Friday, July 19, 2024

Is the true measure of AI-written content the MEGO test?

Our eyes are precious things, and they are also smart ones. I know they only transmit images--it's the brain that interprets--so maybe it's the combination that I'm talking about here. 

One of the tasks I'm doing right now requires a lot of concentration and is visually intensive (intense?).  I try to stop for breaks at intervals, but sometimes my eyes can't make it till the next break, so they get blurry and tears run down my cheeks. That's when I stop for the day. But as Laura Ingalls Wilder says about housework when she's pregnant in The First Four Years, "the work must go on, and she was the one who must do it," so I press on, but sometimes my eyes just plain close. 

So eye time is precious time, and I don't want to waste it unnecessarily. Necessary time-wasting: looking at pictures of old houses or gardens or something equally soothing. 

Unnecessary time-wasting: AI-written text.

We're probably all seeing the evidence of AI-written text on the web--wildly inaccurate howlers passing as "facts," weird word usages, etc. Are we reading it in the same way as human-generated writing, though?

Oddly enough, when I read an AI-cheerleading piece like the one at IHE now, or my students' AI-written work, my eyes have started to skim rapidly and, in fact, they glaze over. Is it because the text is generated by AI, or is it because it's not saying much?

That skimming effect, though--that's the MEGO test, from a term coined in (maybe) 1973, according to the New York Times. (I canceled my subscription, so I can't read it and tell you for sure.) 

 MEGO stands for My Eyes Glazed Over, and it's a reaction to boring, obvious text. From the article: "A true MEGO, however, is more than a soporific piece; it is an article written about a subject of great importance which resists reader interest."

Of course, other forms of text have failed the MEGO test before--AI in its current form didn't exist in 1973--but maybe AI has trained our brains to spot it. 

You scientists out there know that this can't be a real effect and I can't be totally serious, but it's a thought experiment that's giving my eyes a little break before going back to the Big Task, 


Saturday, July 13, 2024

The tradwives of Stepford

 Because I'm habitually late to the party with social trends, I'm only now catching up to the tradwife phenomenon. According to the NYTimes, the New Yorker, etc., a tradwife performs the traditional gender role of being a housewife, now "new & improved" with a heavy dose of white Christian nationalism. 

I say "performs" because they seem to be mostly rich influencers who make a fetish out of tasks that many of us (raises hand) have been doing forever--baking bread, cooking from scratch, taking care of children etc. These performances are apparently for the benefit of people who have the leisure and money and interest to spend time on TikTok and social media sites (lowers hand). 

The Reddit posts collected at BoredPanda provide a sobering counternarrative from women who lived this life a generation or two ago, and a lot of them focus on what seems the most obvious downside: without a way to make a living, what happens to the tradwife if the lord and master or whatever he's called loses his job, or is unable to work, or decides to take off with his secretary and abandon the family?

I thought the #1 lesson of feminism--and, oddly, of capitalism--is that without economic power you have no power. In fact, Ira Levin wrote a whole satirical horror novel about this, The Stepford Wives, which poses the question "what if men could have their wife fantasies fulfilled by replacing human women with robots?" The answer is, predictably, that men say "yes, please," and set about creating this utopia (which would include rollbacks in feminism, reproductive freedom, women working, and the rest) for a deeply bleak ending for women. (By the way, the original Katherine Ross movie was reasonably faithful to the book; the Nicole Kidman one was a mess that slapped on a happy ending.)

Levin was talking about what men would do, though. Why would women volunteer to be handmaidens/tradwives? I get why the influencers do it: there is not enough attention in the world, nor enough clicks, nor enough money, ever to fill that gaping void in their souls. But why would women sign up to have their rights curtailed more than they already have been in 2024?

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The evolution of the blogosphere into Substack

On the HBO show Silicon Valley, there's a pivotal moment when VC funder Monica confesses to the protagonist, Richard, that, to her enduring shame, she "passed on Slack," costing her company potential billions.

"I mean, what is it? Is it email? Is it IM? I just don't get it."

"Turns out what it is is a $3 billion dollar company, and I passed on it."

