Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) is a persona that performs a parodic homage of German filmmaker Werner Herzog on Twitter. This humorous account does an admirable job of capturing Herzog’s voice in (necessarily) brief, aphoristic tweets that express his existentialist perspective and wry humor.
On Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:45 pm Jeremy Hight announced that he had begun a new series that would be “published” on his timeline and allowed to “float away down its river.” To think of the Facebook timeline as a river is a substantial change in the metaphor Facebook has implemented as an organizing principle for the mass of status updates, photos, and other material people share on this social network. A timeline can be explored with considerably less metaphorical effort than navigating upstream. There are no ancient philosophical pronouncements about never being able to step into the same timeline twice. To think of Facebook as a river is to highlight its endless flow and the irretrievable nature of a moment– correctly so– but that isn’t the only metaphor Hight is activating here. He refers to these posts as “publication,” a word that comes charged with centuries of print history and the circulation of the written word in ways that suggests a modicum of permanence, the slice of immortality beyond the ephemeral moment that Shakespeare wrote about.
The problem is that Facebook posts aren’t ephemeral. They are digital objects stored and backed up in Facebook servers with timestamps and a unique URL, which like Twitter posts, can be embedded into WordPress blogs (as of September 2013). So there is a way to circumvent Hight’s intention of having this narrative exist only on Facebook, and here it is, embedded into this post:
Hmm. Well played, Mr. Hight, well played.
Okay then, let this be a reminder that just because while the entry is published, it isn’t public. Upon closer inspection, I (who have the privilege to be his Facebook friend), noticed that the entries for this narrative are shared only with his friends, so even if you “follow” his entries, he needs to become “friends” with you to grant access to this narrative. Perhaps this is an oversight, since he does post public entries in his timeline (I tested this by following him with a different account). Or perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, who shared her poems with her friends and acquaintances by copying them by hand and mailing them in letters, Hight wishes to share this work with a select audience of people he knows and trusts enough to establish bilateral communication with in Facebook.
The preservationist in me wants to capture these entries and it would be easy to do so, by screen capturing the posts or by cutting and pasting their text into a new document, but as discussed in my series on William Gibson’s vanishing poem Agrippa, I would only be capturing an aspect of the work by creating different computational objects. Besides, it begs the question: do I have the right to copy his work? Would this act be a violence against Hight’s intentions? I don’t wish to betray our friendship. I could provide links to the entries so fellow Facebook friends can access them, but it would be better to direct people to February 16, 2014 on his Timeline, which would provide a fuller context. Perhaps when it’s over, I’ll ask Hight to download his Facebook Archive and share the data with me, or archive it somehow.
Or perhaps I should enjoy it as it happens, share the experience with fellow friends, and appreciate it more for its “lability.”
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned what the story is about. That will be the focus of the next entry in this series.
On Tuesday, February 4, 2013, Facebook released a generated video titled “A Look Back” to commemorate their 10th anniversary.
A Look Back is an experience that compiles your highlights since joining Facebook. Depending on how long you’ve been on Facebook and how much you’ve shared, you’ll see a movie, a collection of photos or a thank you card (link).
For those who have share plenty, this work assembles images and status updates from your Facebook feed and arranges them to be displayed on a video template that organizes them into several topics, to be described below. One could see this generated movie is a kind of Hallmark ecard from Facebook to you, designed to please you with pretty music and images you’re most likely to enjoy. And at that level, the work is a likeable bauble, as enjoyable and forgettable as a well chosen greeting card or something you’ve “liked” on Facebook. But part of its interest is in how effectively Facebook is able to use its metadata to mine its user’s database and generate a a surprisingly effective customized experience that could be considered an unexpected e-poem.
This work is inspired by the real-time events triggered by a fatal shooting incident in MIT and a manhunt for suspects allegedly involved in the Boston Marathon bombings as reported through social media, particularly Twitter. (Here’s a link describing the situation as I write this entry, followed by a snapshot of the #Watertown hashtag in Twitter. It is 6:00 am EST).
This cleverly conceptualized poem engages the social media meme as an canvas, cultural construct, and writing constraint. Using a meme generating service to write the texts on the memes and publish them as images, arranging them in the page. As co-author of the webcomic The World According to Geek, Valle Javier could’ve easily arranged the images as panels on a horizontal comic strip, but instead chose to do so vertically. This reinforces a poetic reading of this work as a whole, using each meme as a unit of meaning that is part of a textual flow.
This hypertext poem is open by design, with a long history of inviting participation from others. When it was first published in 1993 in HyperCard format by Eastgate systems (referred to in earlier entries as Marble Springs 1.0) it offered readers the ability to contribute their own writing to the work via annotations, as described in the publisher’s site.
Marble Springs joins reading and writing as it invites each reader to rewrite and extend the work. Open or “constructive hypertexts” have long been considered one of the great promises of hypertext fiction and of the colonization of cyberspace, yet actually creating an open hypertext, one in which others can write and will wish to write, poses both technical and artistic challenges which Larsen has met head-on.
This series of 41 entries on E-poetry in social media has focused on works that engage digital and social media’s affordances and constraints to produce works that push the boundaries of what is possible in print. For that reason, this blog isn’t particularly interested in traditional poetry published via online networks, as good as it might be, with one exception: Alan Sondheim. A prolific writer, musician, and artist, he takes on the “social” in social media to heart, building a writing and publication practice that is truly native to this emerging publication and artistic environment.
For the past 40 entries, I ♥ E-Poetry has been focused on poetry written using social media, and with the exception of a handful of works, the vast majority has been created with and for Twitter. In addition to Twitter fictions, three emergent genres have expanded the traditional scope of the poetic in this social network: bots, performance works, and netprovs. To explore abundant examples of each case, click on the links to tags above or visit the March and February 2013 archive (the entries begin on February 17).
I conclude this series by examining poetic works authored by you— that is, trends, memes, hashtags, and other ways in which Twitter prompts people (such as yourself) to write poetry or at least produce tweets that foreground the poetic function of language.
As a social network that values concision (with its 140 character limit), it already encourages compression that can lead to the poetic. This has encouraged many to write haiku, couplets, free verse, prose poetry, and other short kinds of traditional poetry. The folks at Twitter acknowledge this by announcing new line break functionality in their Web client with a haiku.
The haiku is so popular in Twitter, that you just need to visit the #haiku hashtag to discover more poetic creativity than could every be anthologized in print (while I wrote this sentence, 5 new haiku were tweeted). Line breaks are now starting to be used to create traditional and visual poetry and ascii art in Twitter.