January is National Thank You Month – created, no doubt, by those with a vested interest in “thank you” card companies. Yes, I’ve grown cynical enough to believe that even expressing gratitude is a racket. Why wouldn’t it be? This is America, land of the freebooters, home of the brazen. If I could get away selling two words on a page, I would. Thank you. Mental note: Start a secondary market in “You’re Welcome” cards. Buy yacht.
Given the politeness of some gift recipients, it stands to reason that the “Thank You” lobby would claim January as their month, coming off the holiday season and all. But have they considered extending National Thank You Month into February, when the most conspicuous displays of gratitude spew like a Roman vomitorium on Bulimics Night? I’m talking about the Oscars.
You know, when contenders race to thank all creatures great and small before the music plays and they’re forced to stop. It’s like reverse musical chairs but without chairs. Or a point.
Last year, Georgia Tech master’s student Rebecca Rolfe led a research study concerned with gratitude. She analyzed more than 200 Academy Award speeches and learned more people thank producer Harvey Weinstein than God. This stands to reason, because God has never produced a film.
Rolfe also found that 84 percent of speeches end with a “Thank You.” I could only imagine how the other 16 percent end – middle finger? Mic drop? Flag burning followed by urination to quell the flames? All three? We can only hope Nic Cage gets nominated again to wait and see.
I suppose the problem with National Thank You Month is the fact that it’s not simply National Gratitude Month, because that’s the underlying concept, right? What, too on the nose? Of course, the branding of “gratitude” may have been compromised. Those who’ve had the pleasure of buying me lunch might’ve heard me grouse about a Cafe Gratitude, a chain of raw food restaurants. The staff have this insidious mandate to ask you, “What are you grateful for?” at the end of your “meal.” Ugh.
First off, I abhor sentences that end in a preposition. Secondly, how dare some twenty-something ask me to inventory my privileged First World life for their approval? Yes, I’m aware that my reaction is telling in ways that reveal deep pools of angst and darkness within a withered soul, but, hey, that’s how I make my living.
My initial thought (which Malcolm Gladwell thinks is one’s best thought and this is why he’s a genius) was to say, “I’m grateful this is the only job your liberal arts degree will get you so I don’t have see you in real life.”
But the fact is, Gladwell is not a genius and I’m not actually that rude. If memory serves, I mumbled my stock answer, something akin to, “I’m grateful to be here with my wife.”
But that came off as totally disingenuous because I wasn’t grateful to be there and my luncheon companion was not my wife. It was a publicist trying to sell me on a crap ebook. And he was a dude. This made everyone uncomfortable. Including the ebook author who wasn’t even there.
Incidentally, Cafe Gratitude is an anagram of Actuated Grief – just say’n. If the waitress had asked, “What are you ungrateful for?” now, that would’ve been a delicious side of raw existentialism, which would taste exactly like crow. Tallying all that one can take for granted in this life would take an eternity. Might be easier to just start “National No Thank You Month” and decline the invitation entirely. Feel free to use that as needed. You’re welcome.
When I first learned about Chicago-based Narrative Science, the smallest, weakest part of my ego caught flame and soon an inferno of doubt engulfed my every thought. The firm’s artificial intelligence algorithms combine “business analytics” and “natural language communication” in a manner that makes raw data easily consumable. Basically, they’ve taught robots to write news stories. And it works.
In many ways, this is old news though it grows increasingly relevant day by day for those in the news trade – or at least those still in the trade.
As content becomes further commoditized it stands for reason that its creation would be taken over by technology, assembly-line style, like every other business since the industrial revolution. Instead of Dickensian wastrels working in 19th century factories, however, we’ve got the lovechild of Gutenberg and Babbage plus a few centuries of machine maturation doing the dirty work. And writing is dirty work, mind you. Beyond the industrial waste both produced and consumed in the form of alcohol distillates, there’s also the low pay, lower self-esteem and the lowest common denominator as a target readership which weighs down one’s lofty prose (though I don’t believe this is the case with you personally, dear reader – you’re as highbrow as a Vulcan with botox).
I had mistakenly thought creatives and knowledge workers were immune to the robot revolution because what we do requires that certain je ne sais quoi we purchased with our student loans. When it comes to data-driven business and sports stories, however, the robots kick ass with their deep data-mining and preprogrammed boilerplate that reads as well as any wire copy. This is probably why Reuters is a client – Reuters, which daily feeds national news sites and papers with hundreds of perfectly inverted pyramids, like a multitude refugee newsies, paper hats in hand.
The fact that Narrative Science named their technology “Quill” might be stinging to those writers for whom the icons and trappings of the lifestyle are still sacrosanct. To me, it’s the kind of branding genius that’s always lured me to the dark side. To wit, I don’t see Quill as a threat to my vocation as much as a tool, nay, a weapon, to defend myself from the growing hordes after my gig. I shall use technology like that developed by Narrative Science as a way to franchise myself, to multiply my output, to use the robots as my own private clone army. Though I don’t have the same depth of pocket as a national news organization, I do have thousands of published clips that, in aggregate, constitute an editorial profile of my voice, tropes and schemes. I have oodles of digital DNA the company could use to effectively replicate me as an algorithm. With a small investment in an online thesaurus, they might even be able to match my Brobdingnagian vocabulary.
I called Narrative Science to propose my plan – I mean, why wouldn’t they want to help me metastasize my byline into every crack and crevice of written media? – but I couldn’t find my way to human on their phone system. This got me thinking – do they even employ humans? I could email but how would I know I wasn’t receiving a robot’s reply? Had I just tripped into some rabbit hole where the machines have already won? Was seeking their services the beginning of my downfall, an invitation to replace me with some code-borne Stepford writer? I suppose we can only ask if in their words among the nations, the Promethean fire is burning.