Sophia Brueckner: Captured by an Algorithm

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    Captured by an Algorithm



Artist Statement:

    Captured by an Algorithm is a commemorative plate series that looks at romance novels through the lens of Amazon Kindle’s Popular Highlight algorithm. A passage in a Kindle e-book becomes a Popular Highlight after a certain number of people independently highlight the same passage.

    Popular Highlights are displayed as underlined along with the total number of highlighters. The highlights in romances are not the racy, salacious quotes that one might expect. Instead, they reveal the intense feelings of loneliness, grief, and discontent that are felt by the readers. With all the social technologies available today, it is astonishing to see that so many people feel so lonely. Popular Highlights change based on readers’ interactions with the books and Amazon’s adjustments to the algorithm. These poignant examples of shared vulnerability are preserved on porcelain commemorative plates. Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm, intended to stitch together photos into panoramas, is instead applied to scans of romance novel covers. Because the covers are so similar, the algorithm finds areas that it believes should overlap producing dreamy, hybrid landscapes. Each plate features one of these landscapes as well as a Popular Highlight from a romance novel.

    The nature of these highlights suggests they are not serving as bookmarks for readers to return to later. They are not the type of quotes people share on Goodreads to look smart or well read. When a reader highlights one of these Popular Highlights, it is as if they are saying “I understand” or “me too!” They can take comfort in knowing that they are one of many feeling the same way. Over seventy thousand individual acts of highlighting were used to determine the content for this work. This project draws attention to an existing example of collective social support to change society’s vision for the future of social technologies.

Affiliation Where Artwork Was Created:

    University of Michigan