There was an excellent article on The Verge yesterday about how Google is transforming the kinds of sites and blogs that are on the internet. I also read this slightly more personal take by Jason Velasquez, which is more about how social networks have gobbled up all the time and attention of people who might otherwise be making interesting web sites. This has made me think deeply about what this blog is for, and why I might continue to blog in Twenty Twenty Four.
The reason is to be in defiance of these forces. We are at a critical point in history where we can barely tell whether a given scrap of text or allegedly photographic image is definitively real, even our personal snaps are manipulated - first by the phone/camera itself and then sometimes by us too. To some extent this sort of modification is desirable. Our writing and speech undergoes this process too - the machine that does the initial shaping is what we might vaguely refer to as culture - and we find ways to edit our scraps of texts and our anecdotes to make them more palatable to the wider world.
The problem is that are in danger of removing the humans from these loops. Echo chambers have been with us for longer than we’re prepared to acknowledge, but it’s now no longer a sci-fi scenario to imagine that a group of humans could live in a culture that has been entirely generated by computers rather than other humans. We can go bug-eyed and imagine groups of super-soldiers unable to see the civilians they are deployed against not as human beings but vermin to be eradicated. Admittedly that’s a rather histrionic scenario, but uses that are less malign have the potential to cause suffering.
This is why existing narratives with humans still in the loop are so important, why the language and imagery used in describing the issues of the day matter. The AI that is with us reads these patterns and identifies the very warp and weft of our culture, and there are those would use this to achieve their ends, literally altering the fabric of our culture to do so.
I’m trying to write more regularly, and by design to write for me - stuff that I’m not too embarrassed for the world to see, sure - rather than for an algorithm that makes it more likely that other people will. I don’t need to rank highly, but I do want to be represented when the scraper collecting data for AI wanders by. Again, this is not out of vanity, but more as a wish that the totality of the human experience is represented. Some of us are boring and think that buying vinyl from Bandcamp is the height of culture.