Is AI and ‘synthetic’ media production the new fast fashion?

Is AI and ‘synthetic’ media production the new fast fashion?

AI content creation is a complex topic. On the one hand, there are ethical questions around the impact that training large language models has had on moderators, safety concerns over the rise of ‘deepfakes’ (highly convincing but fake or digitally altered audio and video which can easily be used for fraud or to spread misinformation) and concerns over the loss of jobs. On the other hand, AI is set to increase efficiency in processes, reducing costs and human error. Recently for example, researchers led by a team at Lund University reported that artificial intelligence could screen for and successfully spot breast cancer at a ‘similar rate’ to two radiologists.

These are just a few examples – the uses of AI via tools such as ChatGPT are developing so rapidly that policy can’t keep up. In this article, we’re reflecting on the increased pace of content creation through the lens of a content consumer and the slow living movement.

AI, slow living and the rise of ‘synthetic’ fast content

Content created by AI with less need for human input is being dubbed ‘synthetic media’ or ‘synthetic content’. This content can be in text, image, voice, or even video format. Synthesia, a platform for creating AI-generated video content, believes it will only be 10-15 years before we can create a Hollywood standard film from our web browser.

Rewinding back to the present day, we’ve heard the production of this AI-generated content being likened to the fast fashion industry which churns out cheap, synthetic garments at pace. This analogy is useful as it reminds us of three things:

  • Speed in production doesn’t always equate to quality.
  • There are usually ethical and environmental concerns during such a production process.
  • Mass production at pace encourages excessive consumption of products.

Like slow fashion, will we see a rise in slow content and a more considered, conscious consumption of media?

Arguably, our need to cut through the noise has existed long before the recent rollout of new synthetic content creation platforms. Social media and ‘churnalism’ contribute to our sense of being ‘always-on’ and overwhelmed by information. As a reaction to poor quality news and the speed of journalism in the digital era, we’ve already seen the development of slow journalism. At the heart of this movement is the slow living magazine Delayed Gratification, which focuses on ‘accuracy, depth, context, analysis and expert opinion’.

In his 2004 book In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore, a key thinker and author on the slow movement, wrote ‘the best way to survive and thrive in the fast-paced modern world is not to speed up but to slow down’. Almost twenty years have passed, and this couldn’t be more true. As we become exposed to more synthetic content and are increasingly required to grapple with what we can or cannot trust, it will be essential to take on the learnings we know (but don’t always apply) from the overconsumption of social media and fast news.

A slower, more considered approach to what and how we consume will become even more important as we navigate this changing media landscape. For example, we should pause to apply a critical lens to what we watch and read in order to understand the agenda of who is sharing it with us, we should endeavour to limit time spent scrolling and strive to engage with content which inspires or serves us. For those who use tools such as ChatGPT, AI can bring huge benefits in time saving around mundane tasks, allowing us to channel more energy into the things which truly matter to us. But as content consumers, it will be up to us to create our own boundaries with synthetic content as legislation struggles to keep up.

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