Discover more from Follow Friday
TikTok is going to s**t, Benoit Blanc meets the Muppets, and Leslie Knope returns
Plus: More AI plagiarism, the best gaming cabinet I've ever seen, and a partial defense of The Oscars.
Welcome to Follow Friday! Let’s get to it:
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The single best thing I saw online this week: From a young age, I was mesmerized by robots and other machines. I looked forward to seeing Q’s gadgets in every James Bond movie, earnestly believed we’d have walking robot butlers in our homes by now, and had ~opinions~ about both of the obscure Disney animatronics named “Tom Morrow” (1.0 > 2.0). To this day, I get a little dopamine hit when I see a smooth-as-butter machine like the pan-Nintendo gaming cabinet in the TikTok above. It is almost certainly a pain in the ass to install and maintain, and I don’t play anywhere near enough games to justify wanting one … but I still kinda do.
The best podcasts I’ve heard this week
When we were reporting on E3 many years ago, my former colleague Lauren Goode told me she called the default Google Maps voice Nora, “because she sounds like a Nora.” Thanks to her, I still call that voice Nora today. Point is, the voices we hear all the time giving us turn-by-turn directions really matter, a point driven home by the most recent episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz. In it, Dallas Taylor interviews the Australian voice actor who unkowingly gave her voice away to Garmin, Apple, and others, and the Polish radio host whose removal from that country’s Google Maps app sparked a user revolt. “Head south” and give it a listen.
The new season of Vox’s Land of the Giants is all about dating apps, hosted by Sangeeta Singh Kurtz and Lakshmi Rengarajan. If you’re already familiar with Tinder et al, I’d recommend jumping straight to episode two, “The Hidden Hand Behind Your Swipes.” It’s a compelling retelling of the business story of Match Group, which went from beleagured startup to the 800-pound gorilla in the room, owning dozens of dating services including Hinge, Tinger, and OKCupid.
In 2014, This American Life adapted some of its best stories to a live stage show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the result was unforgettable: An opera about being stuck in a hotel closet, a mini-musical written by a pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Mike Birbiglia story that starts and ends with terrible puns and somehow has a rollerskating mouse in the middle… it’s a lot, and it works. I re-listened to the episode this week with my partner and was struck by how well the stories still work without the visuals, which is a feat on its own. But if you want to see the rollerskating mouse (and a lot more), you can watch the episode on YouTube. Standard disclaimer for TAL, at least one of these stories will break your heart.
Also also: Cascatelli inventor and The Sporkful host Dan Pashman is now making 40% of his income from pasta. Wow.
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help i’m addicted to the oscars
Don’t get me wrong: The Academy Awards are a bloated, self-important circus. They frequently overlook both the best and the most popular movies of any given year. I also love ‘em to death.
Despite those well-known flaws, who wins Oscars actually matters. In an era of abundant content, the words “Oscar Winner” mean a lot to both audiences and casting directors; and the pursuit of Oscar prestige is, IMO, one of the only reasons they’re still making good movies for adults. Tár and The Fabelmans made almost no money in theaters, but the world is richer for their existence, and big studios bet on them because they want that statue.
Last year, I kept a list of what I thought should be nominated in every category at this year’s Oscars — not predictions, just what I wanted, and only based on what I had seen. So, how’d I do?
Not bad! Five out of my ten Best Picture picks made the real list; I got nine out of the twenty actors and supporting actors I wanted; and I called all five of the Best Animated Feature nominees.
The fact that my favorite film of the year, Everything Everywhere All At Once, got the most nominations has me worried, however: In recent years, that seemingly auspicious position has not been a reliable indicator of many wins. So if you know anyone in the Academy, do me a favor: Ask them what they think should win Best Picture, and if they say Elvis, hit them over the head with something heavy. Thanks.
Guest column: ChatGPT explains why AI “journalism” is bad
The once-great tech outlet CNET has deeply embarrassed itself by publishing AI-written stories that were full of errors and frequently plagiarized, and initially it tried to pass them off as human-written. So, I asked ChatGPT to write a note to the editor of CNET explaining why this was a bad idea:
Using ChatGPT to generate free content is not a good idea for several reasons. First, the model is trained on a large dataset of text, but it may not have the necessary expertise or context to produce accurate and reliable information. This can lead to inaccuracies or even misinformation in the articles. Additionally, the model's output is often based on patterns it has learned from the training data, which could lead to plagiarism if the text is not properly attributed or paraphrased. Additionally, it is not ethical and not in compliance with copyright laws to use the output of a model without proper attribution or licensing. Overall, it's important to use human editors to fact-check and verify the information generated by the model to ensure its accuracy and credibility.
Over/under on whether any of the above was plagiarized? I’ll send $5 to the first person who can prove that it was.
Sports are good now
An Uber Eats delivery guy wandered onto the court in a college basketball game this week, trying to deliver McDonalds to someone in the stands. My usual complaint about sports is that the narrative is always the same: Yay, my team is winning!, or, Oh no, my team is losing! Wash, rinse, repeat. But this … this is good. Introduce some anarchy into the system! Randomly release more stoned service workers onto the field at the Super Bowl, let’s see what happens.
Rainbow Connection: A Benoit Blanc Mystery
Fair warning, some quasi-spoilers for Glass Onion in this video.
Anyway: Make this a real thing. Now.
The best thing I’ve read this week
I don’t always agree with Cory Doctorow, but I was nodding along furiously to this article about the “enshittification” of TikTok. He compares the platform to others like Amazon, Meta, Twitter, and Google, pointing out the ways these platforms’ business interests are at odds with what is best for both their users and the creators who have enriched the people atop the pyramid.
My favorite part:
Enshittification truly is how platforms die. That's fine, actually. We don't need eternal rulers of the internet. It's okay for new ideas and new ways of working to emerge. The emphasis of lawmakers and policymakers shouldn't be preserving the crepuscular senescence of dying platforms. Rather, our policy focus should be on minimizing the cost to users when these firms reach their expiry date: enshrining rights like end-to-end would mean that no matter how autocannibalistic a zombie platform became, willing speakers and willing listeners would still connect with each other.
And policymakers should focus on freedom of exit – the right to leave a sinking platform while continuing to stay connected to the communities that you left behind, enjoying the media and apps you bought, and preserving the data you created.
Palate cleanser: Knope! Knope! Knope!
I was really satisfied by the ending to Parks & Recreation and I’m always happy to see the cast in new roles (except Chris Pratt in the Jurassic World trilogy). But since we’ve been on a nostalgic kick anyway in this week’s newsletter, let me tell you, I clicked on this video’s thumbnail so fast it may have broken a Guinness World Record. Aubrey Plaza maybe might’ve forgotten how to play April, but I think Amy Poehler can just be Leslie Knope whenever she wants. Perfection.