I am a slow reader of prose. I mean, most often. Occasionally I end up devouring something in an afternoon or a few days, but frankly, once most prose passes under my eyes, I start to nod off. It can take me a month to read a novel. It’s no judgment on the work at hand, really, but 99 times out of 100, I read two to five pages and am gone. But this article seems to suggest some people do this on purpose — preferring to pause and think while they read. Huh. Seems like a lot of effort.
“Slow” has become an adjective across many disciplines over the last half-decade or so. We’ve seen slow fashion as an alternate to fast fashion, where the emphasis is on purchasing fewer, more high-quality clothing in order to opt-out of the trendy and cheap styles that cause global harm (which isn’t to say there aren’t privileges that come with being able to afford or access slow fashion). We’ve seen leaders in librarianship suggest the field pivot to slow librarianship and move away from fetishizing non-stop innovation so that the core of the profession — helping others acquire information and making information as free and accessible as possible. The root of the slow movement is intention and mindfulness, as well as a desire to eschew social and cultural norms around capitalism and consumerism are foundational.
Smart guy Steven Beattie, who I assume loves it when I call him Beatts, ruminates on an article about “trauma creep” in the Times. You know, everyone, including me, has started a Substack now, but Substacks are really just blogs with a different (and more easily monetized) delivery system that makes people feel like they’re part of a club. Beatts has been giving it away for free for a long time and we oughtta love the dude for it. Here’s to you, you raging party animal.
“Call it post-traumatic hyperbole. Or TikTok pseudopsychology. Or even therapy-speak,” Bennett writes. “There are plenty of horrible things going on in the world, and serious mental health crises that warrant such severe language. But when did we start using the language of harm to describe, well, everything?”
It’s a salient question. In the Pixar movie The Incredibles, the bad guy plots to give everyone superpowers because he recognizes that if everyone is a superhero, then no one is. The same principle could be applied to the notion of trauma: if every single everyday occurrence can qualify as traumatic, then how do we react when confronted with actual trauma on a personal, social, or global level?
Where literature is concerned, the focus on trauma narratives – often presented in the form of personal essays or memoirs of harrowing experiences – has had an influence on the way novelists construct their characters, and not entirely for the better.
Seriously, AI and synthetic voice is creeping into audio books. Why? Lower production costs, etc. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I recently noticed that users on Tiktok use speech readers to voice their videos — including a new one that sounds a bit like Danny Devito. These aren’t your old Stephen Hawking speech synthesizers. Nor are they even your Siri’s or whatever. They’re getting closer and closer to sounding like real humans. Also, in some of the videogames I play, the CGI is getting close to passing out the other side of the uncanny valley — that cataclysmic dip in connection and sympathy one gets for a digital simulacrum that looks real, but something is off enough to creep you the fuck out. Also, the deepfake world means we can take peoples faces and lay them over other people in a way so realistic that one of the guys who did it on Youtube with Luke Skywalker has been hired by Disney to help with their new TV series. So at what point do actual people become redundant? Remember Cipher in the OG The Matrix with his steak? Yeah, at what point will we cease to care that it’s fake?
(Pro tip: we already don’t.)
Proponents of AI audiobook narration tout its much lower production costs (compared to a traditional recording of a human narrator) as a way to improve profitability of audiobooks as well as allowing publishers to publish more audiobooks that have limited audiences. But according to actor and narrator Emily Lawrence, cofounder of PANA and president of its board of directors, “It’s very easy to reduce this issue to dollars and cents, but it’s very complicated and nuanced.” If AI narration proliferates, “it’s not just narrators who will lose their jobs,” Lawrence said. “There’s an entire ecosystem of people who rely on audiobooks for their livelihood. People who direct audiobooks, people who edit audiobooks, people who check audiobook narration for word-for-word perfection against the manuscript.”
Lawrence believes there are many ethical issues surrounding AI technology. “For example,” she notes, “if I were to license my voice, and lose all control over how my voice is then used, my voice could potentially be used to voice content that I find morally repulsive.” She also points out that “as of now, a lot of AI licensing consists of non-union contracts,” and that narrators are vulnerable to entering agreements that exploit their voices and don’t offer fair compensation.
Similarly, in Huber’s view, the negatives of AI outweigh any positives. She places “loss of livelihoods, loss of integrity in storytelling, and loss of personal connection” high on her list of concerns. “The only pros I see are financial,” she said. “And it’s the other team that benefits, not the narrators nor the listeners. Do you really think [AI company] Speechki is going to pass their savings on to the listener? No. Listeners make choices about what to spend money on, and they have a right to demand clear labeling of robot voices, as do authors. And then there is the potential theft of our voices—our speech patterns, our acting choices—to create the AI. That’s a whole other can of worms.”