Why CAPTCHA Pictures Are So Unbearably Depressing
They force you to look at the world the way an AI does
I hate doing Google’s CAPTCHAs.
Part of it is the sheer hassle of repeatedly identifying objects — traffic lights, staircases, palm trees and buses — just so I can finish a web search. I also don’t like being forced to donate free labor to AI companies to help train their visual-recognition systems.
But a while ago, while numbly clicking on grainy images of fire hydrants, I was struck by another reason:
The images are deeply, overwhelmingly depressing.
CAPTCHA images are never joyful vistas of human activity, full of Whitmanesque vigor. No, they’re blurry, anonymous landscapes that possess a positively Soviet anomie. Here’s a typical one …
You can feel your spirits deflate just beholding this picture, can’t you? Even worse, really, are the jumble of bleak images …
Each cube here is a tone poem in melancholia. Looking at these leaden vistas of America makes you, slightly but noticeably, feel worse than you did before.
Why are these photos so depressing? What is it about their composition that is so enervating? I’ve been musing on this for a few months now, and had some terrific exchanges about it with Todd Pruzan and Emily Gordon, two friends of mine, on Twitter.
I think I’ve figured it out, and so now I present — The Six Reasons CAPTCHA Pictures Make You Feel Like Crap:
1) They’re devoid of humans
CAPTCHA images are pictures of the outside world, but it’s a world that is unsettlingly bare of people. This is likely for privacy reasons, which is a laudable motive on Google’s part. But it winds up making the pictures look totally postapocalyptic. Each CAPTCHA depicts a world blasted by a neutron bomb, where the objects survive but none of the people…