“Save the Humanities (@SaveHumanities)” by Mark Sample

 Save the Humanities @SaveHumanities  Daily tips on how to stop the crisis in the humanities. Real solutions! (Machine Generated by @samplereality)
Open “Save the Humanities (@SaveHumanities)” by Mark Sample

At face value this bot seeks solutions to what many call “the crisis of the Humanities” by offering “tips on how to stop the crisis in the humanities. Real solutions!” Its operation is conceptually straightforward: it completes a sentence template that begins with “To save the humanities, we need to” and then completes the sentence, I imagine with the results of a search in Twitter for tweets that contain “we need to” or “we must.” This creates grammatically correct sentences that offer solutions that vary in their fit or appropriateness. For example:

The two tweets above are obviously repurposing content related to the ongoing FIFA World Cup. The effect is absurd, even funny. The next one, however, provoked me (and others) into responding.

I know this is a bot, and so did everyone else who replied, yet it still elicited a response. Who were we addressing? Probably ourselves, or others who were unnerved by the tweet. Or simply people who actually read the tweet and thought about it and maybe wanted to have a conversation with others who were moved by it. You see, who would actually dare to write a tweet like that and not expect a (probably unpleasant) response from their followers? Sometimes it takes the impersonal, systematic, ceaseless exploration that bots excel at to come up with inconceivable solutions. And that can be a valuable thought experiment.

Of course, there could be irony at play here. Perhaps Mark Sample is satirizing all the solutionism that keeps being thrown around in the conversations about the humanities crisis. Maybe he wants to show how ridiculous are propositions that offer a single, simple solution. Perhaps he is critiquing the very notion that there’s anything “we” can do to “save the humanities.” However you interpret his motivations, the bot potentially does it all by offering a mantra that is both mechanical and humanistic. And because it comes from a bot, we are freer to interpret the idea at face value than if it had been posed by a person.

This bot gestures towards a subgenre that Mark Sample calls “bots of conviction” or “protest bots” in a recent manifesto. Based on his criteria, I think @SaveHumanities is too exploratory in its design, lacking a focused stance towards the issue. It would need a more focused data source or search term to truly be an activist bot, like @NRA_Tally. But who knows what ideas or activism it might inspire?

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