A strange little tale from Benjamin Aleshire, poet for hire.
Big Data vs. Big Dada: Writing poetry on demand at a New Orleans tech convention
“I’d like my poem to be about, ‘How to help people’—it’s for my boss,” a cheery young woman tells me, an hour before we close up shop on the final day of the conference. This assignment moves me profoundly—after a thousand poems about anniversaries and dense explications of maverick approaches to data analysis, someone seems sincerely interested in the human condition—an embodiment of the benevolent side of the tech industry. Despite my rage at companies like Facebook for their complicity in the election of a psychopathic demagogue, among many other sins—Silicon Valley aspires to a fervent streak of altruism that falls squarely into the tradition of idealism going back to the 1800s.
The subject for her poem is a question philosophers have wrestled with for centuries, leading to Marx’s indictment of capitalism as a virus which will ultimately eat itself, unless it’s eradicated by a system which doesn’t require exponential profit at the expense of workers and the environment. I don’t say any of this, because not even Marxists enjoy the mansplaining of Marx—instead, I say, “That’s so beautiful, it makes me think of the roots of idealism.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of customer engagement. Like, ‘How can we help our customer engage more with our product and our content?’” she informs me. Oy.
Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.