The other day, I noticed a curious tweet from the Electronic Literature Organization. It is a fairly common occurrence for them to tweet on others’ posts, aggregating posts of interest, and I ♥ E-Poetry features often. I clicked the link, and was unexpectedly met with the stock WordPress “About” page – the dummy page that every installation of the web software authors automatically as an example page.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the page. Was it just a mistake? But already I began to think of it as sort of a piece of ingenious conceptual digital art, regardless of whether or not this was intentional. The page that is authored for you by software had already got me thinking acutely about the contexts for the text I have read in literally hundreds of incarnations whenever I have installed WordPress.
But what is so special about the page? Nothing per se, except that I had been sent here under the impression that I was about to encounter either a digital poem or a short essay about a digital poem. This expectation had me thinking entirely differently about the meaning of the text. “Hello World!” – the excited exclamation that is synonymous with testing output, experimenting, learning and newness – foregrounds conventions and cliches in developer discourses. The publication of the page is a stark reminder of the automated nature of installation and the commonality of software across a huge range of applications; a representation of the dichotomy between the unique “I” of one’s own identity sculpted through ongoing posts to a blog and the generic nature of the placeholder, designed to be erased and common to all WordPress blogs at their beginning stages. I think that it is important for digital poetry, net art, or any creative work that is digital, to engage with or at least be aware of its material contexts – contexts that have cultural relations and which are, as I have hopefully just shown, crucial not just to function but to signification in a work.
The link made me think about automation; did the ELO churn out the link arbitrarily, in error? Regardless, I received the tweet as a recommendation – one that in turn had its effect of poetic interpretation on me. Taken out of context, “Hello World!” might maintain trace of the cultural weight of optimism with which it happily replicates itself at birth, but taken out of that temporality, the gesture seems especially blank – highly charged with arbitrary energy. At the same time, the “Hello World!” page ceased to be generic and instead opened itself up to a curious moment of critical engagement, inviting me to think about how a text is affected by its publication methods and its promotion. the arbitrary motions of automated aggregation (automated Twitter postings) announce the new with habitual importance – that this new post contained no ‘new information’ compared to any other “Hello World!” was at once a foregrounding of error whilst also being a (however unwitting) statement on the promotion of unique content, published and promoted to the world. However, as can be seen even in other “Hello World!” pages, failure to delete or edit the page still shows nuances through the coding of the site’s theme.
Having said all this, it appears that Flores did indeed install a new WordPress blog, and presumably there is a system set up to have the ELO automatically tweet blog updates (the initial “Hello World!” post has been removed). Regardless, I was happy to have caught myself in a particularly odd combination of factors that presented such a generic text in a framework of actually highly relevant cultural and technological conventions – a happy mistake that reminded me of the various contexts that give a text its expressive charge.