Deathbed regrets and hard-won life lessons
The teenage filter, work phones, chatbot linguistics, scanners, shock sites and AI therapists
Existentialism [after] prom night
An unnerving, if entertaining, TikTok filter update: Several new filters use machine learning to more convincingly warp your face. The breakout, Bold Glamour, is all illusion — a candid, Kardashianizing machine. But my personal fave deals in disillusions. And self-contemplations. And midlife crises.
Introduced two weeks ago, that filter — Teenage Look — does exactly what you’d guess: smooth wrinkles, brighten shadows, correct baldness. In clip after clip, older TikTok users (largely women) gasp and squint and cry at the camera, creasing foreheads or pivoting faces to get the full effect. The reaction is so standard that, predictably, a counter-genre now exists to parody it. Gen X nostalgia is a pretty easy target.
Watch enough of these, though — there will soon be a million — and they look less and less like nostalgia porn. The more sincere videos fall somewhere between deathbed regrets and hard-won life lessons. Some posters are looking death in its (much-filtered) face. Some confront traumas, hardships and other challenges.
Many women phrase their captions as exhortations to their younger selves: You shouldn’t have doubted/criticized/hesitated; you should have loved/kept faith/forgiven. (Of possible note: The most popular soundtrackfor these videos involves a teen who kills herself after getting pregnant.)
Sure, these videos are performative. And I think I’m required to remind you that beauty filters are bad. But I still feel some kind of way — and not a ha-ha, Gen X! way — scrolling through all these impromptu existential realizations.
If you read anything this weekend
“You Are Not a Parrot,” by Emily Weil in New York. This starts as a profile of Emily M. Bender, a rabble-rousing linguist whose career, at this point, basically consists of flipping off the AI establishment. But then it gets into the philosophy of language … and consciousness … and what makes humans different from machines … all while wearing a “flowing teal duster and dangling octopus earrings” (!).
“The Reaction Economy,” by William Davies in the London Review of Books. *Not* for the faint of heart (disclaimer: I myself have not read the whole thing yet), but still a fascinating essay on reaction videos, with detours into Darwinism, Paris and neuroscience. This is representative, and I love it, on influencers: “The public reactor is in part a descendant of the Greek chorus.”
“Can A.I. Treat Mental Illness?,” by Dhruv Khullar in The New Yorker. The answer to this question really surprised me — in some applications, AI *is* really effective. And major providers already use it, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the UK’s National Health Service.
“What Does Workplace TikTok Look Like During Layoffs? It Gets Weird,” by Lora Kelley in The New York Times. Not the first essay I’ve shared about the vibe shift on work TikTok, but probably the most insightful one!
“How the Great Recession Paved the Way for Influencers to Inherit the Earth,” by Rebecca Jennings in Vox. Not unrelated to #4, a v. readable interview with the researcher Emily Hund on the ties between economic precarity, modern work and “creators.” “A lot of the women [influencers] I interviewed pointed to the failure of traditional industries to offer them a viable way forward.”
👉 ICYMI: The most-clicked link from last week’s newsletter was about this IG-famousish photographer who … actually uses AI for all his pictures.
Alise Morales has always been a Harry Potter nerd. From playing the Sorting Hat at an unauthorized Harry Potter convention to the *lengthy* fanfiction she wrote as a teen, she unpacks it all (including the most recent tweets from you-know-who) in this dynamic new solo show. (Psst: On March 8 in Brooklyn!!)
Check out La Cuenta, a weekly newsletter sharing the personal costs of living undocumented in the U.S.: “I’ve been in a long-term toxic relationship with the United States. As much as this country brushes me off and treats me like an animal, I keep waiting for it to love me back.” Subscribe today.
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“The eventification” of daily life. The return of the work phone. Plz Google how to use a scanner and don’t take the TikTok birth control. How shock sites shaped the internet. When face recognition gets it wrong. Zombie news and cursed crochet. The Ukraine brand is really strong.
Now playing on TikTok: bad dates, psychic sleuths … and your therapist, possibly. Also in sure, yeah, ban the bad app: “livestreams that monetize poverty.” What AI art tells us about art. Why hate music still streams on Spotify. How photojournalism, email and climate change will all change, because AI. Unintended algorithmic fallout, in two acts: Twitter’s new main characters and Instagram’s gore content. Last/not least, the father of the cell phone has regrets … but the fathers of ChatGPT do not. You either die a hero or live long enough to see society crumble before your bot.
That’s it for this week! Until the next one. Warmest virtual regards.
Today’s mood is earnest BUT if you’d like a funny teen-filtered TikTok, I did enjoy the lead singer of The Verve Pipe satirizing the virality of his own song.