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Sunday 3 July 2011

Poetry, Technology and Google

I've never thought of myself as a Luddite. Not even an incipient one. I spend time trying to keep up with the latest technologies. Some. I say "some", because as long ago as when I first retired, I made the decision to do my best to stay with certain of them, but to let the rest swing by. Keeping up consumes just too much time and energy. Time and energy that I prefer to devote to other things. I made the same decision with regard to charities - for slightly different reasons. So with regard to computing, I do my best. But as for mobile 'phones, I've largely turned my back on them. I do have a phone, one that Alexander Graham Bell would have been proud to own. I can send and receive texts with it. I can make and receive telephone calls. That's it. That's what a phone's supposed to do! Ah, but I also have two grandsons, so I know what an i-pad and a Blackberry are. So, though the effort and the time involved would outweigh the advantages, I am basically on the side of these things. I classify them under the heading of "Good Guys".

Or I did. Until yesterday morning, over breakfast, to be exact. In the Saturday Guardian Review I came upon Nick Laird's column. Always a good read, it was the second revelation of my early morning peruse. Alas, he doesn't write in it every Saturday, but it's worth taking it each week so as not to miss him when he does. He was writing about poetry apps. Now I knew there were such things, at certain times the knowledge has all but tempted me to overcome my resistance and to sport out on a "proper" mobile. You see, I had assumed that the apps in question would somehow give a new slant on Eliot or Pound or allow a new comparison between them. Something like that. Perhaps open up some form of library to the hungry soul. Maybe there are some that do, but no, not the ones of which Nick was writing. They help you to write the stuff. And the stuff, once written, looks like you had no hand in it. It looks - and sounds - as though the apps wrote it with no other help at all. Which is why everybody's effort looks and sounds the same. (Scrub "everyone's" - but you'll know what I mean!) As Nick put it, it looks as though a computer has translated a poor poem into another language and then translated it back again. It might as well have. Strange, that people who would not dream of getting someone else to write their poem and then claim it as their own, have no compunction about getting a machine to do the job for them. And, maybe because it's come from a computer, they feel no necessity to work on it further. Surfing, I have arrived at so much poetry on which I just cannot comment. Maybe if I knew the person concerned, their background and their life story, I could do so, but in the void of cyber space there is nowhere to start. Should I see it as poetry's first stirrings or as therapy? It has never occurred to me - until now - that I should blame an apps.

If you did not read Nick's article, go raid the recycle bin and reclaim The Review. If you did not take The Guardian yesterday, go raid your neighbour's recycle bin. It really is revealing and explains why so much poetry on the web reads as though it was all written by the same adolescent person. He also makes a plea for more time and effort to go into the writing. This is something I have posted about in the past - and also something I have been guilty of just recently, something I was and am watching, something that is not a permanent state of affairs. The fact is, though, that so much verse on the web is no more than chopped-up prose.

I said that I had had two revelations. The other was from the same Review, but in a book review. The book in question was: "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You", by Eli Pariser. Did you know that if you Google a word and I Google the same word, we will get different results? Maybe you knew that, but I didn't. It is because Google is running our requests through filters it has built of your tastes and mine. Preference algorithms, they are called. They give you and I what Google thinks we'd like to have. In my case it has been spectacularly wrong of late. Interestingly, the suggestion is that there is too much filtering going on on the web, whilst Nick Laird thinks there may be not enough.


jabblog said...

My mobile phone is similar to yours -basic, no-nonsense, no bells and whistles and that's the way I like it
As for preference algorithms, I dislike the idea of Google deciding what I would like to know and withholding information from me. There are some very odd things that pop up from time to time so obviously the filters need cleaning;-)

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve written a post which I think you’ll find interesting, Dave. It’s on Flarf and one of the things I do at the end of the post is “write” a poem by doing exactly that, passing a text through Google Translate a couple of dozen times until I was fairly happy with the result. Is it poetry? You’ll have to read the article. Flarf started off like Dada, basically a bit of a joke, but it was soon adopted by a lot of people and not all of them were out to have a laugh. It was an interesting subject to research.

As for mobile phones I’m with you. Virgin called up a few month back trying to get me to take a free phone and the girl had great difficulty in comprehending that I spend less that £10 a year on phone calls. I have a basic phone just like you and no desire to upgrade. I took the phone they were offering – it never hurts to have a spare phone and it was (surprisingly) free but I’ve never even turned it on. It’s still in the box it came in.

As for the Google thing, that is interesting. It explains why I get different results on my office PC to the laptop. The reason is obvious but it never dawned on me. I wonder if you can turn the filters off. I really hate on Amazon when I’ve gone there doing research or buying a book for someone else that I get loads and loads of recommendations based on stuff I have no interest in actually looking at ever again.

Carl said...

