 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn, NY (Makerbot)
Empire Fulton Ferry Park, Brooklyn, NY (Dumbo)
235 Bowery, NY (New Museum)
Union Square, NY (Subway Station 14th St)
540 West 21st Street, NY (Eyebeam)

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