Mon, Mar 16, 2020, 1:32 PM

safe/soft hand-holding

Dear Rachel,
Couriers – a fun virtual house vacation with friends
Feast your eyes on this unique venture as you create your own virtual home. Place your hopes and dreams into a virtual world filled with possibilities. Everything you need to get together is now free on Couriers.
The Cadbury Team

Like everyone else privileged enough to be deemed ‘nonessential,’ I was stuck inside once the pandemic began, tracking its relentless spread through my news feed.

But in my inbox, I noticed another narrative unfolding in parallel with the news. Day by day, my promotional emails grew stranger and more frantic. They were full of new phrases:

“Our hearts go out.” “As we navigate this unprecedented time.”

Fri, Mar 27, 2020, 2:29 PM

Thank you for being a part of the Googleful family

Dear Rachel,
Would you love to see your voice be heard? If you have a dream friend, perfectionist work colleague, or coworker that you want to distance and in which you’re financially self-sufficient, we want to invite that person or girl to hop in the Uber car and ride on Lucy’s hard-earned cash.
Take care,
All of us at Lush Co-op

As cases spread, the CEO of my coffee shop personally reached out.

As the death count climbed, my family and loved ones were invoked with alarming frequency.

As unemployment claims surged, the food delivery service encouraged me to consider tipping my Shopper extra.

Tue, Mar 31, 2020, 1:48 PM

experience another dimension completely unfurl...

Dear Rachel,
Who are you hosting?
You're Probably Sitting In A Table At Home
Why Is It Important To Have A Table At Home?
If your cat is sleeping, playing, working or doing other non-human activities such as browsing the web or working from home, then a date night is the right course of action.
Caviar Operations

The corporate voice evokes the contradictions of corporations themselves.

Its vocabulary and phrasing are at once unique and generic: imbued with personality, yet precisely calibrated for familiarity and broad appeal. It shifts easily from singular (‘Pepsi’) to plural (‘we’): an artifact of corporations’ strange personhood, in which they are afforded the rights of an individual without the responsibilities.

Tue, Apr 7, 2020, 4:12 PM

Text your StumbleUpon Community

Dear Rachel,
As we face all these times of uncertainty, there is one thing that stands out to me: the kind of conversation that really means a lot to me. It’s not just about us being there for you. Make-believe people give back everything we take from them at every opportunity. We’re in this together moment.
Jeff Hurst, founder and president of

But this felt different. The emails’ tone swung wildly, some somber and authoritative, others uncomfortably chipper. They reminded me of George Saunders’ “jon,” a short story about a group of teenage influencers, raised in captivity in a marketing facility, who struggle to express their overwhelming emotions through the constrained language of advertising.

Like Saunders’ characters, corporations can’t find the words to describe what is happening.

Mon, Apr 13, 2020, 9:19 PM

American retail experience

Dear Rachel,
We understand that this is a challenging time for a lot of you. Please join us in being very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very. In a time when everyone is talking about viruses, fingerprints, rosaries, caffeine, binging, snorkeling, running, walking, lying, smiling, running quickly, meeting late, working from home, looking forward to it, and talking about it, we, in a very real way, decided to try and be presentational.
You can shop us online at
Saks Fifth Avenue

Again and again, they used the word ‘together.’ But the other story—the one in the news—makes it clear that we are not, in fact, in this together.

The clarity is, in fact, breathtaking.

As workers are fired for demanding basic health protections, the cruelty of our economic system is brought into exquisitely sharp focus.

As Black, brown, poor, and incarcerated Americans die in staggering numbers, the racism and inequality built into this country’s foundations are illuminated in merciless detail.

Thu, Apr 16, 2020, 10:26 AM


Dear Rachel,
What you can do to stay connected
Be reasonable – we're trying to prove that we're not living in a cruel land – and we're paying the price.
Team US

When these strange words are taken out of context and spoken back in the wrong order, what do they tell us?

What logics and priorities do they reveal?

Wed, Apr 22, 2020, 8:56 AM

Text your new freelancer

Dear Rachel,
Your coworker is probably malnourished, your kitchen is full of broken dishes, and your cleaning process can feel challenging and unsettling. But please, just remember that you contributed nothing to the environmental catastrophe that is COVID-19. If you haven't already, please sign up for our email updates. They’ll stay on your calendar for as long as you're alive.

