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I was an influencer. AI will destroy us

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Today, you can’t open a single social media platform without seeing content from an influencer. And I’m not just talking about the leading ladies of TikTok or the viral podcasters and their hot takes. Everyone who creates content on the internet with a following is an influencer in some way. Or rather, a creative.

I used to be a capital-I “influencer,” running a lifestyle and fashion blog in the 2010s called Society Grl, which at its height had a following of 250,000.

I started the blog because I cared deeply about fashion. I wanted to write about it and be involved in the industry, but I wasn’t a model, nor did my Ukrainian immigrant parents have the connections for me to intern in my own Devil Wears Prada storyline.

Jules Dudko
Jules Dudko is a former fashion and lifestyle influencer and the CEO and founder of a tech marketing agency.
Jules Dudko

With a big dream, I started a blog, Twitter and later an Instagram account about fashion and life in New York. Nearly overnight, I had thousands of followers who wanted to know where I was brunching, what I was wearing, and where they should go.

At the time, there were only a few people with large followings outside of celebs and nepo babies. It was fun, at first, especially as the fashion houses I’d admired for years started reaching out for “collabs.”

But then, the algorithm changed for the first time. I woke up one day to see that Instagram was no longer in chronological order, and I freaked out. It was so scary to see engagement numbers drop, and I hustled like crazy to churn out content and stay on top of the feed.

I felt loyalty to my followers to keep them updated, of course, but the deeper reason was that I needed to get paid. The content I was creating was, in a way, already bought and paid for by the brands I had partnered with. They wanted results, and I had to figure out quickly how to do that.

As more and more features rolled out—stories, Snapchat, video—the pressure increased. I signed up with an influencer agency that wanted me to use every single social media platform and every single feature to grow and “engage’ with our audience.

The sheer amount of content that I had to make was astounding. It was 24/7. I lost a crazy amount of weight, had to keep a special wardrobe, intense self-care and beauty regimen, and I even threw out all of my mugs that didn’t fit my color palette.

No matter what time of day it was, I needed to turn on the camera knowing that my content would already perfectly match my “brand.” And that brand, of course, looked beautiful on my curated feed.

This sounds ridiculous, but it is true. At that time, everyone had a color and a filter they were known for. The standard was aesthetic perfection, and it controlled my whole life.

Jules Dudko
Jules ran a lifestyle and fashion blog called Society Grl, which at its height had a following of 250,000, in the 2010s.
Jules Dudko

Eventually, I flamed out pretty spectacularly, which now I see was the inevitable result of a life without safeguards against mental health, my unrelenting focus on breaking into the industry, and obsession with vanity metrics.

I shut down my blog and disappeared from the internet. I spent a few months soul-searching and realized that while I loved the creative side of influencing, there didn’t seem to be a way for individuals to build a brand or community without sacrificing their entire life for it—or for a brand to create this sort of experience without relying on this sort of labor. I wanted something more significant.

I realized I loved the brand building, creativity, and strategy of what I was doing. I started my agency, FrequenC, and we had one rule: culture can’t be forced.

As brands, celebrities, and athletes came to us to figure out if they should do an NFT collection or launch a web3 project, we made it clear that any element of “community building” had to actually build up the community, not exploit content creators and fans for eyeballs and dollar bills. I believe that had created a wave of content burnout for creatives like me—and I wanted no part of it.

Turns out, there was demand for this kind of marketing and brand building. The “new internet” promised a fresh start without its predecessor’s toxic parts, and better protections for creators and communities.

Blockchain promised a way for us to monetize content without the middleman. Decentralized platforms sprung up to connect humans directly. NFTs were creating communities that stuck together, without the constant content generation pressure.

And then AI showed up.

In many ways, I am pro-AI. I believe it can improve our lives by removing the work that doesn’t light us up, like scheduling, writing a stern email, or optimizing our travel routes for traffic. But now that it’s being used for content creation, I see creative burnout coming on an epic and terrible scale.

Creatives are being pressured across the spectrum—from TV writers to actors, fashion bloggers, and podcasters—to use AI to “optimize” their processes and “automate content” to be even more online and even more present than before.

Jules Dudko
After burning out, Jules shut down her blog and disappeared from the internet, later starting her own marketing agency.
Jules Dudko

And if you can’t hack it? Then your employer or brand partner might use AI anyway, training it on your work so they don’t have to rely on you.

Left unchecked, I believe we are heading into an era with a “lost” generation of creativity. Because there is no way human creators can survive in that kind of environment. Just like there is no way that machines can replicate heartbreak, passion, and lived experiences that are part of our daily lives.

Creatives know that the best creative work comes from vulnerability and emotion —the human experience.

When I burned out, there were other fashion influencers ready to take my place. I knew that would happen. I hoped that in their own time, they would find their own way out or become so successful that they could set boundaries that I wasn’t in a place to do. It wasn’t anything personal, I was just too young and didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time.

I will always be thankful for my little blog for helping me change my life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible living in the Seattle suburbs. The internet is powerful, and the people steering the wheel are immensely powerful.

Regardless, it was still a human that would replace me, which means that there was always a chance that if asked to create manipulative content, harmful content, or shaming content, someone would be there to say “no.”

That’s the burnout I’m worried about for all of us. The replacement of human creatives only makes it more likely that we’ll be seeing AI-generated, precisely calculated material that keeps us online no matter what. And the best way to do that is through outrage and shame. So not only are the creatives being pushed out of their field—in return, all of us will be served content that, honestly, doesn’t serve us.

To take a break from that dystopian reality—I don’t think it is permanent. Humans follow humans. Humans react to a heartfelt song or a landscape painting, because we can relate to the footsteps of those who created it. That’s what I see every day in my work, and even if there are a few hellscape years of bad content out there, humans will create ecosystems they want to be in.

There’s a movement now that didn’t exist 11 years ago, which tells us that who you are is more than the content you create. Our lives are messy. Our mugs don’t match. And yet, we still find the things we’re passionate about and share them with others.

That’s creativity. That’s the role of a creative. And it’s what AI can’t replace.

Jules Dudko is a former fashion and lifestyle influencer and the CEO and founder of tech marketing agency FrequenC.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com

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