This week, I spent the better part of six hours slow-roasting some grapes in my oven to make homemade raisins. But when the time came, what was the perfect Instagram caption? “Homemade raisins”? Yawn. “I’m doing some experimentation with drying out fruits in my oven”? Double yawn. “Raisins!” Ugh. To be honest, I don’t even like raisins.
So I did what any lazy person would do in the mighty year of 2017: I enlisted an app to do it for me. And after it presented a number of options, I chose this zinger:
Wow. Super horrible. The worst, bro-tastic caption I could imagine.
I had to make more (captions, not raisins–screw raisins).
Rubric is a free iOS app by the company Zyper that uses a mixture of AI-based object recognition, trending phrases, musical lyrics, and quotes to generate quick, Mad Libs-style captions for your social feed. Creator Amber Atherton–known for the show Made in Chelsea–has said that Rubric is a solution for all those moments you don’t know how to caption a photo. It’s a legit problem a lot of us face.
And yet, this was a real suggestion:
As was this:
It’s like a 45-year-old programmer built a chatbot who is trying to be best friends with a 14-year-old.
Let it be known, all of the options are just this horrendous. I’m not scraping the barrel to make anyone look bad. Upon taking a photo, the interface presents you with several words that might describe it. The skyline gave me “Wednesday” (it was a Wednesday), “Chicago” (it was Chicago), along with “city,” “skyscraper,” and many other terms.
You can then tap on one of these adjectives to apply to across-the-board terrible precanned phrases like “Wednesday feels” or “Wednesday chill” or “Wednesday game too strong” or “Wednesday AF.” (Okay, that last one is definitely a real caption I might use, but only ironically.) It also offered a quote from both Patrick Stewart and Sia, relating to Wednesdays. Again, both great artists whom I’m in no way above quoting (though I’d sooner quote Kesha), but let’s move on.
With each post, I was more and more self-conscious about destroying my carefully crafted Instagram persona–which is a mix of poorly lit photos of what I made for dinner and completely esoteric updates that I’m pretty sure no one understands but me. What would my fans think?!? Within all of five minutes, I admitted the ruse. “Me, a professional writer, an armchair intellectual would never talk like this dumb AI,” I thought to myself in an internal battle for my own unique snowflake of an identity.
Even though, yes, I’ve definitely talked like this dumb AI.
“But I did it ironically!” I countered in my head.
Could the AI not also be saying this ironically?
And that’s when two things dawned on me: 1.) It’s our fault that Rubric sounds like it does, as it has only learned from our worst linguistic behaviors. 2.) The best caption will always be no caption. Or maybe just an emoji.