Too much and too little filtering on the internet at the same time. Sounds about right. It is a big place it is full of good bad innocent and other. This is the choice are all faced with regarding new technology.. At what point does the assistance of the technology replace the true artistry? Having grown up shooting 8x10 film and now firmly in the digital photography world I always aware of the changes, but sometimes we do not even see the boundaries we cross. I am trying to keep true to the spirit of my art while using the new tools. How much technology can help or hinder poetry will be a trick of the poets pen I guess. For me the best poetry has no interface to technology until after it is written.

Hmm. I think I'll dig up my copy of Future Shock and re-read that today.

Thanks for the thought provoking post Dave.


David Cranmer said...

I will look for the Guardian article online. And yes I knew of Google's game and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Not a cop-out response but genuinely I'm not sure how much it bothers me. And THAT bothers me.

Mary said...

Thought provoking comments, Dave. Interesting that when I google something I might get different results than when you do! A bit scary how a search engine claims to know about a person!

I agree about internet poetry sometimes being chopped up prose. (Actually you commented on one of my recent poems, saying it could be developed better as prose. I agree with you, actually.)

Poetry apps? Please..and no thank you!

As always, I appreciate your perspective, Dave.

Tabor said...

I guess poetry apps were inevitable and, yes, I had heard about Google's efforts to please us. There was an excellent discussion on our public radio last month. One person commented hat this was more anecdotal in terms of the differences of results. Liberals don't necessarily get liberal links and conservatives not conservative links...but I do think this may be more so down the road as these algorithms get more "accurate."

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Engaging reflections Dave.

Apart from blogging I must say I feel most of matters connected with internet and Google and i-pads just as an active, living dictionary BUT in so much as a dictionary nothing more than a sort of parade of information which all in all have already been commented as such, long before internet and i-pads, by James Joyce in the "windmilling" atmosphere in the chapter of Ulysses n.7. A drunkening advertising and news parade of newspaper headlines.
I can't see much difference from now except maybe an abundance of screens and screening but nothing new under the sun.

Cait O'Connor said...

Interesting post.
I have the Guardian but haven't read it yet but will do so soon.
I don't own a mobile phone, must be one of the few people who don't.
I don't think I am very sure what an 'app' is!

Windsmoke. said...

I use my mobile phone to ring people like it was designed to do. I don't want apps, bells or whistles that cost me more money. Apps are a fad and the novelty will wear off once people realize how much money they really cost :-).

flaubert said...

Dave, what's a poetry app? I write my own words be it good or bad. My cell is for phone calls, and I don't accept cancellation of classes by way of text. My students know that.


Dave King said...

The more I Google the less useful I find the results. I think I now know why.

I had never heard of flarf. I thought you'd made a typo. I shall have to research that - and I shall definitely look forward to your post.

In the main I agree with your points re art and technology. But what about the possibilities of tinkering? They were always there, of course, but the boundaries have been pushed back almost to the point of non-existence. In the end I believe it's a gut feeling. It's the familiar artist's instinct of knowing when t stop.

No, that's not a cop out, it's how I feel. I have no objection to other sites doing the same thing, but I don't want Google doing it. THAT's not logical - and that's what bothers me.

I remember my remark about your poe, It was not intended to mean that your post WAS chopped-up poetry, but that re-written as prose or prose-poetry, it might have something extra to add. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear.

I think you may be spot on with your last remark. And not just from the algorithms becoming more accurate. There effect s cumulative. What I have noticed is that after a spell in which my research has been directed in a certain direction, if I then try to take another tack, Google tries it's best to get me back on the old one. It insists that it knows better than I what I want.

I suppose that if you continually look up odd, unrelated topics as you might in a printed dictionary or whatever, the effect of Google's algorithm would not be felt.

app simply stands for application. You download it on to your mobile phone to do whatever it purports to do - only I don't because my phone is too basic.


All of which is the way it should be. I'm not sure EXACTLY what a poetry app does or doesn't do - not having one - except that it seems one can use it to write poems for you - in some degree or other.

Gisizee said...

Dave, I knew of neither of these shudder-worthy realities! It's bad enough that Google "prompts" my searches by typing in what it thinks I am asking for. But to think it provides me filtered answers as well! As for poetry apps, I feel the same way about them as I do those magnetic poetry tiles that became popular a while back. Anyone could arrange them and make what passed for verses. It's fun, but is it poetry? I think not. Thanks for this insightful post!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I don't have a mobile phone at all! The thought of all the apps you can get just makes my head hurt, at the best of times... the poetry one sounds unnecessary and counterproductive.

I've noticed that if I search for something on Everyclick (one of the search engines that gives money to charity) then the results vary for me day to day for the same term. (Actually i can refresh the page and get a different set of page one results for the same term)