We recently had an introductory meeting with a social media strategist, because yes, we still don't have a social media "plan." And our "brand" is basically a hodgepodge of fonts we found on Microsoft Word back in 2009. This consultant pointedly told us that we needed to become a "media machine." We need to post across all platforms at least twice a day consistently. Reels! Tik Tok! Instagram! But not to worry about the volume of posts we need to grow, because AI (or artificial intelligence) can write and speak for us. We can have life-like avatars telling our story!
But there is something about AI and the desire for us to become a media machine that feels depressingly disassociated from our very human work in Kenya. Can AI help us tell a story about Dorothy's pride in getting electricity, in her children going to college? Probably. And it can probably write a script with profit-pinging keywords that will help us sell more tea. But I don't know if we are ready to have our stories reduced to a profit. I don't think we want to be reduced to key words or 5 second clips or quick ideas.
Eaten alive by the media machine. Have you tried our relaxing chamomile tea?
It is almost as if consumers are becoming overfished. Everyone has got a line in the water jiggling up and down, with more and more lifelike worms, and it is up to us to just swim on by. Where does this leave Ajiri Tea? We don't even have a hook in the water. Here we are writing lengthy newsletters, hoping someone connects with our message--like blowing bubbles on the surface.
We are reflecting on these ethical dilemmas around social media and AI development against the backdrop of Earth Day. Because if people are being trained to only have time for 5 second messages or beautifully curated pictures, or snappy pre-programmed messages, where does that leave the world? Climate change takes more attention than our newly trained shortened mindset. It takes community action. It takes some kind of dig-in work. It takes some complex messaging that we all naively hope the world has time for.
At Ajiri we've been doing this kind of digging in and complex story-telling for 14 years now. We've connected with communities and better understand their challenges. Simply paying the women for their labels wasn't good enough---it took opening a bank account for each of them. And then that came with a host of challenges (withdrawal fees, actual literacy) and so we switched to saving money through our own local "table banking" system. And that has its own unique challenges. Sending kids to school was easy enough, but not good enough. They needed food at home, and then they needed emotional support, and we are still trying to address all of their varying and evolving needs. Working in Kenya is complicated. But it is in this very messiness that the magic happens. I'd hate to reduce it all to a light and airy Instagram post with the reductionist language of "ethical production" and "sustainable."
So we aren't going to turn into a media machine. Today we are too busy attending Fabian, an Ajiri scholar's Parent-Teacher conference. We are busy helping a label maker's son apply to university. We are busy trying to find new ways of employment for women, new programs to plan for our scholars, and better ways to support our small-scale farmers. In Kenya, everyone greets you with a handshake and a smile. The very humanness in Kenya is always acknowledged. There is nothing artificial or exactingly calculated about meetings. They are relaxed, with pauses for reflection, usually enjoyed over a pot of tea.
We promise Ann will never let any chatbot replace her handwritten notes.
With nothing artificial, and probably nothing all that intelligent,
Kate, Sara, Ann, Regina
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