“It’s 6:00AM and I’m wide awake. Good friday morning peeps.”
This is how the computer-generated “novel” All the Minutes begins. Programmed by developer Jonathan Puckey, the book documents every minute throughout a 24-hour day by breaking down the giant global stream of peoples’ tweets–there are some 6,000 per second–into an automatically-generated collective diary.
The book wasn’t the main project, however: It came about as part of a Twitter bot, All The Minutes, built by Puckey and his small team at the Dutch design studio Moniker, to coincide with a museum exhibition. The account takes collected tweets and retweets them every minute–set to the Central European Time zone (Moniker is based in Amsterdam).
“We are obsessed with how people use new technologies to communicate with each other,” explains Puckey. “We can easily spend hours trying out different search queries, looking for patterns on the strategies people use to talk to their followers. It’s interesting to us that these days people choose to speak about exact minutes in relation to their lives–almost as if they could be doing something different every minute.”
To get the tweets needed, the team wrote a script that searches Topsy for tweets in a standard format—”It’s 11:45 a.m. and…”. To make the novel a little bit longer, multiple tweets of the same time were strung together. The result: The mundane updates people post to Twitter become a kind of stream-of consciousness novella—the kind of thing that Joyce and Woolf and Faulkner, with their fixations on time and the microscopic moment, might have smiled upon.
As you might expect, people who have got wind of the Twitter clock have begun tweeting their own time-related messages, hoping to one day appear in the stream.
The project echoes a number of recent art projects, including Christian Marclay’s 2010 installation The Clock, a 24-hour, minute-by-minute “supercut” built of shots of clocks in movies. And while Twitter bots are busy writing novels, writers like Jennifer Egan and David Mitchell have taken to Twitter to construct stories. Last month, the artist Cory Archangel published a book mined from a more particular kind of Twitter update: people who tweeted that they were working on their novel.
For Puckey, the idea of building a “novel” out of the Twitter bot’s stream was the result of a happy coincidence. When the team caught wind of NaNoGenMo, the National Novel Generation Month, a event organized by the developer Darius Kazemi that’s timed to coincide with November’s National Novel Writing Month, they decided to jump in. All The Minutes doesn’t actually hit NaNoGenMo’s goal of 50,000 words: It currently clocks in somewhere around a more novella-like 20,000 words.
Another algorithm-based Twitter clock called Chirpclock, developed by Mike Bodge in 2012, is a standalone website that samples Twitter in near real-time and updates in two-second intervals. But it doesn’t string them together into a weird, postmodern novel.
It’s 2:40pm and I’m drunk. I should be ashamed, but alas I am not. Its 2.41pm and my sister is still sleeping :/ how disgusting. It’s 2:42pm and I finally just got dressed ^_^. It’s 2:43pm and I haven’t even WRITTEN my to do list yet. I need a reset button for today! It’s 2:44pm and I haven’t killed anyone today — yet. New personal best. Its 2:45pm and I’m sober? Quick, someone call 911 or Ghostbusters! It’s 2:46pm and I have not gotten out of bed. Love days when I only have show call nearly as much as days off. It’s 2:47pm and I have just woken up. Time for applejacks :). It’s 2:48pm and I am so tired!! Itâ€™s 2.49pm and Iâ€™ve had 8 cups of tea so far. Next time Iâ€™ll think twice before cycling in the rain, getting soaked and freezing my ass off.
Reading through the automatically generated book or following the clock bot, there’s something oddly satisfying, hypnotic even, about the project. It doesn’t flow from beginning to end, but the text still intrigues, pulling you forward with the steady beat of the clock and the strange rhythm and repetition of thousands of peoples’ thoughts. Think of it as an unknowing, crowdsourced version of The Hours—maybe, The Minutes—a portrait of humanity in the midst of its everyday, sometimes mindless moments, and a remarkable testament to the ceaseless stream of data that keeps those of us on the Internet scrolling down.
And if that weren’t enough, the computer-generated book ends in a way that puts most human authors to shame.
“Its 5:58am and we just rollin in the house!!! We had a freakin blast!!! Night till mornin we aint leavin cuz we head bad!!!! TRINI 2 DI BONE. It’s 5:59am and im awake…”