Five Things: February 8, 2024

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More than calculators: Why large language models threaten learning, teaching, and education | Amy J. Ko

What we will be left is teachers who cannot do instructional design, students who cannot learn, and an inescapable dependency on whatever was published on the internet circa 2022, when humans used to write… LLMs will accelerate the collapse [of] public education in the U.S., by amplifying these existing forces that were already taking us there.

If you think that’s too hyperbolic, I encourage you to read the whole essay! (You always click through and read all of the links, right? Right?)

EdTech has been a plague on public education for decades, and Ko does an excellent job of exposing the latest new shiny, LLMs (deceptively marketed as Artificial Intelligence), for the distraction it really is. While LLMs are the focal point, she slowly widens the lens to reveal the broader context we should be focused on, and like the best critiques of any overhyped technology, offers clear takeaways on how educators (and the rest of us) can deal with it.

I’ve written more often than I’ve liked about why I’m not on the “AI” hype train, but it’s popping up more often in personal and professional circles lately, so I can’t just ignore it until the fad passes like I was able to with crypto and NFTs and enhanced ebooks. (IYKYK) The sensible use cases for it don’t get the spotlight because they’re not sexy enough and don’t have mass consumer / investor appeal — aka, show me the money! — and it’s been especially disappointing to see so many writers and marketers I used to respect guzzling the Kool-Aid while trying to cash in, especially on LinkedIn.


The Great Fiction of AI | Josh Dzieza

AI may just be another tool, but authors haven’t previously felt the need to remind themselves that they — and not their thesaurus — are responsible for their writing or have fraught debates over whether to disclose their use of spellcheck. Something about the experience of using AI feels different.

I can’t remember how this 2022 article got on my radar, but it’s a fascinating long read that illuminates the various downsides of “AI-assisted” writing, and also notable for its cleverly goofy, surprisingly ad-free, retro layout. The two strongest threads are a) the unfortunate commoditization of books, and b) the natural evolution of the worst of content marketing. The dystopian intersection where the two meet? That’s one of my top definitions of hell on earth!

The Amazon author cranking out good enough books every nine weeks to serve an insatiable audience of genre readers is the most depressing and predictable outcome of “the democratization of publishing” being driven by one of the most rapacious companies in history. The insights into her writing process before and after her experiments with “AI-assisted” writing almost make me regret my years working for Writer’s Digest, and glad that Digital Book World no longer exists.

The content marketing side of things is arguably even worse, because it takes even less effort to use “AI” to crank out middling nonfiction than to prompt a readable novel into existence, and there’s a much larger audience who will consume that crap, often without even realizing it. Most corporate marketing and attempts at thought leadership are bad enough already, it’s only going to get worse as lazy executives have an easier way to consume and regurgitate each other’s slightly rewritten platitudes and best practices — increasingly without an adult in the room to prevent them from embarrassing themselves in public.


The Tremendous Yet Troubled State of Gaming in 2024 | Matthew Ball

For those who worked in gaming, last year was brutal. A record 10,500 game developers, artists, testers, and other gaming employees were laid off in 2023, topping the prior record holder, 2022, which saw 8,500 in job losses. Unfortunately, 2024 has seen 3,950 in cuts in only 22 days 5,850 in cuts after only 25 days 6,200 cuts after only one month.

There have been a lot of insightful essays written about the roller coaster that was 2023 in gaming — one of the most impressive slates of great and really good games we’ve ever seen, all released during one of the worst years to ever be employed making games. In perhaps the longest read I’ve ever linked to (sorry, not sorry), Ball presents an impressively comprehensive overview of what happened in gaming last year — good, bad, and ugly. Every time I would think, “Yeah, but what about…,” he addressed it shortly thereafter.

Even if you’re not into gaming but are curious about how capitalism really works, it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re in any corner of the media business. Just find a comfy seat and have something to drink nearby.


“Wherever you get your podcasts” is a radical statement | Anil Dash

What podcasting holds in the promise of its open format is the proof that an open web can still thrive and be relevant, that it can inspire new systems that are similarly open to take root and grow. Even the biggest companies in the world can’t displace these kinds of systems once they find their audiences.

It’s easy to forget how revolutionary podcasts are, especially when so many podcasters feel obligated to give a specific shoutout to Apple in their intros and outros, begging for the five-star review. You wouldn’t be crazy to think Apple and Spotify were the Google and Facebook of podcasts, but you’d be mostly wrong — no matter how hard they’re trying. And if you listen to your podcasts on something other than Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you’re basically a radical.

Podcasts, like email and blogs, are one of the last vestiges of the open web, and the more people realize how much they already engage with and rely on the open web, the more likely they may be to escape the walled gardens they’re currently trapped in. Wherever you DO get your podcasts, it’s important to know that you have options.


What comes after cord-cutting? | Jared Newman

All this leaves room for a new streamer to become Netflix in the same way that Netflix became HBO. The notion of a streaming service focused on ad-free, prestige programming suddenly seems disruptive again. (Apple TV+ has a decent shot at it, but the field’s open for alternatives.)

It’s only been a few years since we officially cut the cable cord, and while I refuse to do the actual math, I’m positive we’re paying more than we used to for the various streaming services we’re subscribed to. Even worse, I’m not convinced the quality of what we have to watch has significantly increased, either. And now, every service has been raising its prices and introducing ads, in some cases incredibly clumsily because most of the new content they invested in wasn’t written or produced to accommodate commercial breaks, so we’re basically paying for the crap we used to get for free on regular TV.

Newman is an astute observer of the industry so his four predictions here are interesting to consider, although I despise the thought that Apple TV+ (one of the few services I refuse to subscribe to) might become the next Netflix / HBO.

My current ranking of streaming services we pay for: YouTube Premium, Paramount+, Hulu, MAX, ESPN+, Peacock, Netflix, Disney+, and Prime. I’m always surprised when people complain about the ads on YouTube until I remember that I pay to not see them, and also get YouTube Music with it. There’s almost always something we’re watching on Paramount, Hulu, Max, and (for me, specifically) ESPN, while Peacock and Netflix do just enough to keep avoiding the cut. I’d have cancelled Disney+ by now if Hulu + ESPN was cheaper without it, and Prime is still all about two-day shipping, although each price increase brings me closer to ending my deal with that particular devil.

“The future sucks” seems to be the underlying theme of yet another edition of this newsletter. Sorry, not sorry!

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2 thoughts on “Five Things: February 8, 2024

  1. AI is absolutely killing me and ed-tech has been killing education all the way back to the ’90’s when my mom was still teaching in a Title 1, 3 language school. The stories she would tell about the “consultants” walking into her classroom with the “latest” piece of equipment or “technique” was always wild. None of them really were in the least bit interested in helping the kids she was trying to teach.

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