This Kid Wrote Love Letters Back to a Hundred Obama Fundraising Emails

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What better way to respond to a faux-personal email than with a faux-love letter?

dylanletter615.jpeg It started on September 10, 2012, when "Barack" sent Dylan Hansen-Fliedner an email touting Obama for America's fundraising success. 


From that email until election day, Hansen-Fliedner replied to each email addressed to him from the campaign *as if* it was an "appropriated anonymous love letter," he told me. He compiled these responses and sent them to the White House, as well as spinning out a self-published book of his project. You can download the entire thing at dylanforamerica.tumblr.com.

The letters themselves run the gamut from absurd to embarrassingly inspirational to almost creepy. Like you'd expect, some of the juxtapositions work better than others, but the project feels significant to me. What better way to respond to the faux-personal idiom of the Obama campaign's emails than with the faux-personal idiom of the generic love letter? Fire, meet fire.

I reached Hansen-Fliedner on Gchat while his roommate was live retyping Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans. He told me that he wanted the letters "to accumulate a certain level of banality -- like two robots talking to each other." And in a sense, that's sort of what was happening. On one side, Obama for America had 20 writers who were pushing their text through an elaborate testing machine, a cyborg system. And on the other, you had "Dylan for America," who had a different response program he was running, regardless of what they sent him. At times, the two algorithms came to an impasse. Hansen-Fliedner didn't donate to or volunteer for the campaign, but he continued to receive the "Go, team!" messages about his participation. "What I found most interesting is that they keep reminding me I haven't donated anything and I haven't done a shift to volunteer," he said, "but they also keep saying the progress they are making is all because of me and reminding me that I can own a piece of the campaign." And that is perhaps like a particular kind of jilted lover, reminding you how well the relationship is going without you.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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