That puzzled image of Monica? That's me with Substack.

  I've mentioned substacks a few times here, but what are your thoughts on them?

What I've learned so far: A substack is an email newsletter that you subscribe to. 

It's like a blog, in that it has a website and you can comment. 

It's not like a blog in that you have to pay for it, usually $60 a year and up, mostly.  Some are supposedly free, although most that I've tried to read has the familiar "subscribe to read more" sticker about a paragraph in. 

It's free to create and write a substack, and Substack provides the platform and an app. Remember the olden days of RSS and bloglines and Google Reader? It's like that.

Remember listservs? It's sort of like those, too.  Like Monica, I'm grasping for analogies.

Substack's had its own problems with content moderation and catering to--let's call them unsavory movements, so many people apparently left the platform.

I've subscribed to one (an academic acquaintance's) and have read several others & the comments. It's a nice community, no question, but it's still a bit puzzling.

Are the posts thoughtful and interesting and well-written? Yes.

Are they more thoughtful and interesting than most blogs, especially at the height of the blogosphere (around 10 years ago)? Not really, because there was (and is, for you stalwart bloggers) always interesting and fresh content to be had in the blogosphere. 

Maybe it's just the natural progression--Cory Doctorow calls it the "enshittification"--of monetizing what was once free on the internet so that someone could make a buck. Case in point: every single link here (except to this blog) will flash you a "subscribe now!" panel after a paragraph.

It seems unduly harsh to say that about the lovely Substackers I've seen, though.

So I'm having a Monica moment here: I don't get it. Your thoughts? 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Random bullets of June

  • Still plugging away and making good progress on the long-term project that must get done this summer. 
  • Still not going to fabulous places and conferences because to do so would seriously impede getting this work done. 
  • It's easier to concentrate because I can skip most of The New York Times and The Washington Post, since they are working overtime to trash the current president and re-elect The Former Guy, which is baffling to me on so many levels. Are they willing to destroy democracy just to have a fascistic clown prince that's good for clicks? 
  •  Also, it's all becoming news-lite, like an issue of Parade magazine, with features on what influencers on TikTok think. I do not care what the influencers think. If they keep going, they'll be a slightly more grammatical version of The Daily Mail. If it weren't for Jennifer Rubin (WaPo) and Paul Krugman (NYTimes), I'd cancel both subscriptions.
  • Social media: Twitter is kind of a wasteland, with half the people I used to interact with there gone and the rest of the space taken up with ads. It's kind of sad that there's no conversation there any more, at least in my tiny corner of it. Bluesky is 95% political outrage and 5% Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi; I read it for the 5% and don't post, since no one there ever engages with any posts I do make (ditto Mastodon).
  • Magazines: so I'm still subscribing to The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic (I know, I know), TLS, New York, and (guilty pleasure) Vanity Fair. Except for The Economist, which actually has international news despite its secret motto of "Hot News Promoting the God of Capitalism," everything seems--hashed over? Uncreative? Apocalyptic? Boring? 
  • But the sun is beautiful, and so is the morning air, and so are the beds of thyme and other herbs, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries that have replaced so much of our grass. 
Hope your summer is going well so far!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Alice Munro on Writing (canceled post)

Update and content warning for sexual abuse: Taking down the previous "writing inspiration" post because of the following.


That her monstrous husband, Gerry Fremlin--whom Alice Munro defended against HER OWN DAUGHTER--uses Lolita and calls a 9-year-old a "homewrecker" to justify his abuse is just . . . wow. 

P. S. Deleted the comments on the original post for obvious reasons: we're not celebrating Alice Munro in this post.

Update 7/15/24: 

Retired Ontario Provincial Police Detective Sam Lazarevich remembers a very angry Munro accusing her daughter of lying when he visited Munro’s home in 2004 to inform the husband that he was going to be charged.

 In an interview with The Associated Press, Lazarevich said Munro was furious, defended her second husband and the detective recalls being “quite surprised” by her reaction.

