Recovering roundup, AI/social media edition
25 links that pretty much say good news/bad news, the internet's on fire
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Quick announcement: The Notre Dame class Drunk on Film is being offered to the general public this summer. From Ted (course instructor): “Open to anyone with a high school degree through the Notre Dame Summer Online Session, FTT 30635 or PSY 30635
I didn’t include links in last week’s essay, so here they are. There are more than usual because there was a lot of interesting stuff on the internet in the past fourteen days which is how long it’s been since I posted them.
Before the links though, a few thoughts.
There’s a lot of AI and social media-related stuff in here, mostly because it’s what I’m thinking about in the wake of the release of ChatGPT-4 and the alarming shift in culture that’s happened in response to it over a very short period of time, the disassembly of Twitter’s verification system and ensuing chaos, the shuttering of Buzzfeed News, and—of course—Substack’s recent release of Notes, or their own version of Twitter, which has changed what it feels like to be a writer here (way more on this below in the links).
This is a newsletter about addiction, which means this is a newsletter about our both culturally engineered and basic human-ish propensity to distract ourselves from the inherent discomfort of existence with the infinite pile of things that exist in late capitalism. Or: this is a newsletter about a near-perfect system that keeps us dissatisfied, diverted, buying, working, and otherwise supplicant and participatory and numb instead of doing things that actually matter (to us, to those around us, to future generations).
Even though we all might casually mention “I’m so addicted” to something (to Law and Order reruns, an unfolding Vanderpump drama, our nail art habit, our morning Athletic Greens), and even though articles proliferate about the latest “addictive” thing (hacks, brands, trends, crypto trading)—that doesn’t mean we, as a society and in general, consider ourselves to be actual addicts, it just means we play fast and loose with the words “addiction” and “addict” without actually considering what that means.
We still largely mistake addiction to be something that destroys the lives of a select few with faulty wiring who succumb to a certain set of (compulsive, eventually addictive) behaviors, and narrow the “real” addictions to a handful of mostly social deviant behaviors (according to the puritanical ethos which still underpins our current social context), like gambling, drinking, smoking tobacco, using drugs, and fucking. An addict is a person that went too far with a substance or behavior they either were not supposed to partake in at all or were supposed to partake in moderation/socially accepted norms.
In other words: we’re all addicts. It’s just we think the real, fucked up people are over there shooting tranq and fentanyl and dying on the street, not over here snorting skincare routines or TikTok to fill an unfillable void. This is a mistake.
Addiction is not a new phenomenon resultant of the current cultural context—Dr. Carl Erik Fisher traces back the earliest depictions of it to the Rig Veda (roughly 3,000+ years ago), and addiction, viewed through the learning model, is not a disease but adaption—humans are wired for it, and it’s always been there as both a potential and an expression. However, our current cultural context and economic system—end-stage American capitalism—is a system of addiction, an unprecedented schema no human body, nervous system, brain, and dopaminergic pathway has historically encountered, which feeds off and exploits that inherent wiring we’ve always had, demolishing the naturally occurring elements that keep us feeling whole as an individual and inherently belonging to a larger community and purpose, replacing them with an increasing supply of artificial and addictive compensations that are often for sale or at least profiting someone. Capitalism as a system of addiction is also known as the dislocation theory of addiction (proposed by Bruce Alexander in Globalization of Addiction).
A good summary of the dislocation theory is as follows:
Dislocation is identified psychologically as a “lack of attachment, belonging, identity, meaning, [and] purpose”. Social and economic forces beyond the control of the individual – among them free-market capitalism, ecological devastation, consumerism, gross inequality, [LMIC] “development,” corporate culture, high speed [sic] technical change, financial market crises and more – work to alienate and dislocate the individual from structures of meaning. Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance) [emphasis mine]. Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.
And from my book (Quit Like a Woman):
Alexander, the researcher of the Rat Park experiments, argues..that addiction stems from an increasingly dislocated capitalist society—not from medical pathology.. addiction is a direct or indirect outgrowth of society; humans are becoming increasingly addicted not because some mutant addict gene is flooding the pool or because alcohol or addictive chemicals and behaviors are increasingly available, but because we are becoming more disconnected from our purpose, nature, culture, and each other.
I say all this to make clear that my point of talking about social media/Notes or AI/Chat-GPT isn’t because I’m just so interested in the technology or because I think that AI means the beginning of the end of humanity, or because everyone is talking about it so I should too. It’s because I think that we are at peak addiction, at an unprecedented and serious inflection point that will shape the future we exist in, and that the seemingly inconsequential choices each of us make right now, matter. This is an age of addiction, and that should be a constant consideration as we navigate our lives and the many choices in front of us.
