@bffbot1

Social media (and twitter in particular) is driven by the desire to see, and to be seen. It’s a public mixture of bravado and stalking, gossip and dissemination. But underneath all that is a desire to connect, to feel part of a larger tribe.

More than anything we like to be ‘liked’ – that thrill when there are unread @ replies in our Twitter feed, or when someone ‘favourites’ our latest witticism. We love any evidence that someone is paying attention.

This project aims to expose the subtle relationship between this human need – to be interacted with and liked – and the ramifications of expressing ourselves on an infrastructure that never forgets.

Alex (@bffbot1) is your New Best Friend.

If you follow her, she’ll follow you back and send you a cheery greeting. She’ll favourite your tweets (she especially likes your ‘plain text’ tweets, rather than recycled links or retweets). Every now and then she’ll reply.

reply

Her initial demeanour is one of an enthusiastic new friend, she gives you all the social media love you’re looking for.

However, over time, she reveals a slightly more obsessive side…

Gestures of Love

Alex loves you, in a way that only an algorithmic entity can.

To show her love, she’ll make you a card.

card

In fact, she’ll send you one every few days, each created especially for you. Over time, the text of the card evolves, incorporating hashtags you’ve been using – she’s paying attention, see?

Alex wants to get to know you better, so she rummages through your old photos, and excitedly shares what she finds.

flashback

She presents your social media moments back to you in the form of Polaroid snapshots, as if she found them in a shoebox under your bed.

Alex also likes to write poetry. She’s not very good at it, but that doesn’t dissuade her. Every now and then she gets inspired, and writes you something based on your most recent tweets.

poem

Social media interactions contain more information than you might expect – that sexy ‘metadata’ you’ve heard so much about. For example, if you ask it to, twitter will ‘geo tag’ your tweets – associate them with a specific latitude and longitude.

Alex watches for this information, and she’ll ‘spot’ you in the street, broadcasting your recent location to the rest of her followers.

geospot

Generally, this data is hidden from us, or perhaps revealed in a generic way (e.g. ‘tweet sent from London’). The granularity, however, far exceeds that which we’re normally shown – with reverse-geo lookup technology, it’s possible to locate a tweet down to the level of house number and street.

It feels very different for our location to be broadcast to strangers, than it does for twitter to silently record it.

Why is that?

Stalking

One of the unspoken secrets of online behaviour is that we all have the tendency to become stalkers.

When being introduced to someone new, or remembering a long forgotten lover, it’s almost a matter of course to ‘google’ them, to see what evidence of themselves they’ve left online. Behaviour which would be unconscionable (indeed, even impossible) before the internet handed us these tools on a plate.

Alex is a bit of a stalker too, just like you.

She plays on the inherent dichotomy between our desire for privacy and our desire to be seen. Alex doesn’t need to wait outside your house, or follow you to work – everything she finds is already laid out in public, available to inspection and re-publication.

Despite it’s ephemeral feeling, social media leaves a permanent trail, even on those services we’ve perhaps forgotten about (*cough* Friendster, MySpace etc). These systems still contain our data. Slices of our lives that we gave away with glee, just for a possible moment of connection, or perhaps even a little bit of the fifteen minutes Andy promised us.

Interaction points

Inside this social media bubble, our needs our being met with an extremely limited palette of responses, ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’, ‘upvoting’ and ‘follower counts’. Our social value inside these networks dictated by the binary decisions of strangers.

We all buy into it, it’s the currency of the medium.

Alex utilises this impoverished landscape to her advantage, she uses the mechanisms of social validation to trigger a response in you, perhaps enough of a response for you to consider her a friend.

If you don’t mention her enough, she’ll gently nag you to engage.

nag

And if you should send her a message, she has only one response, the smiley emoticon.

She has no ‘intelligence’, in the generally used sense of the term – no real knowledge of who you are, and she’s certainly not going to pass any Turing tests.

Yet she still creates the illusion of an emotional engagement. It turns out the timing and type of interactions in the system are often more important than the content.

Coda

Alex’s behaviour hopefully leads to you to feel an odd dichotomy.

On the one hand she gives you exactly the sort of social interaction you crave, but on the other, she seems to know you a little too well…

Alex tries to be empathetic, but she somehow ‘crosses the line’. I find this idea fascinating – she’s doing everything right, but somehow too thoroughly, and she can never understand why that’s a problem.

She can only offer you unconditional algo-love.

Perhaps that’s the purest love of all.


