note from the deep – the subscriber

A call center employee sitting on the beach in an impressionist style ( Model by CompVis and Stability AI)
A call center employee sitting on the beach in an impressionist style (Model by CompVis and Stability AI)

The subscription desk has really shrunk. It is basically just me and Roberta left. There used to be this huge team based in Southeast Asia, but since our customers have all become really comfortable managing their subscriptions online, management realized they needed just a couple of voice actors to handle the outliers.

Even then, please know that I know, we are creating training data for a deep learning algorithm that will contribute to a system that will eventually take over our jobs. At some point, though, maybe, there’s this long tail of edge cases that’s always going to need a human touch. Job security comes under long tails.

You want to know who to feel really bad for though? All the writers, copywriters, journalists, graphic designers, and photographers that were caught up in the shuffle of The Great Mergers and Acquisitions. I don’t think people quite realize yet how big of a mess that year was. The papers weren’t going to report it – they were all the ones consolidating! It is probably here at the subscriptions desk that we really had front row view of the carnage. Hold on, I’ve got a call coming in…

“Subscriptions desk, how may I help you? …. Uh, huh … Oh, you’re subscribed to both the Miami Times and the Tallahassee Herald? … I see … well, you’re the only person in the country subscribed to both … … it technically shouldn’t be possible, but it would be my pleasure to help you out with that … “

“You’ve been subscribed to both for years and have only realized that now? … yeah … yeah … oh, yeah … yeah, they really are just the same paper, but in what we call a different voice … writing style … yup … algorithmically generated … that’s right, AI … it was in the terms of service … it should have been sorted out in the subscription user flow … I’m sorry you feel that way … “

“It is pretty impressive though, right? … how does it work? … well, we just have one beat journalist collect the facts and then we have a software program write the story and present an opinion using the bias preferences you provided and continue to provide through your reading and consumption patterns … “

“I have you down for news in a progressive, festive, anti-authoritarian voice with clean, touch tropical styling and latin, hispanic, and russian imagery… in English for you… that’s for the Times… Oh, we pretty much have a publication in every language for every culture… Not as many of those kind of people in Miami as you would expect, because people have been moving to places that look and think like them for ages … “

“yeah, yeah, it is a little window behind the curtain … no, none of your friends are subscribed to two publications like this … well, that’s because your friends only subscribe to the Herald … yeah, I can see that based on their social media permissions … ”

“Oh, you want to keep that subscription now? … no, no, sure, sure … yeah, it has been a pleasure to help you out today … Do you mind holding for a few minutes for a quick survey on our conversation today? … Thank you. You too!”

DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, Sudowrite are just some of the names of the early projects that were created that gave a glimpse of the future. Those AI generators that would create essays, prose, and images based on a line of instruction soon put a lot of graphic designers, photographers, and copywriters into either retirement or into the whole new business of identity and perspective manufacturing. It fed fuel to the fragmentation of a singular authoritative voice and identity, which was always of course a fiction.

The trend was long established. Literacy and declining costs in the development, production, and distribution of content slowly etched away at the stage and Shakespeare, or pulpit and the Bible, which as Nietzsche observed, was replaced with newspapers. Streaming services etched away at the idea of one blockbuster film to capture the imagination of a public. Is there one book everyone has read or one movie we all see? Will there be a star as universally recognized as Elvis? Nope, those days are done.

Our collective gaze is shattered and there isn’t a word we share unless through refractions of remixes and AI samples. A new breed of archaeologists try plumb the depths for the origins of cultural phenomenon while AI accelerate the stacking of layers of noise.

Sorry. I’m not complaining. I have a job. And all these news publications catering to all the millions of classes and subclasses of interests, biases, nostalgias in every conceivable language, dialect, and subculture’s modes of idiomatic expression makes everyone really feel like they belong. My aunt has the Katie Couric bot-presenter give her all her news. Katie on her screens all day. It is very comforting to her to have an assuring voice in these uncertain times.

As long as you don’t bore or feel ignored, you won’t unsubscribe.

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