The end of the world as we know it

One of the provocative unintended consequences of putting words on the Web is having them recycled. As one who isn’t overly possessive of my own ideas, I’m still intrigued by any reaction to them. Committing words to text subjects them to analysis, and that includes statistical interpretation.

A professor of mine once described how she conducted a statistical analysis of the grammatical structure of a work of literature. It struck me as a particularly sterile and unimaginative way of examining a story, which, as it unfortunately turned out, was also the way she interpreted The Guest for her students’ benefit.

Statistics and the Web are natural companions. Some argue that literature and the Web are not, but I, who read many more book reviews online than I ever would in print, wholeheartedly disagree. I like having such easy access to so many people’s words.

My friend Dominic Celio told me of a website that captures specific phrases from blogs, categorizes them, and plots them. It’s called We Feel Fine. “Have you seen it?” he asked. “It takes a little exploring to get used to it, but I think it is a great idea.”


We Feel Fine’s interfaces are beautifully representative of the individuality it examines. The site’s creators, Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar, refer to the process as “harvesting human feelings from a large number of weblogs.” The statistics generated don’t seem as objective and impersonal as they might on paper. Still, it’s more than a little overwhelming to be confronted with the data and the various ways it can be sorted.

I shrink from the features that permit me to sort and categorize the emotions accumulated in We Feel Fine’s database. The numbers are too impersonal. Instead, I think about a young man near Dominic’s age in Buenos Aires who wrote these captured words:

i listened to nightwish i danced tango with my friends who have just married i arranged to play tennis next thursday so i feel better now however i know there are things i have to solve to repair the hurt in my heart

One Reply to “The end of the world as we know it”

  1. I say that the web will reveal human-ness far more than more and better statistics. People without a voice before will now have one. In other words: amen to your post! :)

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