Tim Fite realized he had become too dependent on his iPhone when the Brooklyn artist, songwriter, and comedian started feeling phantom vibrations in his pants pocket. “When I realized my physical body was being compromised by the physical phone, I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m connected to this object. I need to get this examined,'” he tells Billboard. “I was curious about why I’ve made such a deep connection with an inanimate object.”
The realization catalyzed a music/art satire rabbithole that Fite, who speaks with a measured, muted cadence even as he goes off on sometimes-crazy tangents, dove into gleefully. He had recently gone solo after releasing three albums on ANTI- Records (such as Gone Ain’t Gone, made entirely of samples from records that cost less than $1) and a series of other releases, including 2007’s Over the Counter Culture, a hip-hop critique of consumerism. Fite’s latest venture, iBeenHACKED, comes from a similarly special, critical place in his heart.
First, he decided to trick himself by replacing his iPhone with glass “Phoneys,” silicon carbon copies of the actual device that he could put in his pocket to “still feel the security of the object, to have something to take care of without actually having the interactions of the phone as part of my life,” he explains. They are quite pretty, actually: each Phoney bears a different design, inspiring a collect ’em all mentality that could be as detrimental, if not more so, than Fite’s addiction to his iPhone.
The next step was saving all the other heathens out there. “I created a temple to digital transcendence,” Fite says. He collaborated with Brooklyn’s Beam Center to erect a giant iPhone outline around the storefront’s windows. Passersby could often see Fite inside, waving around giant hand cutouts as if he were just another YouTube video they were watching on their four-inch screens — blown up to unavoidable proportions. Inside the space, he set up four stairs leading to another “screen” that visitors could touch and, eventually, become absorbed into.
That’s right: “You see the screen, touch the screen, become the screen, and then transcend the screen,” says Fite. (We’ll note here that it’s hard to tell when Fite is knowingly speaking in metaphors and when he genuinely believes what he’s saying.) “Becoming the screen is very important. We’re all seen it, touched it, become it, but that’s confusing, the idea that we can be a hybrid of human and technology.”
Fite admits he isn’t any closer to finding out the solution than anyone else. “You can’t have a pure emotional contract with your technology,” he says. “Click the box that says, ‘I agree to these terms and conitions unconditionally.’ I accept his thing into my heart, and life, and body. I’m hacked, and I’m okay with that. What that means is relatively unclear, because that’s some next level shit.”
In the meantime, to get to the next level, Fite launched a Kickstarter to fund the Phoneys, the installation, and iBeenHACKED. The record, which you can stream in its entirety below, includes satirical advertisements meant to resonate with a specific demographic, which is to say, this writer’s; someone who has used emojis (“Smiley Winkey Angry Sad Face”), has opened and/or closed a credit card and/or appreciates scatological humor (both, remarkably, in “Data Analyzer, WTII”), hate-clicks on Steve Aoki Reddit threads (predictably, “Steve Aoki Reditor”), and enjoys making fun of Park Slope parents (“Honestly”).
Unless you actually listen to the words, it’s almost impossible to tell they’re fake ads. “I just listened to the ads that you can’t avoid on the internet,” he says of his inspirations. “You can’t even read an article on the New York Times without seeing ads. Our relationship to advertising online, we didn’t even know it crept up on us.”
He did sell some actual ad space, to the Beam Center and Tonic Room, both of which donated $1,000 or more to the Kickstarter. But Fite feels okay about that. “They were the only ones who would go along with my crazy plan,” he says. “It’s not like if Kanye West called up HP or any big company. If Big Money called Big Money and said ‘Big money,’ they’d say ‘Big money.'”
Speaking of big money and being hacked, Fite’s project arrives at a fortuitous time, at least when it comes to what may be his polar opposite in this case: Apple. Ever since the controversial U2 album drop, the tech behemoth has been dealing with one unfortunate event after another, both self-imposed and otherwise — Bendgate (the Phoneys may not work, but at least they don’t bend), accusations of insider trading, and iOS 8 update failures. Though iBeenHACKED is relevant at any time in this digital age, after those developments especially (next up: mynudesBeenHACKED) it’s worthwhile to reconsider our dependence on technology.