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My death draws near. And David Cole’s Twitter bot “@Robotuaries” is responsible.
Okay, partly responsible. This bot’s behavior is summed up by its description “randomly generating the deaths of anyone who follows this account.” So by following the account, I authorized it to generate a fake obituary and publish it in Twitter. Fair enough. But that’s only part of the delight in this clever bot.
The monetary and spatial constraints of newspaper obituaries lend themselves well to Twitter’s 140-character textual brevity. Informed by the obituary tradition– and more specifically by its subgenre, the premature obituary— this bot has a well established model to use as a template to generate endless obituaries. Since the code for this isn’t available, here are two examples we can use to intuit its template and variables.
The fake obituaries are generated (roughly) from: follower’s name and last name (sometimes inserting a nickname) + occupation (sometimes) + generated age + cause of death + personal detail. There are other variables that sometimes kick in, such as length of struggle with cause of death, surviving family members with generated names, etc. The fun thing about generating causes of death is the humorous non sequiturs that result from randomly filling in the blanks in a form and reading the result, as discovered with Mad Libs in 1958. Two e-poetic antecedents reviewed here are “This Is How You Will Die” by Jason Nelson and “Fields of Dream” by Nick Montfort and Rachel Stevens.
The obituaries’ disconnectedness from reality is also a cause of delight, since there are so many ways the fake obituary can be wrong about a person’s life and death. Followers of “@Robotuaries” therefore receive purely fictional reports of the lives and deaths of people they might know, appearing hourly on their Twitter streams. Because the account is generating one of its followers’ obituaries every hour, you may need to wait to receive your own. As of the writing of this entry, @Robotuaries has generated 382 tweets and it has 1,089 followers, which means it will take about a month to reach that number. You might try to calculate the exact time of your “death,” but that is likely to be inaccurate because followers can unsubscribe at any time.
On that fateful day I chose to follow “@Robotuaries,” it had about 500 followers, which means I have about a week to live before I discover the circumstances of my demise.
I hope it’s a good death.
Featured in Genre: Bot