Undomesticated Hypertext

The idea that feral hypertext–“projects [that] accept messiness, errors or ignorance and devise ways of making sense from vast numbers of varying contributions”–actually exist shows how incredibly complex and evolved our intelligent machines have become. The idea that something “feral” can make sense of a multitude of arbitrary information is extremely fascinating.  Once again we find new ways to make computers emulate the brain by creating “intimate extensions to memory”; feral hypertexts, unlike domesticated hypertexts, work a lot more like our brains in that they allow for interruption and aren’t strictly bounded based on linearity or guidelines.  Domesticated hypertexts needed these guidelines and rules in order to allow for a more thorough comprehension on our part. Humans need machines and programs to be straightforward in order to completely understand their purpose and to summarize their objective. Feral hypertexts, on the other hand, are a lot more free-flowing and allow for interjection, looping back, and randomness that still manages to represent some sort of “collective narrative.”  The idea of intertextuality resonates throughout feral hypertexts–all texts, are somehow interrelated and can connect to one another through algorithms that recognize similar traits in other texts–thus they form a comprehensible, yet sporadic narrative, a narrative that is definitely a lot harder to try and fully understand due to the vast extent in variations of the hypertext itself in its crude and unbounded form. 

The lack of discipline in feral hypertexts can, however, cause some problems. In Jill Walker’s “Feral Hypertexts” brings up the point that “our idea of authorship is the only thing that keeps fiction from enveloping our world.” She goes on to quote Foucault who makes the same argument in his statement: “How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world? The answer is: one can reduce it with the author. The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world where one is thrifty not only with one’s resources and riches, but also with one’s discourses and their significations. The author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.” Walker goes on to defend Foucault by bringing up the point that so many spammers, hacksters, and hoaxes exist on the internet now a days in this age of feral hypertexts and their lack of authorship.  The fictions we’ve created with these wild narratives run rampant on the internet and can sometimes be quite difficult to wrap our heads around. 

Are we paranoid of these types of texts? Should texts necessarily be bounded for the simple sake of being able to fully understand our texts? Should we cage hypertextuality so that we know it through and through from front to back? I feel if the evolution between machine and human is to continue, we must continue to explore the boundless areas of these machines we humans have created. In order to see how much we’re willing to progress should we not allow our computers to be sporadic machines merely following one of the most basic laws of physics–entropy–so that we can continue to understand the regression of these machines only to discover how different it can be. In order to build on the strengths of our creations we must know how far they’re capable of slipping into the faulty; as Walker says,  “feral hypertext draws from our collective ideas and associations to create emergent structures and meanings. That is valuable , if only we can see it and appreciate it.”

We Feel Fine and Consumerism

A friend of mine and his parents are computer programmers. They are in the midst of creating a software that is very similar to We Feel Fine. However, they aren’t creating an Art project, they are creating a database that they pitch to companies as a marketing tool. For example, they will go to a company and tell them that they have a software that can survey the Internet for consumer feelings and sentiment and provide a report that will tell the company exactly what they want to know about their target audience. We Feel Fine is taking our sentiments off the Internet and putting it into book form. In two different ways, We Feel Fine creators as well as my friends are able to profit off public material on the Internet. Are we okay with that? Should we be okay with that?

While We Feel Fine might bring up debates on privacy issues, I think that it is important to talk about our own behavior, versus the people who are just taking advantage of that behavior. People seem quick to defend their intellectual property when they see it used, yet do not think twice about posting very private material in very public places. What is it about the Internet that gives users a sense of security, or even this urge to post statements and feelings that before, they might not even verbalize out loud – and surely they wouldn’t publish publicly?

Ten years ago, people probably wouldn’t post pictures of their weekend all over their office walls, for anyone to see. However, today, come Monday morning, it’s not that strange to post your weekend festivities all over the Internet, for anyone to see. Not only do we not think twice about this, we relish in the thought of posting these photos. We define moments in our life as “oh that would be a great profile pick,” or “this would be such a good photo.” We evaluate our real lives by how they might appear in a condensed online public portrayal. While reading through We Feel Fine, I almost felt uncomfortable reading through statements that were so private and personal, yet so publicly said. And it’s not just a generation thing. Plenty of Internet users that grew up “offline,” are using the Internet in a similarly public fashion than those that grew up “online.” I don’t really have answers to these questions, but it is definitely something we should all think about. I wonder if any of this behavior will change.

