Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.
1. How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually (Intelligencer)
How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”
2. Body Con Job (The Cut)
Which brings us back to the nagging question of what Brud’s up to. One of the oddest strands of the whole story is why they chose a right-wing troll to out Miquela, ultimately painting themselves as the bad guys. Thinking hard about it — okay, maybe too hard — it occurs to me that the hack could have been a clever bit of jujitsu to build fans’ trust in Lil Miquela. Because Brud “lied” to her about her origins, she could come clean about being computer-generated while seeming ever more sincere about her “woke” consciousness.
“I’m not sure I can comfortably identify as a woman of color,” a recent Instagram post from Miquela said. “ ‘Brown’ was a choice made by a corporation. ‘Woman’ was an option on a computer screen.”
Post-hack, Miquela declared herself a “free agent” who’d no longer work with Brud. Support for her choice poured in, with Riley Keough, the actress and granddaughter of Elvis Presley, sending her a heart emoji and gossip blogger Perez Hilton calling her a “shero.” Meanwhile, thousands of others didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t real. “I know this is crazy but I believe you,” wrote one commenter. “Even though you are a robot physically, everything else is human.”
3. No, You Don’t Really Look Like That (The Atlantic)
He’s not the only one who has noticed the effect, either, though Apple has not acknowledged that it’s doing anything different than it has before. Speaking as a longtime iPhone user and amateur photographer, I find it undeniable that Portrait mode—a marquee technology in the latest edition of the most popular phones in the world—has gotten glowed up. Over weeks of taking photos with the device, I realized that the camera had crossed a threshold between photograph and fauxtograph. I wasn’t so much “taking pictures” as the phone was synthesizing them.
4. How We Destroy Lives Today (New York Times)
Within living memory, political polarization had at least something to do with issues, but in the age of social media it’s almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.
It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.
We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.