Writer Kelly Pendergrast proposes a new spatial metaphor for the gig economy: not a platform, with its connotations of a level field, but a membrane:

“The membrane flips the platform sideways, putting the customer on one side and everything else on the other, hidden behind a shimmering screen.”

The membrane, Pendergrast writes, obscures the ‘sacrifice zone’ — “the out-of-sight arena where our goods are produced and services are procured, conveniently hidden behind the scrim of frictionless technology.” Now, the membrane is thinning, and the sacrifice zone is harder to wish away. Under the strain of describing hazard pay, relief funds, and strikes, corporate language is imploding in my inbox.

Sat, Apr 25, 2020, 7:55 PM

Thank-You for your kindness.

Dear Rachel,
If this is who we are made for this, this—this is who we—this is who we—this is how we make it—this is what it means to be a human being, this is what it means to be Canadian, and until we—the country—are unified, we’re able to turn our backs on the clock to the present. Thank you for being a loyal customer,
Matt Maloney

As the messages accumulated, I started experimenting with ways to make their subtle ruptures—and the social and economic logics they implied—more visible.

Mon, Apr 27, 2020, 12:11 PM

A special relationship will be instantiated in every person…

Dear Rachel,
In response to the ongoing sewage crisis in our communities, we want to remind you that we're not alone. The need to protect yourself and your loved ones from these malicious spirits continues to be real and is supported by the CDC and local health authorities. As you sip coffee at home, write checks, or take a walk, consider traveling all the way to Taiwan, where there are more safe ways to spend the evening. We look forward to you continuing to find a way to feel at home in this fever. Stay safe and wherever you are.
Sad Salesguy,

To create these texts, I trained an AI model on the emails I collected. I wanted to defamiliarize the ubiquitous marketing messages; to change them just enough to make them visible again.

Thu, Apr 30, 2020, 3:35 PM

People mistake cleanliness for intelligence

Dear Rachel,
We come from a long line of craftsmen and mothers who have served as household heroes to a generation of young women workers. Our message is clear: We are sinners isolated in our past, and must not let our differences affect the present. In the meantime, we will support our partners and our customers with promotions that give them the chance to win awesome masks and other collectible items for every one of their attendees during the upcoming festival season.
Yours truly,
Karla & Shilpa

Like the marketing emails, the AI model itself tells a story about the social and economic systems that produced it. It’s a story about efficiency and automation—words we use to describe the process of transforming labor and emotion into commodities that can be purchased and sold for profit.

Fri, May 1, 2020, 1:57 PM

I hope you are staying safe and doing everything.

Dear Rachel,
Close your eyes. Smiling, nodding, bowing, but not hugging and hand-shaking. Slowly, I got used to the way your vagina looks, feels and acts as a navigational device. Maybe your penis is small, but it's a vital part of how I feel about life. Now that you know this, and want to know why, I encourage you to read these 5 things you can do to be a woman today. These tips are designed to help you feel connected, creative, and connected—some of the things that make this country great.
Click here for more information on Covergirl policies.

I generated hundreds of emails. As I fed the model more and more, I noticed a new kind of narrative emerging.

In this story, an entity, a kind of marketing hive mind, writes its way through the pandemic’s isolation. As its world falls apart, it grows more and more deranged. It worries about the recipient of its letters, and pleads for a response.

Sun, May 3, 2020, 3:23 PM

Our team is ready to serve you grocery with a smile

Dear Rachel,
Please take care of yourselves.
Sunshine through the mist and the wind
Of the many colors that float your beach walk, this is the best: a little makeup, a few mouthfuls of wine, and the lucky winner of this exquisite jewel.
See you on the other side of this timeless casket.
—The Courier

It asks for forgiveness.

The membrane tears, the screen shatters, and we don’t know what’s on the other side.

The model that generated this email text was trained on Open AI’s GPT-2 language model.
GPT-2 was trained on non-consensually scraped text from millions of websites.
I fine-tuned the model using Max Woolf’s gpt-2-simple.