Categories
Mental Health Society Technology

I don’t want this to be the future

Bookmarked HUMAN_FALLBACK | Laura Preston (n+1)

I WAS ONE OF ABOUT SIXTY operators. Most of us were poets and writers with MFAs, but there were also PhDs in performance studies and comparative literature, as well as a number of opera singers, another demographic evidently well suited for chatbot impersonation—or, I suppose, for impersonating a chatbot that’s impersonating a person.

Let alone the present.

Each day when we reported for work one of them would hail us with a camp counselor’s greeting. “Top of the morning, my lovely Brendas!” they would say. Below their message, a garden of reaction emojis would bloom.

I am tired of the exploitation and undervaluation of emotional labor.

In the same way that algorithms tell us what they think we want, and do so with such tenacity that the imagined wants become actual, these buildings seemed intent on shaping a tenant’s aspirations. They seemed to tell the tenant they should not care about regional particularities or the idea of a neighborhood. The tenant should not even desire a home in the traditional sense, with hand-me-down furniture, hand-built improvements, and layers of multigenerational memory. This tenant was a renter for life, whose workplace was their primary address, and who would nevertheless be unable to afford property for as long as they lived.

See also: Neutralizing reality to sell

Brenda, they claimed, said the same thing to everyone, which meant that she was incapable of bias. And yet she was awfully good at repelling certain people: people without smartphones or reliable internet, people unaccustomed to texting, people who couldn’t read or write in English, and people who needed to figure out if they could access a property before showing up for a tour. Brenda deflected them all with polite violence. She was not a concierge but a bouncer, one made all the more sinister for her congeniality and sparkle.

 

See also:

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour to Make ChatGPT Less Toxic (TIME)

But the working conditions of data labelers reveal a darker part of that picture: that for all its glamor, AI often relies on hidden human labor in the Global South that can often be damaging and exploitative.

The work’s traumatic nature eventually led Sama to cancel all its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than planned.

An OpenAI spokesperson said in a statement that the company did not issue any productivity targets, and that Sama was responsible for managing the payment and mental health provisions for employees.

🙄 Of course they’re not responsible for the work they hired out.

Conditions for vendors are so much worse than employees, so of course that’s the direction companies want to move: cheaper labor that they aren’t liable for. Ethics has no part in corporatism.

“They’re impressive, but ChatGPT and other generative models are not magic – they rely on massive supply chains of human labor and scraped data, much of which is unattributed and used without consent,” Andrew Strait, an AI ethicist, recently wrote on Twitter. “These are serious, foundational problems that I do not see OpenAI addressing.”

Categories
Activism Environment Lifestyle Reflection Reuse

Selling a lifestyle

Replied to On Selling a Lifestyle by Alicia Kennedy (From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy)

I’ve been attempting to separate myself from my own “content creation” for social media, because I am increasingly confused about what I or anyone else gets out of it.

A question I’ve been grappling with is whether to show a life is to sell a lifestyle.

While she’s talking about the food industry, I feel like this is true of many fields, including a lot of sustainability. Would zero waste have taken off if Bea Johnson didn’t have a beautiful home? If her zero waste looked like my zero waste: reusing shoe boxes and random cardboard boxes for storage, mismatched bulk food storage jars, and hand-me-down furnishings?

A lot of the zero waste lifestyle feels performative — the jar of trash ffs! — and competitive, with questionable ROI for the environment when it comes to time and money. It’s become a bougie class signal, that you have time to swim against broken systems, using affluence of money or time to claim moral superiority.

But we can’t escape wanting to look at nice things, fancy things, extravagant things. We want our lives, lived and depicted, to be desirable. The question of the late-capitalist climate change age is, can we tame these desires? Can we make what is sustainable and real desirable instead?

Zero waste should be about making do with what you have and what you can get secondhand. I hosted a zero waste workshop through my old work, and I wanted to interrupt the speaker when she started down the rabbit hole of things you could buy so you don’t have plastic in your house. No! Keeping what you already have is the best for the environment, not replacing it when it still works! That’s the zero waste / minimalist aesthetic, not the practice. It makes people feel good about themselves while having little impact. It becomes absorbed into their identity so they feel obligated to, for example, recycle everything they personally can, even if it doesn’t make a real difference.

I went through the Taco Bell drive-thru the other day, and they had a promotion for TerraCycle, a dubiously effective program that lets people mail in their trash “recyclable” sauce packets and other commercial packaging not viable to recycle curbside — passing the responsibility from the producer to the consumer, and letting Taco Bell greenwash their single-use waste.

This focus on minutiae and individual action / personal choices has siphoned off a lot of energy from more productive environmental efforts. There is no sense in shaming people for using a straw in their cocktail — or, lauding them for skipping one if they got to the restaurant in an SUV. People want cookies for making these visible choices, then decline to consider the individual changes that would really make a difference: switching from a car to a bike or the bus, moving closer to work and into a smaller home, installing insulation and swapping gas appliances for electric, and buying less stuff period. Yes, those kinds of changes are hard and expensive — which is why most people’s energy would be put to better use pursuing advocacy for systemic change and holding corporations accountable.

This is a tough topic because I too want to live sustainably, and in accordance with my values. I work on environmental behavior change programs! (More feelings there but that’s for another day.)

I’m getting better about not feeling guilt for waste that isn’t my fault. This weekend I threw away a ton of single use utensils that have been cluttering up a precious kitchen drawer. I didn’t ask for them, I don’t have a use for them, and we have no system for reusing or redistributing unused single-use items. Better to instead support enforcement of Washington’s law that businesses are supposed to ask if you want a utensil before giving it to you. My individual item is much less important than the scale of the utensils the restaurant distributes to every one of their customers, every day.

Categories
Environment Future Building

The Conundrum of “Ethical Consumption”

Bookmarked The Twilight of the Ethical Consumer | Atmos (atmos.earth)

We must not mistake Ethical Consumption—a private act—for political power or organized, collective social change that benefits everyone.

The pandemic finally forced me to confront the failures of three decades of this market-driven approach to change. I have started to wonder not only if Ethical Consumerism is ineffective, but also, whether it’s actually getting people killed and driving our planet to ruin,  and why we continue to throw our power away on ethical shopping.

Even though it’s mostly progressives who identify as Ethical Consumers, as Teachout illuminates, making change through the way we shop is ultimately a right-wing idea. We’ve fully embraced the neoliberal system and worldview that change should happen through the marketplace.

But where we get ourselves into trouble is in viewing shopping as a moral act—and viewing shopping at a cheap chainstore that has poor business practices as an immoral one. Consumption is an economic imperative (there’s no escaping it under capitalism), and it is fundamentally determined by our income. Unless we believe that rich people, who can afford more ethical products, are somehow more ethical than the rest of us, we must confront that it’s unacceptable and arguably deeply unethical itself to ever tie human “goodness” to what we buy.

— Elizabeth L. Cline

Lately have been thinking a lot about how we try to make ourselves feel better and get better outcomes for ourselves through our consumer choices — from “ethical consumption” to rich white parents sending their kids to private school instead of the public school.

We put our own feelings first instead of advocating for change for everyone, which is harder. And when we feel good about the consumer choices we’ve made, we feel less urgency to push for systemic change. My privilege is buying my complacency with the system.

As someone who’s devoted my whole career to the environment, and leads environmental messaging in my local government, this is a tricky thing to sell, especially in my well-off community.