Thursday, October 22, 2009
Technology is Great, Unless Your Editor is a Bot
I was a little bit disappointed when I learned that technology is this week’s photography challenge over at I Should Be Folding Laundry, but I finally said to myself, “OK, I’ll bite.”
See, I have a love/hate relationship with bits and bytes. On one hand, I love the freedom and flexibility of a less tethered life.
It’s wonderful to stay “plugged in” to the lives of friends and family, no matter where they are.
Technology has given me the freedom to make mistakes, and to capture as much as I want, whenever I’d like.
It’s changed the way I experience music.
It’s changed the way I work.
For the most part, technology has enhanced my life.
For the most part.
Technology, however, is not pure goodness. It’s fickle. Unreliable. It’s there all the times when you don’t really need it, when time would be better spent on other things and somehow manages to go rogue for the Important Call, the Big Presentation, or the Crucial Email.
And when I said, a moment ago, that its changed the way I work, I didn’t mean it was all for the good.
Not so very long ago, I was happily working from home as a freelance reporter. I relied on technology to record my interviews, write my assignments, submit them to my editor, and get paid. This was an excellent arrangement and I enjoyed it very much.
But journalism has changed a lot, even over the past year. The impact on me has been invariably bad, and technology is the only target I can blame.
I turned in my last assignment at the paper nearly two years ago. Due to the impact that technology has had on print media, the freelancers were all let go. I was disappointed, but in graduate school at the time, so I didn’t have too much time to dwell on it. I chalked it up to experience and figured I’d find a new gig after graduation.
I thought that happened this week. I was thrilled to be taken on as a journalist with a large, internet based company that supplies copy for a host of well-known websites. I waved off the lightening fast acceptance of my application that should have been my first red flag, delving instead into my welcome packet,overcome with a surge of energy and excitement as I realized just how much I missed journalism.
The company promised that I’d continually have access to a database of “more articles than I could ever possibly write,” and weekly deposits into my PayPal account. The literature assured me that it would be “the best writing job I ever had.”
My excitement was palpable as I finally completed all of my prerequisites and was finally cleared to troll the data base and select assignments. Here’s a sampling of the titles from which I could select:
The Best Way to Extract Oil from an African Locust Bean
How to Seal off Brass Andirons
How to Assemble Homemade Gothic Furniture
How to Heat a Swimming Pool With a Wood Boiler
How to Complete Flange Ups
OK, not exactly my forte—but let’s not panic, I thought to myself, as I discovered little tabs with categories. I decided to peruse the available “family” titles and saw that I could snag an assignment about How to Make Couple Cremation Urns.
Under the “education” tab, I discovered that I could do a little write up on How to Pickle an Oak Cabinet.
Here were some of my Religion and Spirituality possibilities:
Life Expectancy of Screw Air Compressors
What Are the Black Spots in St Augustine Grass?
Witch Hazel Tree Planting Zones
Crafts? Surely, there must be something I could write about in the crafts department. At least if I had any Information on Soaking Canes Before Use.
Let’s try “camping,” I thought. There can’t be much I haven’t encountered in thirteen years of tent camping. Well, except for The Best Way to Brush a Hog Field, anyway.
At this point, I realize that these “titles” are generated from search engine queries and may not even reflect reality, something briefly touched upon in the aforementioned literature. There, however, “bad titles” were glossed over as a possibility that could quickly be cleared up in a single email.
I tested this theory, after tentatively claiming a title called Stress Analysis Formula onder the “opinion” tab. I do have a degree in psychology, after all, so I figure I can do about as much justice with this title as the next guy. Until a simple google search of my own revealed that this could just as easily represent a miscategorized engineering piece. Ooops..let’s send that clarification email and find out.
I got nothing. In the meantime, I decided to try another option, suggesting my own assignment. Within an hour, I got an automated reply accepting my idea, along with a randomly generated flat rate offer of $5.00 to do it. Wow. That pay day won’t even buy me a full cup of Dirty Chai to drink while I do the write up.
The best writing job of my life? I think not. I was much happier when a living, breathing editor, offered me tangible stories about real people, with titles we could discuss in person.
And that $5.00 assignment? I can’t even send a “no thanks” back. The email is of the “no reply” variety. From an unmanned account.
I don't have a clue how to resign my post, but I kind of think the bots won't notice when I do, anyway....