The art of irrelevant generation

When Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote the company's mission statement it was a prayer for Internet rationalism: their search engine seeks "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

In this vision, the fragments of data continually heaped onto the web exist only to be lassoed together and packaged into a clean, friendly, and functional diagram, preferably stacked into neat hierarchies of "rank." This should happen in .02 seconds, preferably. The Internet, according to Google's logic, will eventually transform a nebula of confusing and marginally valuable terms into a space of ultimate order, reason, and utility.

Yet Google's reason machine implies an alternative way of processing data: a random machine, a generator. Like an automated Dr. Frankenstein, a generator weaves together pieces of information - fragments of our identities and fumbling attempts to communicate each other - into a new body that is unpredictable and unruly. The product of such a generator is frequently ugly, sometimes beautiful, and always novel. It is Google's Doppelganger, the other side of the moon.

Generators exist widely and quietly in cyberspace. They can do anything from spew out a random combination of pizza toppings to compose lengthy, footnoted essays composed entirely of fragments of postmodern literary criticism.

While they may at first appear as arcane toys, generators say something as powerful about their digital environment as the ordering algorithms behind search engines. If Google's impulse is to present us with an increasingly "complete" and "relevant" reflection of ourselves, a generator gives us the skewed refractions of a carnival mirror.

In shaking up neat chains of data, a generator becomes an electric satire. Forming absurd juxtapositions they allow us to look at the facts in fresh and hopefully disturbing ways. Like Frankenstein's monster, generators represent a dark copy of ourselves, and in this alien status, may hover close to saying something dangerously true about our own ideas, fears, and desires.

Open call for proposals

This project is an exploratory mission in the art of generators. We call on anyone to submit a proposal for a generator or a completed generator itself. The rule for a generator is simple: It simply must put collect some set of data and rearrange it into something new. The possibilities are limitless.


Robot Reporter>>

Submit proposal>>

In this issue:


3 of 4 postcards to a Coney Island sword swallower
The Answering Machine
Astronut: a song for Lisa Nowak

This Island Earth

Dispatch from Lake Titicaca


Camera Sunshine Repository


Anti-Google: The art of irrelevant generation

About the Moon

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