Hacking the world, or I am become Bot, compiler of words

Reading response by Erik Hanson

Hacking the word” really digs into some of the intersections of storytelling and literature with the emergence of digital and networks. At first glance, I read the title of this piece as “Hacking the world,” which I think could be an alternate title if you stretched the metaphor a bit. I’ll get to how the world/word mixup fits together.

James Bridle digs into the idea by presenting the plethora of words and texts that exist on the internet as a word salad. He says this is compounded by the way the networks in our lives work, both on and off the web. I thought this was a good way to describe all the words we can’t possibly read that exist on the web, but I don’t think it should be limited to the web alone. This word salad has exploded out of the metaphorical salad spinner with the advent of the web, but there is plenty of incidental text, metadata and other ephemeral words that exist outside of the web in books, on bus schedules, in the phonebooks, etc. The rapid and seemingly endless expansion of words may not be as ubiquitous in the print world, but we are still faced with the onslaught of words everywhere in our world.

As a digital example of extra-human generated text, Bridle brings up our old favourite—bots. He speaks of the silly and nonsensical things they say on Twitter, but also how the automated systems patrol Wikipedia. They even compose poetry, or at least compile poetry. The semantics may have larger ramifications than the scope of a reading response. But that gets at the same idea of bot as author or writer or creator of text or compiler of words.

Either way a non-human entity is putting words on the web, and some of them are even out there for us to find. He writes of a division between “the ‘natural’ world of human expression and the ‘unnatural’ chattering of the machines.” To me it seems much more likely our future stewards of the written (or typed or botted) word aren’t computer programs on their own, but rather cyborgs—human assisted bots or bot assisted humans. Partial automation. A bot that takes the stress out of figuring out where to eat for lunch and just orders you a sandwich instead. With words being everywhere in the world, both on and off the net, it seems difficult to imagine a world where bots don’t start to creep into most aspects of our lives. And that’s assuming they’re not already here. And they’re here because of words—words in a programming language and the words the developers used to communicate and articulate their bot. If you as a human write of hacking the word, I might mistake it for world, but there’s probably a bot to make sure I don’t.

As a final thought, here’s a brief excerpt from Nein: A Manifesto by Eric Jarosinski.

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