Brain Worms and the Zombie Internet

Brain Worms and the Zombie Internet
Image credits

Happy Friday! What's good?

In one of his Garbage Day posts this week, Ryan Broderick pointed to the flood of AI-generated content that's taking over social media – some of it falling into familiar and popular genres for online content (recipes, for example) but much of it deeply bizarre and nonsensical. Like all the crap that's posted onto TikTok or Instagram or whatever, this stuff is clearly designed to elicit clicks – "just another engagement hack," as Broderick puts it. 404 Media recently coined the term "Zombie Internet" to describe this phenomenon, particularly as it appears on Facebook: "a mix of bots, humans, and accounts that were once humans but aren’t anymore interact to form a disastrous website where there is little social connection at all." AI content hasn't only infiltrated Facebook groups; it's flooding the entire Internet. And some folks – C suite types, mostly – still seem excited, even though, if you're at all paying attention, the only thing that "generative AI" is generating is shit. Buzzfeed's Jonah Peretti says he wants to use AI to breathe fun and playfulness back into the website – obviously, we have very, very different ideas about fun and play here. Speaking of terrible futures for the media, Futurism published a piece this week profiling AdVon, "the AI-Powered Content Monster Infecting the Media Industry" – best known, perhaps, for the series of robot-written stories published in Sports Illustrated, but whose articles are now in many, many publications including Mashable, Parents, Food & Wine, and Good Housekeeping. Even in 2024, these publications have fairly strong brands, and for better or worse, they are still perceived as reliable sources of information, particularly when it comes to health and technology.

None of this bodes well for our understanding of the world. None of this bodes well for our trust in one another. And without knowledge and without trust, there can be no democracy.

Obligatory invocation of "brain worms," I guess. And speaking of zombie ideas, apparently we've forgotten Theranos? I say "we" – I mean those idiots who invest in tech then try to convince us in turn that any of this shit is a good idea.

Oh, see, the problem with Theranos was it didn't use AI, I guess. (Image credits)

Elsewhere in the business of health technology: Outside Magazine took a pair of those $500 Adidas shoes, designed to be worn just once, and ran in them for more than 26.2 miles, and I guess that's supposed to be good? "Planet Fitness's business only works out if its members don't" – Sherwood News does the math. Peloton is considering going private, according to CNBC. Gee, nothing signals a healthy future for a company more than a private equity buyout. While some fitness hardware-makers are struggling, Garmin saw a 40% increase in revenue during the first quarter of the year. 404 Media reports that Google has delisted two websites that provided DIY hormone replacement therapy used in gender-affirming healthcare, following a request from the British government. The UK has been swept up in a rash of anti-trans policies in recent months, and this latest move will endanger those who've been forced to turn to the gray market for healthcare. ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) – "a medical technology can keep people alive when they otherwise would have died. Where will it lead?" asks Clayton Dalton in The New Yorker. Humanaut Health has raised $8.7 million in seed funding for its "health optimization" and "longevity services" – all very different products and services, I promise you, from the technology in that New Yorker piece, but still wrapped up in this cultural/technological moment. Speaking of longevity services, high-end gym Equinox is rolling out a new membership level with lots of "personalized" blood tests and IV drips that'll set you back $3000 a month. The Washington Post notes this trend, calling it the "new cure-all for vacation excess." Note: these procedures will not cure a single goddamn thing. Also pretty much bullshit: DEXA body scans, as "swole woman" Casey Johnston rightly observes. Almost entirely bullshit: Andrew Huberman's podcastVox piles on. Rachel Khong asks in Eater why we're adding so many supplements in our drinks. (Not sure I totally buy her argument: that we are "missing our traditional herbal practices — missing slower ways of existing, a deeper kind of knowing." I do think that folks like Huberman are trying to sell us on the idea that these powders are deeper ways of knowing. They're also stirring up our individual anxieties about our bodies, all while the institutions that are supposed to take care of our health continue to fail us.) On the heels of two wrongful death lawsuits, Panera says it will stop selling its super-caffeinated line of drinks. CNN reports that over 200 people were injured after a software issue drained the batteries of their insulin pumps. The FDA has issued a Class 1 recall for the app, effecting over 85,000 users. As anyone who uses an app to connect, say, their phone to some lightbulbs or a thermostat, knows, the reliability of IOT devices is, um, shaky at best. But sure sure, let's connect life-saving technology to the Internet. What could possibly go wrong?

A couple of programming notes: There will be no newsletter on Monday as it's the fourth anniversary of Isaiah's death. Coming the day after Mother's Day, the second worst day of the year for me, there is no fucking way I am going to go be able to pull together any sort of missive to send to you. I know "essay" comes from the French essayer ("to try"), but I am not even going to. Isaiah's birthday is coming up soon too, and that will mark the one year anniversary of this newsletter. I have a few changes in store, including some content just for paid subscribers. More details on that to come.

Meanwhile / as always, thanks for subscribing to Second Breakfast.