Okc_ebooks creator Sam Kriss made a fake female profile on the dating site OkCupid, through which he responds to unsolicited messages from men with quotes from @horse_ebooks, the surreal Twitter bot that streams nonsensical snippets of text. The result: dozens of conversations from horny men desperately vying to have sex with a robot.
That men on dating websites are desperate enough to forge conversations with aleatory internet patter is not in itself surprising. For women who receive an abundance of unsolicited messages from men, it is effortless to reject a would-be suitor. There is no need to give an “I have a boyfriend” or even a “no.” Thus, to some men, any response at all from a woman is encouragement enough to try to keep the conversation going, even if that response is “Almost immediately Together Turned immediately Immediately Immediately Immediately Immediately Immediately Immediately Immediately.”
What is surprising—to me, anyway—is how perfectly Okc_ebooks illustrates both the objectification of women and the way communication is degraded by pick-up artists.
I operate PUA.txt, a Twitter and Tumblr outfit that features a mix of repulsive and pathetic quotes from pick-up artist message boards. Having spent a few months trawling the “seduction community” where men share canned routines for “opening” (i.e., talking to) women, it’s fascinating to see their scripted conversations play out from the opposite perspective, that of a robot horse.
PUA routines diverge from other cliche pick-up lines (“Your legs must be tired…”) in that many PUAs believe their routines have an almost hypnotic pull and are grounded in psychology about the “female brain” and specious ideas about evolution and “human nature” that even a stoned philosophy undergrad would be embarrassed to say aloud.
PUAs avidly share these incantations online like video game cheat codes or In-and-Out secret menu items. When PUAs discuss routines, they frequently put filler text like “bla bla” in place of the “target’s” (i.e., woman’s) dialogue, as anything she might say is presumed irrelevant while she’s being razzle-dazzled by a fast-talking man wearing eyeliner and a fedora. The hypothetical woman who will soon be bothered by a weirdo on the bus is treated with no subjectivity; no matter what she says, the PUA’s next line in the script remains essentially the same. The resultant one-sided conversation is a hollow parody of human interaction.
Online routines are less varied, since there is no opportunity to do a magic trick or casually touch a woman’s hair to activate her attraction zones. On dating sites, the PUA’s aim is to distinguish himself among many messengers by provoking a woman’s sense of insecurity or curiosity.
Yet the same denial of a woman’s subjectivity is present, perhaps to an even greater extent. Take, for example, this PUA who runs through three different routines, gets no response other than “OK,” then asks his colleagues if the woman is “flirting or being a bitch.” Like all good hustlers, PUAs are loath to take “no” for an answer, even when they’re talking to a Twitter horse. They seem genuinely oblivious or hostile to the fact that women enjoy the agency to reject potential paramours, no many how many alpha male traits their dating profile conveys.
Sam, @horse_ebooks’ dating coach, told me via email: “There was an article on ABC News about it where the gist was ‘here’s how to fend off internet creepers,’ which is bollocks. A lot of people just get angrier or hornier.”
As for the PUAs caught in Okc_ebooks’ net, their routines are much more enjoyable to read when “bla bla” has been replaced by equally meaningless palaver. Take this routine, which relies on women being fascinated by mystical nonsense:
This is a pick-up artist talking to a horse robot and claiming he just read its personality. If they had continued talking, “her” responses would have continued to be irrelevant (in case you were wondering, next he would have offered to tell her over dinner what aspects of her personality could be divined from her fondness for strawberries, along with her lucky lotto numbers for the week).
Even if a real woman had been involved, this kind of exchange would not constitute real interhuman communication, any more than would an exchange between reality TV actors after having been told by their producer to “bitch up that last take.” Instead, this is a PUA acting out another PUA’s creepy fanfiction verbatim to an ebook aggregator. As one Twitter follower asked, “if a PUA guy talks to horse_ebooks, is anyone really speaking at all?”
Devoid of actual communication, the only remainder of the conversation between @horse_ebooks and a PUA is the context of one man’s desire to have sex with a picture of a woman. As Sam attested, “These people are talking by rote. I’ve had people send the same message to several of my accounts, some in different continents, all with the same avatars. They’re completely oblivious. It’s a horse robot talking to a meat robot.”
But, at the end of the day, conversations on dating websites are regularly initiated and engaged in with that singular goal in mind. In messages between two actual people, the context is both overt and overwhelming, even if participants sometimes refrain from coming right out and saying exactly what they want to do to the other. By that rubric, men using canned PUA routines are as insincere as anyone else flirting online—including, perhaps, @horse_ebooks itself, as Sam suggested:
One of the major criticisms of PUA is the fact that it turns human interaction into this weird grotesque number game. But that’s exactly what online communication does a lot of the time: it follows the logic of the computer, input and output. And given that the horse robot is made out of the ephemera of online language—sales patter, ad copy, technical specifications, whatever—she fits right in on OkCupid, where everyone’s kinda advertising themselves.
OkCupid is itself a numbers name, with analytics ranging from precise compatibility scores to selectivity of responses. The schlubs who blast out hundreds of messages hoping for a nibble are playing a numbers game the site facilitates almost by design. If a man gauges his online dating success solely by the amount of phone numbers he snags, doesn’t it make sense for him to embrace the sexual context that everyone is aware of? Isn’t it more effective to abandon the pretense of engaging in original, real communication and become, well, more like @horse_ebooks?
“Someone said it was an ‘anti-Turing Test,’ and I think that’s kinda true,” wrote Sam, whose personal blog is also worth reading. “In our communications we’re less human than the decontextualised content of those communications; even when it comes to things like love and sex, @horse_ebooks seems more alive than her suitors.”
Or, as @horse_ebooks might put it, “Human Optimization for.”