Four years ago Aram Bartholl cemented a USB drive into a brick wall. He wasn’t plotting to overthrow the government or hiding some nefarious files that would land him in jail – it was art. A public art project titled “Dead Drops”, designed to “create an anonymous, offline file-sharing network in public spaces” – but pretty much just to see what would happen.

The first dead drop, and four others that followed in NYC, contained nothing more than a small text file that explained the project and what to do. This small file has encouraged others to do the same in their local communities all over – not just NYC – but the entire world. You might think a USB plug poking out of a wall was a little weird and avoid it like the plague, but quite the opposite has happened.

9000 GB Of Data

At this moment there are over 1,400 dead drops across the globe and around 9000 GB of data has been transferred to and from them. The project has been adopted by a few artists as a way to share their work to people that would otherwise be unaware, however this isn’t just random generic files. People are willing to share personal photo albums, videos and all manner of things. Something that even Aram didn’t see coming.

The project has become popular from time to time in waves, especially after events like the Eric Snowden revelations when the topic of surveillance is top of mind for people

Speaking to PSFK he talked of the small project exploding in popularity while he studied at the Eyebeam Art and Technology Centre. “I never expected so much attention back then and it was a huge surprise,” he freely admitted. “The personal stories and traces left by Dead Drops users are always the most interesting.”

As the drives are in public space you do wonder who would share anything, or if the drive would survive. Unfortunately there is always a risk of the drives containing shocking or unpredictable content, but some people embrace the public space and share with others freely. We could never condone plugging your device into any old USB protruding from a wall, but you can check out some of the content shared on the Dead Drops website.