Monday, February 10, 2014

When reality imitating fiction creates a new reality altogether ... or something

I thoroughly enjoyed Susan Orlean's piece in last week's New Yorker on net art. Recently, Orlean played a crucial role in revealing that the most successful example of net art thus far, Twitter's beloved spam account, @Horse_ebooks, was in fact a human mimicking a spammer. In fact, @Horse_ebooks originated as a genuine spambot but the net artist/prankster Jacob Bakkila bought access to the account and then posted snatches of truncated text from other sites, just as the original software had done. The resulting phrases, like "Everything happens so much," were at once deeply meaningful and hilarious.

I came late to @Horse_ebooks, but when I found out a human was behind it, I was delighted--I thought the work, or stunt, or game, was brilliant. Others, however, expressed outrage. To them, the fascinating phrases could only have meaning if a machine had randomly created them. That they were selected by a human being pretending to function like a randomizing machine rendered the whole business inauthentic.

Have we not, then, come full circle, if the machine is authentic and the human is not?

Not yet. For now we have another insanely delightful phenomenon that I would also put under the net art category: I speak, of course, of Dogecoin. A "satirical cryptocurrency," meant to parody Bitcoin, which is already a sort of parody but also a real thing, to the extent that any form of money is real, and that extent is highly debatable, Dogecoin, too, can be exchanged for goods and services in the real world.

In yesterday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd says, of Paddy Chayevsky:
Chayefsky warned against “comicalizing the news,” noting “To make a gag out of the news is disreputable and extremely destructive.” But real news became so diminished that young people turned to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to learn about what was going on in the world.
But what if, via the Internet, comedy becomes the news, as jokes commenting on the world begin to reshape the world?

I suppose there's a lot to worry about in all of this. Yet when I think of @Horse_ebooks and Dogecoin, my heart swells with hope for the human race. Seriously.

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