Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rise of the Literature Machines

In the midst of the Internet excitement over the meme “I Write Like,” (does it really work? What’s the algorithm? Why does everyone end up writing like Stephen King?), the literary blog “The Valve” pointed to a another fun combination of computers and literature.
For his “Auto Summarize” project, the graphic designer Jason Huff took the one hundred most downloaded copyright-free books and reduced them each by ten sentences with Microsoft Word 2008’s AutoSummarize function. The result is absurd and also quite funny.
I had never used the auto-summarize function before, and I was surprised at how strangely astute some of its readings were. Take this abbreviated history of coffee:
Is there really anything else?
The past year or so has brought a few technological reworkings of great books. Sarah Schmelling transposed classics into Facebook pages (her "Hamlet" newsfeed can be read here). Emmett Rensin and Alexander Aciman, both students at the University of Chicago, did the same with Twitter. For me, the humor in this kind of retelling always comes from hearing a recognizable tale in a modern, clipped voice. I like how Hamlet becomes “a fan of daggers” on Facebook and takes the time to tweet “Uncle just confessed to Dad’s murder.” The projects always come with an ominous undertone, though. Is this how the students of the future will read Shakespeare?
So it seems like a natural extension of the idea to rework the classics so that they are not just mediated by technology but completely transformed by it. I wonder what the next step is. Hamlet: the iPad app? Books consumable by implanting a computer chip?

No comments: