Happy birthday @Horse_ebooks! A quick look at the wisdom of Twitter’s favorite bot

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Happy birthday, @Horse_ebooks!

The world’s greatest Twitter bot is three years old today and its tweets remain as absurd, silly, and strangely touching as ever.

For the uninitiated: @Horse_ebooks is an automated Twitter account that spurts bizarre wisdom and charming non-sequiturs, originally created to sell (you guessed it) e-books but currently serving a greater purpose of generating daffy, delightful phrases.

Questions about @Horse_ebooks still remain: while Gawker uncovered its probable creator in an elusive Russian Web developer, no one is sure whether the account is completely automated or whether there’s a human hand making sure the tweets aren’t just random phrases but random phrases that deeply please readers. John Herrman noted that the tenor of @Horse_ebooks’ tweets changed in September 2011, suggesting that it either just began running new software or someone may have actually been controlling it, but no one knows.

It’s a beautiful mystery.

Now, we can’t tell if Horse is totally random and automated or whether someone edits, selects, or otherwise interferes with the generated tweets. But it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it turns out that the beloved passages you underlined, wrote out, and got tattooed on your lower back have a completely different meaning to the author than they do to you. Some post-structural literary theorists believe that authorial intention is irrelevant, that it’s what the reader finds in a text that’s important.

Which is why I’m going to dust off my thinkin’ cap and conduct close readings for ten of @Horse_ebooks’  most popular tweets.

This tweet implores you to solicit recommendations from your less intellectual friends about art. Why would you do that? Perhaps it’s a critique of the merits of contemporary art, or of the idea that reputation matters when it comes to creative pursuits.

This winking Horse tweet gets meta, acknowledging the fact that it’s being read. The use of “Dear Reader” winks at the epistolary tradition, especially since the lack of authorial intent at the heart of @Horse_ebooks’ appeal makes it impossible that the bot would be addressing anyone in particular or anyone at all.

The continued lack of final punctuation suggests once again the @Horse_ebooks has not finished its thought, teasing us with things untweeted.

Oh, @Horse_ebooks, getting self-referential yet again. The insertion of the article “a” in front of “full time Internet” imbues the “I” in the sentence with a particular attribute. Not the full time Internet, just one of many. What initially seems like a bragging statement is actually a poignant admission that @Horse_ebooks is not special. It is just one of many full-time bots, confined to the Internet.

This sentence is striking because it suggests that crying, something we usually consider an emotional outpouring, is also a physical exertion. And not just any physical exertion – a great one.

But perhaps we just misunderstand the nature of the word “crying” in this sentence. Perhaps it refers to the act of calling loudly rather then weeping, in which case, it is an exhausting vocal exercise, and @Horse_ebooks is simply stating a fact.

In this tweet, Horse uses capital letters for emphasis, adding extra weight to each word. It becomes less of a question and more of a prerogative to create a community of Twitter users who long to be something different than what they already are.

The decision to leave the question mark off the question adds to the impression that an answer is not expected.

A swift, ruthless rebuttal to carpe diem and YOLO culture.

Another astute cultural observation, this one focusing on our overly elaborate mating rituals. Use of quotations around “to get laid” suggests the author finds such a limpid descriptor for sexual intercourse unacceptable to use in earnest; may be a comment on the weaknesses of contemporary slang.

An experiment in repetition and non-traditional syntax of which Gertrude Stein would be proud. Perhaps an attempt at an evocation of the continuous present?

How else to tear down the institutionalization of the self-help industry but to parrot it into meaninglessness?

@Horse_ebooks uses stream-of-consciousness to great effect in this tweet. The angsty, confessional, needy words may be used to express dismay about @Horse_ebooks’ upcoming birthday and the relentless march of time. The excessive use of commas establishes an uneven staccato rhythm reminiscent of a 20-something attempting to navigate an unwelcoming job market, submitting resumes and temping without finding a productive day-to-day pattern until they’re 32, and even then, they still feel lost.

Ahh the nothingness of it all! Happy birthday, you beloved bot you – all your tweets are belong to my heart. 


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