“'That’s your daughter. Aren’t you going to defend your daughter?'” he recalls.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Writing inspiration: Clearing the decks for a writing summer

 Grades are in, and as I said over at Dame Eleanor's, I deliberately did not submit to the conferences I usually attend, however shiny they might be. Herewith a few random bullets of writing inspiration (or should I be all modern & say "writing inspo"?) for me to keep in mind:

  1. This is meant to be a writing summer, whether that means doing the #1000words challenge or something else. A sit-and-write group? Already signed up. An accountability group? Same. Let's let them work their magic without conference paper distractions.
  2. Fun fact: the things that have generated the most ideas and the most writing, brainstorming and otherwise, are these: 
  3. Being under the gun to write a conference paper. Q: But wait--didn't you give up conferences for the summer? How's that going to work? A: The stress of that became too much, so I'm trying something different.
    1. Committing to the for brainstorming & putting down any stupid idea that comes into my head, because eventually something useful comes out of it. It's boring until it isn't.
    2. Taking notes or making notes on texts I'm reading, because sooner or later simply summarizing becomes too boring and I branch out into thoughts, questions, speculations, or just plain writing parts of something larger.
  4. So, to sum up point 3: the beginnings of generative writing and getting past writing anxiety come from (1) stress or (2) boredom. I'm choosing boredom over stress and will see how it goes.
  5. Another task (Task B) that is ongoing is kind of low-hanging fruit: it's satisfying because it has to be done, but the time spent on it doesn't translate into writing. Moreover, there's no stress involved with it, so my tendency is to sit with the writing anxiety for a few unbearable minutes and then say, "Oh, I need to work on Task B anyway." Solution? I'm limiting myself to two hours of Task B per day.
  6. Finally, after making pretty much no progress on the next idea I had for a book project, I remembered this axiom from somewhere: Don't write about what you think you ought to write about. Write about what excites you. I've had an idea that excites me for a while now & am going to pursue that. 
Hope your summer goals are off to a good start!

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Wizard of AI

Based on the two or three students who consistently use it according to the evidence of (1) my own eyes and (2) GPTZero, AI produces papers that are matched in grandiloquence only by Frank Morgan, AKA The Wizard of Oz. 

You remember the Wizard, right? All smoke and mirrors with nothing behind it? No powers, just word-shaped noise from a bloviating charlatan. 



If I read one more content-free BS paragraph about the "nuances" of the "rich tapestry" of "intriguing" deep dives into the injustices of the "structural inequity of gender norms" by a writer whose "magnificent prose" has made her work "a landmark in the history of twenty-first century literature,"  I might lose my temper, or my lunch. 

Really, though, it's always my temper that I lose, in a "how can I stop this?" way. I waste perfectly good ideas-in-the-shower time by plotting ways to circumvent it, which means it lives in my head much more than the 10 seconds it took the students to churn out this insult to human intelligence.

And I may be going against the tide. This so-called "article" at CNN--written by AI? who's to say?-- says to embrace the bloviation and advises teachers to go with the flow and grade with AI. 

But listen up, CNN shills: reading student work is not only literally my job; it is also my pleasure. I like to see students grow and learn. If I didn't, I'm in the wrong profession. (Figure 2, opposite, is me making this argument. Blogger won't allow captions any more, for some reason.) 

And there are problems with just accepting its use, as the CNN shills and some colleagues in the profession have advocated.

1. There is no reason on God's green earth why I should read what students could not be bothered to write

2. It harms honest students and lowers morale if some students are using AI and "getting away with it" by having high grades. Spoiler alert: they do not get high grades because there is no there there, so to speak; the AI doesn't have to enter into the grading equation itself if the paper is content-free. But a D+ or C- is still a passing grade, and if the student doesn't care about the course, that's enough to pass.

3. The students have ideas, and they need to be encouraged to develop them.

So what's the solution? 

1. Writing first drafts in class, which is going swimmingly, by the way.

2. A much more robust and specific policy on academic integrity and the use of AI. It's too late for this semester, but it's there for next semester. 

 The Wizard of Oz used to be televised exactly once a year, at Easter. Although it's more available nowadays, the Easter rule still holds: I do not want to listen to the Wizard of Oz any more often than that.