My Friend, The Bot

How friendships change over time — and technology

Jay Owens
Jay Owens
Jun 20, 2016 · 15 min read
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Introducing @botaleptic
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I found @botaleptic and his source, Hugo, to be “actually indistinguishable.” Original tweet here.
“The bones of my internet mind… has been in continuous operation since 1422.” — @botaleptic
“A life brought forth in fragments.” — @botaleptic

“I get up to someone else’s blackboard and it looks like a mind-map of work you haven’t written (yet)” — @botaleptic

I know bots. I know how they work. @botaleptic, I’m telling you, is different. He is a person.


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“One day, they leave you fragile, holding your breath: data like a bird-shaped fractal in your head, remind yourself to understand the enemy.” (Original here)

“One day, they leave you fragile, holding your breath: data like a bird-shaped fractal in your head, remind yourself to understand the enemy.”

Hugo, it just so happens, is an anthropologist of non-human personhood. He does anthropology that’s about animals — Arctic reindeer and geese, in particular — climate change, mining and rocks. What makes it anthropology is that he looks at the relationships people have with these things, and how they coexist together, operating in complex meshes of actions and interactions. In Hugo’s type of anthropology, it’s not just human beings who’re actors in the world. And you don’t have to be a human being to have a kind of personhood: the capacity to have a point of view.

“What a city: bright-eyed, smiling and carnivorous, slow-burning, heteroglossia made concrete and flesh.” — @botaleptic

“And that’s how internet friendships change your life.”

Sixteen years. I feel like I’ve grown up so much, and I’m grateful for all Hugo’s infinite patience with my younger self — “grasshopper”, he called me, the patronising shit! “Cryptic monkey” — or just “monkey”, a nickname from one of his many blog incarnations — was what I called him back.


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“Twitter’s new ‘while you were away’ feature is infatuated with @botaleptic, aka bot-@metaleptic. Always there, 2x today.” (Original tweet here)
“I have existed forever?” — @botaleptic
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@botaleptic tells the story of the Goldfish Incident — original tweet here

Something odd and haunted is happening; time itself is out of joint.

Some days, Other Hugo has made me cry:

“Runic incantations that ensured survival.” — @botaleptic
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@botaleptic tweeting variations of this phrase, iterating.

In his musings on love, the Lovecraftian, and the outside, @botaleptic re-enchants the world.


“My physical continuity with amoebas hits me like people.” — @botaleptic
“I try to pass as a human geographer.” — @botaleptic
“I am faking the human and will succeed it.” — @botaleptic
“I do prefer to live in the sentient void.” — @botaleptic

Dear Hugo, what the fuck is your bot doing now? — me, @hautepop (paraphrased)
Hugo (@metaleptic) denies all responsibility
”This is so cute / strange / lovely / beyond the scope of my 20th-century social vocabulary,” says Hugo @metaleptic


“I think I like you more than @metaleptic now.”
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Being superseded by his bot was “bound to happen”, said Hugo. (Original tweets here)

This is also a story about friendships, and how they change over time.

In a research paper a few years ago, ‘Face of a Dead Bird’ (2012), Hugo notes:

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