Individual Work

@everyword is a Twitter bot programmed by Allison Parrish to tweet all the words in the English language. Conceived shortly after Twitter launched in 2006, an original conceit of @everyword was to critically question the social media platform’s generic praise of content creation. Every half hour, one word at a time, from 2007 to 2014, the bot sent generated text to clot in twitter streams.

Publishing each word as an individual unit, Parrish describes a project of creating “digital objects.” @everyword’s content was derived from a database of English words that Parrish found online, “I honestly don’t remember…It’s not the OED.” Equipped with a URL, each twitted word became an interactive unit. A unit which can be searched for, saved, shared, commented upon, and endowed with quantifiable hearts.

“It’s a cultural practice of ours,” Parrish writes on her website, “to consider individual words in the abstract: we pick out our favorite words, we decide which words are commonly misused, we decry our politicians for making up words or using words with a disagreeable frequency, etc.”

Affronted with language in the unusual form of digital object, followers of the account worked to return context to naked words. When “yesterday” was tweeted, people commented on the word and wrote continuations of the famous line of the eponymous Beatle’s song “…all my troubles felt so far away.” A number of “bless you” comments hang off tweeted words, occasionally accompanied by prayer hand emojis

Certain words went viral, receiving hundreds of responses and shares. “Yuck” and “Weed” were two of the most popular. Often people claimed these words and combined them with “same” or “mood,” canonizing a word and giving it the attributes of a meme.

People address the account directly, complimenting it for its hard work and encouraging it to “keep going”. The Sisyphean task of tweeting every word is anthropomorphized, judged as admirable and necessary.

At one point reaching more than 100,000 followers, Parrish’s itemized version of the English language broke temporally across thousands of personalized twitter streams. Each word is contextualized for the individual follower in their curated feed. This forces the alphabetical lexicon to be re-ordered. The space in-between entries in the English language is embedded with new intermediaries.
Hovering over the profiles of people who had interacted with the account, most have a small community on twitter, usually less than 200 followers, but they have generated thousands of tweets. Often 20,000 or more. The composition of content for a relatively silent audience is perplexing.

The project was partially inspired by John F. Simon’s “Every Icon” web piece. Running continuously since 1997, the java applet draws every possible monochrome variation in a thirty-two by thirty-two-unit grid. This early form of content creation which is not monitored or aesthetically considered, seems paramount to twitter’s emphasis on generating tweets, regardless of their quality or reception.
While critically aware, Parrish is not a skeptic, on her website she playfully brushes off criticism about the impossibility of creating meaningful writing in the context of twitter. “There’s never been an era in history with such diverse practices for reading and writing text. Why not have as much fun with that as possible?”

Dozens of comments crowd the twitted word “z.” Many followers lament the inevitable end of the alphabet, with z as the first indication, and consequentially the termination of the twitter bot. It as if people worry that the bot will die when is ceases to participate in content creation. Isn’t there something of this impulse in much of social media participation?

Commenting on a digital object records an experience of it. “I saw this” insists on presence, something oddly undisclosed on digital platforms. A concern that failing to contribute to one’s digital presence, to upload oneself to the archive of interaction, means that one is not recognized as authentic or real might lurk behind people’s motivations when using twitter. @everyword triggers a surreal application of human sociality, producing the odd situation in which people encourage and cheer for a twitter robot as it programmatically spews content.

Since @everyword’s final tweet, Allison Parrish has written a book, aptly titled, Every Word. One wonders why the book, a long form annotation to the experiment, felt necessary for the artist. Perhaps content is restless, constantly seeks new contexts. Maybe every word requires every context to evoke a multiplicity of meaning? In a note to herself, published in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, Susan Sontag, considered “the everything book I’ve been trying to write…perhaps I have to find my own form.”