The media industry is dying – but I can still get paid to train AI to replace me

Say what you like about the Germans, you can always count on them to find just the right word for anything. Take “weltschmerz”, for example, which roughly translates to “world pain”. It signifies despair at the suffering in the world – and a deep anguish that stems from knowing that a better world is possible. Is there a more apt encapsulation of the current moment?

For the past six months I, like many others, have been suffering from an acute case of weltschmerz. As someone of Palestinian heritage I have been weighed down by survivor’s guilt as I’ve watched the unfolding genocide in Gaza. For a while, I didn’t have the emotional energy to write. The only way I could get out of bed and make it through the day was by avoiding the news completely. Which … isn’t an ideal scenario when you largely write about the news for a living. So, at one point, I decided on a career pivot and applied for various non-writing jobs, including one at a dog food manufacturer. Reader, I was rejected. In fact, I didn’t even make it to the first round of interviews; I was humbled by a dog’s dinner.

Obviously, I am writing again now. But for practical purposes I keep an eye on what else is out there. The media industry, after all, seems to be in freefall; it’s always good to try to secure a parachute, just in case. And, the other day, one seemed to present itself to me in my LinkedIn messages. According to an automated missive from an AI company, I have the perfect set of skills to help them write the first draft of AI history. I could, the generic message enthused, get “up to $15 [£12] an hour”, to coach an AI model “by assessing the quality of AI-generated writing … and crafting original responses to prompts”.

In other words: I could get paid less than the New York minimum wage to train an AI model to take over my job. Is there a German word to describe that particular situation, I wonder? I’ll have to ask ChatGPT.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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