October 28, 2020
Leonardo is the leading international peer-reviewed journal on the use of contemporary science and technology in the arts and music and, increasingly, the application and influence of the arts and humanities on science and technology.
Captured by an Algorithm is a commemorative plate series that looks at romance novels through the lens of the Amazon Kindle 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 show up as underlined text along with the number of people who highlighted that passage. Since 2010, I have collected Kindle Popular Highlights from popular romance novels. Each commemorative plate features one of these highlights and a landscape generated by running Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm on scanned romance novel covers. Eighty thousand individual acts of highlighting were used to determine the content for this work telling the story of the intense loneliness, grief, vulnerability, and discontent felt by the readers. This work reveals a glimpse of a positive, anonymous social network emerging unintentionally through this minor Kindle feature. With this ongoing project, I draw attention to this existing example of collective social support in order to change society’s vision for the future of social technologies.