The tweets “Have you ever delved into the realms of the astral and wondered about the afterlife?,” “make wishes for the things,” and “Do you feel clueless as to what to say when you are standing” might seem like gibberish or random spam to many, but to the more than 200,000 followers of the “accidentally” profound Twitter account @Horse_ebooks, those messages are zen-like dispatches from an all-knowing computerized guru. But now, according to The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean, we’ve learned that the account is actually the work of BuzzFeed’s Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, who created Horse_ebooks as part of a series of conceptual-art installations. It’s part of a larger project along with the equally bizarre YouTube channel Pronunciation Book, and the newly-launched interactive video art piece “Bear Stearns Bravo” which opened today at the Fitzroy Gallery, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Horse_ebooks was initially a spambot account traced — by Gawker’s Adrian Chen — to Russian developer Alexey Kouznetsov. It began launching 140-character or less bits of oddly poetic, existential wisdom, using an algorithm, in an attempt to seemingly promote Kouznetsov’s ebooks. But as of September 2011, the account was taken over by Bakkila and Bender. Bakkila told The NY Times, “The goal was not to appropriate the account but to become the account.” He searched for articles about weight loss and self-help to find the proper non-sequiturs that would properly replicate the voice of Horse_ebooks, even continuing to share links to Kouznetsov’s books, so the transition was seamless.
As an avid Horse_ebooks fan, I am equally disappointed and impressed by the scheme perpetuated on us by Bakkila and Bender. Disappointed because I wanted to believe that some kind of Russian computer program was capable of assembling such lovely little bits of nonsense that peered curiously into the souls of its followers. I’m impressed because I appreciate a good rouse.
The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer’s puts it perfectly:
“To me, though, that disappointment is only a mark of the horse’s success. We believed we were watching the digital work mutter happily to itself about us, its anxious masters. Maybe the digital world was trying to sell us something, too, but its method of doing so was so blissfully ignorant, so warmly earnest, somehow, that we obliged. We loved @horse_ebooks because it was seerlike, childlike.
But no: There were people behind it all along. We thought we were obliging a program, a thing which needs no obliging, whereas in fact we were falling for a plan.”
At least we still have @Paranoid_ebooks, right?
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments?