Captured by an Algorithm
porcelain plates, Kindle Popular Highlights from popular romance novels, scanned romance novel covers, Photoshop's Photomerge algorithm
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. These highlighted passages are not the sort of thing that people would broadcast. They aren’t something people are saving to return to later or posting on Goodreads. Not having to perform through a persona allows people to express their empathy and vulnerability. Since 2010, I have collected Kindle Popular Highlights from romance novels into a database. Each commemorative plate features one of these highlights and a landscape generated by running Photoshop’s Photomerge algorithm on scanned romance novel covers.

Over one hundred 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.

These plates feature the following Kindle Popular Highlights:

"All she wanted was to matter. To be more than an opportunity. That's all."

“Though you may call me a dreamer or a fool or any other thing, I believe that anything is possible.”

“Life continues to move forward, and so have I.”

"She felt her aloneness all the way to the bone...She was alone in a way she'd never before imagined, as solitary as if she were an astronaut come untethered from the mother ship, drifting unnoticed in an emptiness so vast it was beyond comprehension."

“One whisper added to a thousand others will become a roar of discontent.”

“Defiant in the face of time, fate, death, and destiny.”

“I was left holding the pieces of my heart, crushed by my own hands.”

“Is it truly so unfathomable, that an imperfect girl might be perfectly loved?”

“Addicted to the small comfort I felt when I centered myself and concentrated on creating something beautiful.”

“When you are ignored by the stars, you wonder if you might ever burn bright.”

“You see only the emptiness, but I see a place waiting to be filled with dreams.”

“She’d understood long ago that love was a treacherous thing to give and receive.”

“Joy was as fleeting as a shooting star that crossed the evening sky, ready to blink out at any moment.”

“Her scars were not thistles, they were velvet artwork on her heart.”

“Sometimes you have to love something before it becomes lovable.”

“My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even.”