June 2nd, 2005


I grok therefore I am

The internet is full of faddish new ways to organise information, most of it entirely useless. Grokker, still in beta, proposes itself as "a new way to look at search" offering, thanks to an interface of clickable bubbles and blobs, "broad exploration, unexpected discovery, deep understanding". Like all ambitious search tools, Grokker dreams of entering the language as a new verb, asking us to "grok the web" and titling its search box "I grok".

I grok, therefore I am? Let's try the ego-surf test; I'm ideally-suited, because I'm pretty obscure and arcane. Typing "Momus" into the box, I get a sparkly coloured line and the message "grokking". Then there I am, a series of grokky blobs in yukky colours, ganging up on the only blob that isn't me, the poor old Greek god Momus, who would be forced into a corner by the plurality of grokked me-Momae if Grokker hadn't banished all corners, replacing them with sinister groke-grey grok crop circles.

Ah, but wait, Grok tools allow me to see the same information in Mondrian-Albers-style squares, or in pastel shades on a white ground! One thing I can't see, though, is what other grokkers grokked. There's no sidebar telling me "Other grokkers grokking this also grokked..." The last fancy blobby search tool let me do that, but I can't remember its name right now. I probably won't remember Grokker in a couple of months either.

I'm bored with grokking, but I still want to know who I am. I could use Googlism, one of the more useful search gimmicks, based as it is on all statements about the search term which contain the word "is". I like Googlism, despite the fact that it quickly establishes me as "a sex tourist" and "deplorable" (for balance, I'm also "so funny", "fabulous", a "pop star" and "a genius"... and finally, simply, "a musician").

But enough about me — what about the collectivist oriental philosophy that says that who we are is defined not by unique individual traits but our membership of communities and groups? Parsing more traditional websites like Amazon and iTunes and scanning the "similar artists" and "customers also bought / viewed" sections, I learn that I'm a different entity in different countries.

Amazon UK's Otto Spooky page tells me that British buyers of my album also purchased music by Anna Domino, Paul Haig, Cristina, Billy Mackenzie and Woodbine. It's a good and telling list, putting me firmly in my historical place as a fringe member of the Scottish post-punk new pop scene, flirting with (but not signing to) the Postcard and Crepuscule labels, close to indie-exotic gay and girlish confectioners of euro-lounge music.

Over in America, I'm suddenly a trad Scot. At department store Barnes and Noble Momus records appeal to people who buy Celtic lays from a ludicrously Caledonian cast: The Beta Band, Highland Bagpipes (specifically their "Highland Christmas" album, hoots!), The Proclaimers, The Average White Band and Donovan. What, no Andy Stewart? Clearly if I title my next album "Donald, Where's Yer Troosers" I'll make a killing in the Scottish diaspora.