Lab Report: Programming Literature

Daliyah Middleton

September 25, 2019

1). Process Description:

In this lab, we worked on creating Twitter bots based on short pieces of literature (of our choosing) to interact directly with the world of digital literacy. We began with an introduction to bots and their multitude of purposes on the internet. We looked through a few examples of Twitter bots, both literary and non-literary, and explored how they achieved their purpose through their tweets. Next, we began to work on creating our own literary bots by exploring the Tracery tool that helps generate text through the JSON language. We went over the different elements that we would have to use in the JSON file to get our texts to operate, such as: symbol, origin, and modifiers. Then we used the original poem that we chose, I chose Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, to break down the grammatical structure and “remix” into the JSON file. For instance, in the poem Still I Rise, I noticed six symbols that operated throughout the first two lines of the poem to establish the language and rhyme scheme. After I laid out my six symbols (noun, pronouns, plural nouns, adverbs, adjectives, and action verbs), I began to think of values that I could attach to each symbol to modify the original poem. When I found a few words to put under each symbol I composed the origin strand to layout the grammatical structure of the tweet. Finally, I used the Cheap Bots, Done Quick website to copy and paste my JSON file that will instruct my bot to randomize the values and compute different tweets under the same grammatical structure every ten minutes.

2). Observations:

Initially, I was surprised when we were discussing the different purposes of bots on the internet. Under my previous perception, I’ve always viewed bots as just the “trolls” of the internet and that their only goal was to annoy other social media users or ignite conversation. After our discussion on bots, and the different bots on Twitter, I realized that the “bots” agenda could also be viewed positively as a means to getting social media users to converse regarding a particular subject or even influence users to be more civically active. As there are human hands behind the code that generates the bots, not everything the bot pushes out is intentionally harmful or purposefully annoying, and it can sometimes be used to educate and encourage others.
Following my discovery on the different purposes of bots, I began to think deeper into the amount the work that goes into the code to emit the copious amount of internet bots. Even creating my code, and stripping down the grammatical structure of the poem allowed me to think deeper about the actual literary aspects of the poem in a way that I have never thought to consider. After this exercise, I’ve come to realize how generating code is essentially a different form of reading established through “digital literacy”. Even reading the code in the form of symbols and values as opposed to rhyme schemes and stanzas promotes a different type of reading through computational analysis that allows me to think in regards to the medium of the computer aside from the author.

3). Analysis: While reading Chapter 1:The Book as Object from Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book, I came across this quote that I think not only resonates with the written word but also with practicing digital literacy:

“We should keep in mind that no text exists outside of the physical support that offers it for reading (or hearing) or outside of the circumstance in which it was read (or heard). Authors do not write books: they write texts that become written objects – manuscripts, inscriptions, print matter or, today, material in a computer file”(Borsuk, 29).

I think that in terms of Twitter bots and computer programming the first step is to recognize that there are human hands or “physical support” systems that compute the code in order to make it possible to read, hear, or feel. With that being said, while there is an author attached to every product, the reader is left to interpret the text with any given information. The writer can establish these immortal texts, but the readers or translators can also give the text a new meaning, misinterpret, and/or recreate the text in a different matter that aligns more to their views. Ultimately, the text created becomes an “object” for the reader to utilize in different manners, keeping the conversation surrounding the original text alive.
Similarly, in this lab, while we were the authors composing our “remixed” poems into computational text, we are using the original text as the “object” for our JSON files in order to create the grammatical structures for our tweets. In addition to acknowledging the author’s work in text, I think that Borsuk’s quote is also paying tribute to the actual medium in which the writing is published or produced. Without plain text editors and the JSON language, our bots would not be able to comprehend how to utilize the elements in the structure to write out the tweet. Essentially, the “human hands” are doing the work in which the bot is enacted to follow through with the written code and compute the code into readable text for the consumer.
I thought it was also interesting when Borsuk notes that “authors do not write books”, just as we are not writing “bots” in this lab. Instead we are writing the text that will be utilized in the medium (Twitter) to create the bot. Our written word, or in this case, the “remixed” grammatical structures of the bots, are the elements that are shown through the physical object of the computer to be used by various readers on the social media site. While we are not writing the “book” or the “bot”, we are still the authors behind the written text that ensure that the bot works properly under our digital capabilities.

Angelou, Maya. _ And Still I Rise_. Random House, 1978.
Borsuk, Amaranth.The Book. The MIT Press, 2018.