Glance Back is a Google Chrome browser extension by Maya Man, created with the intent of giving you an honest look at yourself, and situate you in the present. Once a day, Glance Back uses your webcam to unexpectedly take a picture of you. The result is an archive of the user in an unprepared, uncurated state—sincere documentation of the many aspects of being human, of moods and thoughts in flux.
Upon taking a picture, Glance Back also asks you “What are you thinking about?” The space to reply is only a line long, and by the nature of the rapidly taken photo, the element of surprise prompts an honest answer, condensing your thoughts into a statement or word.
During the protests for civil rights and the increased focus on racial injustice, as a collective we receive many strong updates daily. In these times of momentous change, Glance Back is especially valuable in giving the user an overview of their thoughts over time, as well as a way of archiving and remembering.
It’s important to note that all of the photos are saved to your browser’s local storage, and never leave your machine. This is a collection shared solely between you and your computer. If you want the photos for yourself, you can choose to download them. You can also delete photos from the archive and choose whether the extension requires you to write a caption or not.
Glance Back also prompts a welcome reflection on seeing and being seen. We stare at our screens all day, retaining information and seeing updates, but when do they ever look back at us? When do we have the time to look at ourselves?
Maya Man writes:
“You know that feeling when someone is staring at you for a really long time? It’s super uncomfortable right? Especially if this gaze is unreciprocated. Glance Back recognizes this phenomenon that occurs between ourselves and our machines when we spend so much time looking at our screen.”
Having your photo taken abruptly and seeing your face look back at you provides a reminder of the self. You are taken out of the context of the activity you were currently engaged with and reminded of who you are beyond working and browsing—a human being existing in physical space outside of a glowing screen.
Ultimately, Glance Back is a tool to take advantage of the time that will inevitably pass, giving you an awareness of self and the real world context surrounding you.
Maya Man is a New York City based artist, technologist, and dancer who creates work with code.
She holds a B.A. in Computer Science and a B.A. in Media Studies from Pomona College. Currently, she's building experiments at the Google Creative Lab after completing the Fiver residency program.
For Show and Tell, Special Special invites a selection of artists to produce or share work that can be viewed in the browser, downloaded, or streamed. The work is presented as a series of digital exhibitions periodically delivered to email inboxes.