Our class’ definition of electronic literature as literary work that is born digital aptly describes Sampsa Nuotia and Raisa Omaheimo’s work “Google Poetics”. Their constantly growing collection of poems is an insightful, humorous, and sometimes saddening side effect of Google’s autocomplete feature.
While Sampsa Nuotia and Raisa Omaheimo are the archivers of the work it is impossible for them or a single one person to claim complete authorship of these poems. That credit goes to the massive amount of people using the Google search engine.
Both Nuotia and Omaheimo are aware of this. They describe how these Google poems come about:
“Despite the seemingly open nature of Western society, forbidden questions and thoughts still remain. When faced with these issues, people do not reach out to one another, instead they turn to Google in the privacy of their own homes.” www.googlepoetics.com
In this way, Google not only predicts for what we want to search, but reflects what we have been searching for as a society, in both the most simple and existential understanding of ‘search.’ This makes it a poetry of popularity, meaning the most commonly searched questions, objects, people, etc. are what comprise the poem.
Nuotia and Omaheimo mention the “forbidden questions and thoughts” of the searchers, which creates a confessional mood in many of the archived poems.
Also, lines like “there is no spoon” (a line from The Matrix) show how pop-culture becomes tied up with questions about anger management and larger questions about the creation of life. When the movie quote is read in this context, its suggestion of false appearance naturally becomes associated with the surrounding lines.
It’s slightly misguided that people turn to their computers to ask these questions, if they are turning to their computer for fear of asking another human, because what the Google search feature predicts is what other people have be searching for too.
Considering their form, the appeal and the effectiveness (though that is largely personal) of these poems is based on repetition with a difference; a phrase coined by modernist poet Gertrude Stein, who, if she had had access to Google, would be responsible for some of the oddest phrases searched. The larger the cognitive leap between the expected result and the actual prediction made by Google, the more difference the poem establishes from the expectation the repeated initial search words create. The multiple suggestions in the auto-predict drop box work in tandem with this, making the familiar or expected into the unfamiliar, the unanticipated, the funny, and the sad.
In relation to other electronic literature, “Google Poems” is not so much a literary work but a seismograph for the shifting questions and concerns that plague Google’s users. This creates an interesting difference between it and other works. It relies on a digital medium, hyperlink structure, and interaction, but these aspects are not part of the work, so much as they are the work itself. It is the structure of the Google search engine, specifically its ability to access massive amounts of the web and massive amount of users that make “Google Poems” more of a collaborative literary work.
Similar to the book within “The Garden of Forking Paths” every possibility can be explored through Google, and in any order. But where the digressions and seemingly random jumps in the book explore the life of characters, Google searches uncover the interests of real people, which are variably infinite. The digital medium and now commonly accepted fact that one can click on something and be taken to a page that does not relate to what one was just reading makes the seeming randomness of “Google Poems” palatable. However, it is not guided by randomness, the auto-predict feature of Google runs on an algorithm. Perhaps this makes “Google Poems” more similar to computer-produced poems, but at the end of the day, it is the large amount of users interacting with this algorithm that creates these sporadically insightful poems.
Find your own favorites here.
Photos from (http://www.googlepoetics.com/image/87618242843)