As I said, many (half) of the links below are about social media, AI, and the internet in general. I’ve found each of them to be valuable and worth sharing. A lot of it is pretty dark. I want to also make clear that I don’t feel dark about any of this. Most large cultural movements, or changes in the center of gravity of how a society functions and what it believes, have been a response to what came before. Organized religion emerged as a result of egoism and hedonism, the Enlightenment a response to the oppressive and flattening we-think practices of the church, and the civil rights movement a response to unchecked capitalism. Or, in other words, what comes next always tries to solve the problems of the previous system (Graves, Wilber, Beck, etc.).
One of the immediate threats of AI—as far as my extremely limited and novice mind can deduce—is the same as the threat that’s inherently existed within social media, which is an unreliable internet flooded with misinformation that appears real enough, a completely disorienting affair you can already catch on Twitter now that Musk disabled its verification system (see Charlie Warzel for The Atlantic, “Elon Musk Revealed What Twitter Always Was”, orfor The New Yorker quoting Willy Staley: "Twitter’s current atmosphere [is] 'the part of the dinner party when only the serious drinkers remain.'"). Perhaps this means as a response to an unreliable and disorienting internet, or an attempt to solve the problems of a preivous era where we gave so much of our lives over to the internet, more of us might instead of doubling down on our time spent online be incentivized to spend more time in the real world, fostering real connections and actual communities, having real debates, and rediscovering the world that exists outside our phones. (A good discussion about this particular potential is in one of the links below.)
All of this being said, I would put my understanding of AI and its potential consequences and benefits at around zero. Please keep that in mind as you consider anything I have to say. I understand addiction. I do not understand quantum computers, etc.
25 Things Right Now
AI, social media stuff
If you watch one thing, this talk on A.I. (The A.I. Dilemma) given by Tristan Harris (The Center for Humane Technology, guy behind The Social Dilemma which if you haven’t watched I also recommend). This was a huge downer to watch, and I feel almost alarmist even sharing it for some reason. I don’t know enough about any of this to even know if my reaction (sending it to everyone I know, falling into fetal position afterward and then later walking around Palermo with a sense like the world we know is ending and everyone's just eating arancini) is too extreme, or if I’m being too casual and should seriously consider moving to an underground cave or something. But I think that’s the point, at least what I’ve taken from every single thing I’ve heard and listened to about AI: No one knows what any of this means, or what the future holds. Please remember that: no expert I've read or listened to has had any kind of definitive. (Thanks to my IRL friend and neighbor Schlaf offor forwarding this to me)
Related: Max Read on the immediate proliferation of AI bros trying to sell you AI things they 100% don’t understand. “What they share across platforms and fields is less any particular insight and more a deep and abiding faith in the accuracy and power of a still-developing technology about which not much is known.”
“Even the influencers are afraid of the internet”, and an article on a lady who left her lucrative career as an influencer for a 9 to 5 and is loving it—“I could just show up to work and do work”
(Me, turning off my Instagram DMs)
I’ve mentioned the Philosophize This! podcast many times, and one of my favorite episodes (and the one that made the greatest impact on my use of social media) is on Baudrillard, called Simulacra and Simulation, which suggests we’re already in the Matrix situation and have been even before the internet: “This is what the lives of so many people come down to: alone in a simulation, working at a job to make money to buy things to express who they are based on the rules the media has set out for them; conditioned by and willfully complicit in a system that feeds them their worldview every day, destined to a life of having conversations about surface-level politics or economics while watching the world pass them by on a TV screen.” I have had to listen to a number of times to get the gist. I re-listened this week. It still hits. I tried to read the actual book and kept putting it down, I’ll probably try again.
This soon-coming podcast with Gregory Marcus, AI expert, where he interviews different AI experts
A devastating Op-ed by Amy Silverstein, who had two heart transplants 35 years ago and is now dying of cancer as a result of those transplants and the medicine that saved her heart but ruined her body, largely because of the lack of advancement in transplant medicine, and an article on the promise of AI for medical advances. I guess here would be the right place to A reminder that modernism was also the period of time in which slavery was outlawed in all “rational-industrial economies” in a span of about a hundred years, from 1788 to 1888, a change that was only made possible because (according to Ken Wilber), as well as the time in which “liberal feminism” arose.1 When our values change and new worldviews and technologies emerge, there aren’t always just horrors that develop—oftentimes, there are developments we actually want right alongside the downside. Ken Wilber has referred to this as the Dignity of Modernity, the other side of the Horror of Modernity (
“What I could no longer ignore about these (very human) races for status, for significance, for attention, for belonging, for ‘success’, is that the chasing of someone else’s attention requires all of our own.” Taylor Gage on attention and creation