As a student of English, anthropology and digital art at UConn, a writer, a millennial, and a human being, I have always been intrigued by the emergence of digital culture, and how we write about our culture, and how it in turn influences our writing.
Last semester, I took a course with Prof. Alenda Chang on digital rhetoric in English. One day in class, Prof. Chang showed us Google Poetics, a Tumblr blog and Twitter account with an intriguing premise. Launched in October 2012, the page description reads:
Google writes poetry on subjects people are truly interested in.
As one scrolls through the content, the objective becomes more clear.
(source: @GooglePoetics on Twitter)
The poems “Google writes” are essentially lines taken from Google’s autocomplete feature of the top hits for certain search phrase beginnings.
Whether or not this is true “poetry” is a debate I go back and forth on. Clearly the form is not purposeful. However, in following this account, I realize these lines often have the same emotional effect on me as good poetry does. Some flow sensibly, some are more random. Many are humorous – some silly, and some in a dark way. Many are oddly sad or haunting. And the parallel structure of the phrase prompts add a poetic, musical quality to the lines.
Most like poetry though, whatever the tone or resultant emotion, they all seem subtly to reveal some aspect of the human condition. What’s most intriguing to me in this respect is that these lines or poems are in a way accidentally created collaboratively by all humans with Internet access. Google is a global site, and these phrases that appear are the result of what people across the world are “truly interested in” as the page suggests. This is what people are ” searching” for most, in the online and real-world sense of the word. Within the searches you can recognize song lyrics, quotes, common phrases, among common questions, daily dilemmas, and more serious universal and personal problems people are looking for answers for.
The site also accepts Google poem submissions from its followers as well as posts from its creator. The site and Twitter is also available in other languages, like French, Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Latvian, among others.
Is this true poetry? Is that even the point? At the least, it certainly demonstrates the Internet and digital realm as a filter for language and how we express ourselves through language online. And these poems serve as a peek into the culture of this millennium, giving insight on the universal experience of the average human today.