Project Draft

Here is the link to my project:


I am trying to create an environment where people can “deliberate” in the comment sections about the issues that I raise in each post. (sort of like Gamer Theory). If you have a chance to look at it, let me know what you think, or comment on any of the threads!

We Feel Fine and Twistori

I found both of these mediums really interesting.  I agree with Rachel about how they are able to bring into question our ideas of authorship as well.  Something I found intriguing was We Feel Fine’s ability to determine the sex of the publisher, and their emotions based on the post.  Initally, as I read their description of the project, I was a little uneasy about this assumption, but after reading many of the excerpts, I saw how gendered many of the posts were.  I also though the statistics at the bottom of each page were helpful in contextualizing the posts that I was reading.

I think both works also bring up the issue of “the end of the era of privacy.”  The people who have created this content are unaware of this outside usage, and some of the authors have posted personal information. People are becoming increasingly comfortable posting personal information on the internet, and this is only highlighted by these two projects.  It’s slightly bizarre, but I feel like most of us are guilty of it, assuming that what we are posting can old be read by friends.

Rough Draft

Here’s a link and I’ve e-mailed to the google group what I have so far of the actual program.  It might be confusing right now, but let me know what you think.



I feel inspired to blog about We Feel Fine

What a wonderful website! I could spend hours watching the “Murmurs” scroll up the screen. I especially enjoy the literary homage to Kurt Vonnegut in the FAQ section:

Your book feels a bit disjointed. I’m used to books being more linear — what’s going on?

At the beginning of Chapter 5 in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim finds himself in jail on the planet of Tralfamadore. Billys captors give him some Tralfamadorian books to pass the time, and while Billy can’t read Tralfamadorian, he does notice that the books are laid out in brief clumps of text, separated by stars. “Each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message — describing a situation, a scene,” explained one of his captors. “We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

We aimed to write this book in the telegraphic, schizophrenic manner of tales from Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers are.

In my contemporary art history class last year, one of my classmates did a presentation on “Listening Post,” the project the authors cite as inspiration for “We Feel Fine.” The two projects operate on similar principles (displaying phrases algorithmically culled from the Internet) but use very different modes of display. “Listening Post” is an installation piece that displays its selected phrases on a huge, wall-sized grid of monitors and simultaneously reads or sings the phrases with an electronic voice synthesizer. I haven’t experienced it first-hand, but I’m told that the cumulative impact of “Listening Post” is a very grand, symphonic, almost church-like experience. Unfortunately, because the piece has only one terrestrial location, it’s quite difficult to experience firsthand (as far as I know, it hasn’t been displayed anywhere since 2007).

“We Feel Fine,” on the other hand, is available virtually anywhere on the Web in the form of a Java applet. While it loses the sheer magnitude and multi-sensory richness of an installation, it nevertheless achieves some pretty stunning effects in its chosen medium. It’s a much more intimate, private, and dynamic way to experience emotion-as-language-as-data. (Speaking of mediums, I’m curious as to how this project translates in book form.)

Projects like We Feel Fine raise interesting questions about “authorship” versus what for lack of a better word I’ll call “designership.” Harris and Kamvar describe We Feel Fine as “an artwork authored by everyone.” (“Mission”). As designers and facilitators, they make creative choices that significantly influence our experience of the textual content, but they don’t write a word of it themselves. The final product isn’t so much a “distributed narrative” as it is a condensed narrative made up of millions of momentary, disparate articulations across the Web. If you can even call it a narrative. I’m tempted to describe it as something more along the lines of taking the emotional temperature of our collective unconscious.

Rough draft: The Sprawl

The (partial) draft of my project is up here. Clio is my designated peer-editor, but if the rest of you have some free time between now and Wednesday, feel free to go through and make comments. I’ll continue to update and expand it (significantly, I hope) over the course of the next day or so.