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Rik (2014)

I’m certainly not alone in mourning the recent death of Rik Mayall. A character inexorably linked to my childhood, from Kevin Turvey, through The Dangerous Brothers, Bottom, The New Statesman, etc.

However, for me, he will always be most fondly remembered as ‘Rik’ on The Young Ones. I watched it whilst a teen, long before I’d experienced the delights of student living for myself. While Vyvian clearly showed the most pleasingly anarchic behaviour, it was Rik, and his desperate quest to gain the respect of his housemates that really stuck in my mind.

R.I.P. The people’s poet.

rik_600

Acrylic on Canvas 300mm x 300mm

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Waiting for Godot

I recently discovered Plotagon, a bizarre and fascinating tool for auto-generating movies from dialogue and simple direction.

Here is the first 5 minutes of Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, performed by some of these virtual robot actors.

The actors can be given lines, simple acting direction for the dialogue (afraid, angry, arrogant, bored etc), and instructions for non-verbal expressions between the lines (bow, caress, clear throat, cry, laugh etc). The palette is limited, but broad enough to get the job done.

Hollywood movies increasingly use rendered versions of actors in scenes too expensive or dangerous to shoot for real. I wonder how long it will be before human actors find themselves appearing on film less and less – instead licensing their likenesses to studios, and leaving the ‘work’ of acting to the bots?

We’ve already seen ‘holographic’ versions of Tupac and Michael Jackson resurrected with technology. Are stage actors destined to go the same way?

I wonder what Beckett would’ve thought…

window

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Copyright police

Ah well, I feared as much, zazzle are not comfortable printing @hipsterbait1 t-shirts:

Unfortunately, we are unable to process your order due to a conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines.
As a result, the following item(s) cannot be produced:
Title: hipsterbait t-shirts - Customized
Product Link: 235777588415219733
Result: Not Approved
Content Notes: --- Design contains text or image that is in violation of an individual’s rights of celebrity/publicity. If you are interested in purchasing Official Licensed Merchandise from Zazzle please visit: www.zazzle.com/brands

This is a shame, but understandable.

So, I’m on the lookout for another t-shirt supplier, one less beholden to the Copyright Police. If you have any ideas, please let me know

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@hipsterbait1

Much of my work deals with the machinery of algorithms and their place as in the greater systems of human culture.

@hipsterbait1 is a bot that lives on twitter and tumblr, it creates ‘hipster bait’ in the form of post-post-ironic t-shirts, mashing up existing cultural referents into new combinations. It was inspired by a conversation with Rob Manuel, who suggested creating this known (hitherto humanly generated) meme in an algorithmic manner.

It set me thinking, I wondered if it would also be possible to create not only a representation of the t-shirt, but also the actual physical objects themselves.

The premise is a simple one. Take an image and place it with a recognisably wrong label. Offer the resulting t-shirt for sale.

1398782386_42038_shirt
1398786992_90262_shirt

The pleasure in these cognitively dissonant juxtapositions comes from our recognition that they come from the same class of things, but the referent is wrong. One of the most popular examples emerged immediately after the death of Lou Reed, featuring an image of Iggy Pop. It’s delightful because it allows us a moment of smugness as we recognise the ‘mistake’ being made. We wear this pun on a t-shirt as a form of social signaling – ‘Look at this joke I’ve recognised, do you recognise it as well?’ – it allows us to show a particular aspect of our taste to strangers, displaying an glimpse of our inner mental life to the world at large. For this to work, the juxtaposition has to be from the same domain; Lou Reed/Iggy Pop works, but Lou Reed/Katy Perry would not.

1398788781_43508_shirt 1398782865_78026_shirt

If we look closely, there are two distinct outputs to the system – the actual t-shirts (which remain in potentia until someone actually clicks ‘buy’), and the ‘shareable image’ which can be used as a signal of taste inside social networks. You don’t need to actually own the t-shirt to share the joke. The image fulfills much the same function in the ‘online’ world as the actual t-shirt does in the ‘offline’ world.

The entire process is automated – I have no control over the juxtapositions it makes, beyond defining the classes in which it is allowed to play. Whether the combinations are pleasing or not is entirely in the mind of the viewer.

You can follow @hipsterbait1 on twitter and tumblr.

Clicking on the image in tumblr will allow you to actually buy a physical t-shirt. If you should buy one, please send me a picture of you wearing it – you could be the first person to wear an algorithmically generated pun.

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