I started reading up on Patrick Steadman when all that ‘weird Facebook’ stuff went down a few weeks ago and Austin told me to look up BestStoriesOnline.com, which seems like the next ViralNova if we’re all being honest. Anyway, Patrick is a writer and a programmer and is thinking about innovative stuff in the literature space.
Do you consider yourself a ‘writer’?
Do you consider what you do with words and technology as art or literature or just…?
I consider it writing. I want to write the most juicy, seductive texts possible, and the computer is often a good tool for this. I also want the writing to have the quality of aletheia, “unconcealedness”, “disclosure”, or “truth value”. The computer allows me to query the conversations I’ve had, or the petabytes of thought generated by other Internet users, to determine if what I want to say is valid. I can then hydrate that information, by presenting it in a beautiful, dynamic, expressive, streaming format.
Outside the scope of this interview, I work as a contract programmer, developing applications for factories. I think that if I can develop some useful and harm-reducing software, write something that is considered literature, and experience true love, I can die happy.
Or…how do you describe your projects to people?
I usually feel ashamed and embarrassed about my projects.
Getting more specific, I really like this infinite love poem. How’d you set that up and what was the idea behind it?
The poem isn’t infinite. For any given viewer of the poem, there are only so many (5,016,689) different possible sentences, and when all of these possibilities have been exhausted, the poem ends. But, different viewers of the poem get different orderings of these sentences, for a total of 5,016,698 factorial (3.58 * 10^31,435,192) unique poems. Supposedly, there are only around 10^80 elementary particles in the universe, so this is an extremely large number of poems.
The finite nature of the poem is relevant. I developed it during my first real committed relationship, and I was thinking about the “probability space” of our relationship, all of the things we could do together, before that space was exhausted. That seems cold, but I think it came from a place of real love.
I can see how ‘Love Poem’ is an attack on the formulaic nature of the love poetry on the Internet, but I was mostly trying to understand how an experience can be formulaic but still extremely meaningful. It is like looking down from an airplane and trying to feel significant.
My friend Evan came up with the initial idea for this project, and I executed it. I like working this way. I’m interested in working with other people who have literary ideas that could be enhanced by technology.
Beststoriesonline.com seems pretty genius. it seems to be taking the best of net.art and hipster runoff with a dash of listicle action into the parody world. how do you want “best stories” to be perceived?
Best Stories Online is a non-profit platform for ad tech experimentation.
What are your main ‘outlets’ for writing? (social media, poetry, fiction…whatev else)
I write into a notebook every day, and it usually makes me feel better. Since graduating, I’ve been trying to write in more structured formats. I’ve been working on a novel called “College Memoir”, which is unreadable so far. I’ve been tracking all of the changes in a public github repository. https://github.com/ptsteadman/college-memoir
Do you care about getting “noticed” for these projects or would you rather them live semi-anonymously?
I love semi-anonymous Internet content, but sometimes I feel like a loser in life, and during those times it feels good to be “noticed” explicitly.
What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past week or so? (book, article, tumblr, website, whatev)
I read Part II of Robert Bolano’s “The Third Reach”. It’s about a German resort-goer who is obsessed with a tabletop war game.
I’m really fascinated with what literature can do with technology but it seems like a lot of ppl are scared by it or something…What’s been your experience?
I think professional writers may be scared of technology because technology is making it easier for anyone to write and share their writing. The commoditization and democratization of writing is occurring simultaneously. It’s comparatively hard to nail down good writing, so any individual who wants to make a life out of “being a writer” is in an insecure position.
I am terrified by the great writing I find on the Internet. I feel routinely outclassed by stories on 4chan, Yelp reviews, random tumblrs, dating profiles, facebook posts, etc, etc. I am afraid that my writing is just an overworked, boring version of that stuff, and that there is no reason for anyone to care about my content, and by extension, me. I guess one just has to deal with this fear, and try to make a contribution.
Also, there is this idea that software is eating the world, that everyone needs to learn to code, and that programmers and machines will make everyone else obsolete. Unsurprisingly, this jerkoff idea is being pushed by people who have a lot to gain by the ascendency of the technocracy, like me. But, as stated in The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, “Educators, generals, dieticians, psychologists, and parents program. Armies, students, and some societies are programmed. An assault on large problems employs a succession of programs, most of which spring into existence en route.” Everybody already programs, it’s how we deal with problems. The idea that one needs to know special machine languages in order to effectively deal with problems or create beautiful things seems wrong.