The two sites assigned for this week arose many questions in me which I’m very interested in discussing with the class tomorrow. The most interesting one for me is We Feel Fine. Beginning with the title, it seems as though the site is promoting a certain ideal among a particular Western-like population. The site is truly a work of art which was created by very talented experts in the field of computer science (which made me feel pretty inept in regards to my semester project). It is very easy to navigate and beautifully decorated with many colors and categories to investigate. The link available through the “News” icon provides a great description summary of the project (some of you may have seen it already).

We Feel Fine is an outstanding site which provides valuable and concise information about the feelings of people through the World Wide Web (not to confuse it with people all over the world). Johathan Harris and Sep Kamvar are young innovative artists who have clearly done a wonderful and fruitful job in marketing this website. The publishing of their book (from information obtain on the website) is a good indicator of the popularity of this site. Rather than focusing on the strenghts of this site, I decided to discuss some of the concerns or questions I had on this project.  My questions center mainly on the methodology, legitimacy, and privacy of issues.

What is the main purpose or goal of We Feel Fine? How quantifiable or legitimate are the so-called feeling expressed through out this site? How accurate is their methodology for collecting such data? Particularly when they are dealing with the combination of qualitative data in a quantitative form of analysis.

Do you think that the collection of such personal information violates or threatens the privacy of the informants? Do you have any concerns about your privacy after exploring this site?

Why publish a book about the project? What do you think are the strenghts and weaknesses of the book?

Can feeling be quantified? How are they different than emotions? Could they just be an expression of language or communication? Do you think that claimed differences in gender and age can be generalized?

Finally, the authors of We Feel Fine claim “This is a project about people. Blogs are just the medium.” Do you agree with this statement?

Twistori seemed to offer a shorter version of the the same site, but in a simplified way I was wondering what would be the differences and similarities of the two sites. What are the advantages of twistory?

What is the “Big Plot”?

After reading all the various aspects and characters of “The Big Plot” I realized that the question of the Big Plot was not necessarily what the site claimed. On the one hand, there are characters who criticize the effects of unregulated capitalism, such as consumerism.

Mark Savin had many statements which really got me thinking (unfortunately I lost my notes where I had compiled them). One of the statements he made centered on traveling and tourism. I love to travel and never before had reflected on the effects and complexity of our desire to travel. In this sense, Mark points out the consumerism and emptiness we have in our lives which makes us seek out exotic destinations. Yet, when we travel, do we really see the cultures as they are or are these just constructed cultures for our enjoyment and consumption? For example, as I have traveled to Latin America, I have been able to witness the way that indigenous people dress-up to play the part of “noble savage” so sought after by the tourist. I have also been upset when Americans go to Latin America and get upset that the local people don’t speak English well. As though if they are not doing “their job” of pleasing the tourist. I guess Mark was the character I was most attracted to due to his Marxist ideals, though I don’t know that they would be truly Marxist actually.

Another aspect of the Big Plot which I really disliked was the way that the authors used sensationalizing language on their site to attract a particular type of user. I think that it is deceiving and claims to do something which really never does.  “Love – espionage – sentiment – hate – politics – corruption – turmoil
are rendered in a form of fiction which doesn’t treat the spectator as a consumer, contemplating a completed piece of art in a tv-box, theatre or museum, but rather as something unfinished.” It plays on universal themes and yet does not deliver what it offers.
It also states that  “The Big Plot is an immersive Recombinant Fiction, which needs an active investigation by an audience, who must follow clues in several stages in order to compile the whole story. So now you can take the responsibility of creating your own show!” I agree that the audience has to look for information (not necessarily clues) to piece together the story, but I don’t know how the audience creates her own show? Maybe I was just missing something.

Finally, it is the message that I found most contradicting. The idea is to promote so-called Global Consciousness, yet it seems to do this through mediums which are infiltrated with advertising, such as: Facebook – Youtube – Flicker – BlogSpot – Twitter – MySpace – Linkedi. I wonder how effective is the Big Plot in achieving its goal? or could the goal be something different?

Commerials and TV…or both

Here are some of those mini series I was talking about in class.

The first is called It’s Everybody’s Business, and features an ex-President of GE and his wife as they help businesses out.  Of course, it’s all extremely obvious product placement.  You have to download this application to watch it, but it’s up to you.


The other series is called Race to the Moment, and it’s sponsored by benadryl.  I don’t think it’s aired yet, so I don’t have any links for this one.