Picture-perfect shots don't tell the whole story

Have you seen the ads for the new Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro phones from Google?

With a feature called “Best Take,” you take multiple shots of a group and then combine everyone’s best look in one photo. Magic Editor — using generative AI, whatever that is — lets you reposition and resize subjects. Audio Magic Eraser lets you erase the sounds of the barking dog or background surf from your videos.

I’m amazed by this technology, and I can think of many of my own photos that would have benefited from Best Take. I can’t help but worry, though, that the photos everyone posts on social media — which already are filtered and curated to show select moments — soon will be completely and utterly fake. The commercial that features Magic Editor shows an altered pic of a dad throwing his toddler up in the air — so high that someone would end up injured if this really happened.

Touching up red eye or eliminating a stray strand of hair sticking up at a weird angle are one thing. Taking advantage of those tools doesn’t alter the story. But repositioning and resizing subjects just might.

I guess it should be no surprise that at the same time that this technology is emerging, Merriam-Webster has chosen “authentic” as its word of the year for 2023. The dictionary’s web page says the word is something, “We’re thinking about, writing about, aspiring to and judging more than ever.”

“A high-volume lookup most years, ‘authentic’ saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity and social media,” it goes on to say.

I hope people are looking up the word because they are interested in living a more authentic life. I fear they are doing so because they aren’t sure what the word means.

The Oxford English Dictionary chose a less thought-provoking word to award year: “Rizz” — defined as “style, charm or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.” The term also can be used as a verb, as in to “rizz up” a person. Its etymology (now there’s a word) is TikTok.

Rizz was formed with a linguistic pattern called “clipping,” as it came from the middle of another word, “charisma,” according to Oxford’s announcement. “Fridge” and “flu” are other examples. I doubt anyone who uses the word “rizz” even knows such a thing as linguistic patterns exists. (My 14-year-old daughter, who actually used this word while I was working on this column, certainly doesn’t.)

Because this whole “word of the year” thing is a publicity stunt — and Webster’s and Oxford each want people to look up more words online — there are two lists of runner-up words of the year as well. Webster’s first runner up was, in fact, “rizz.” (It offered a baker’s dozen of candidates, may favorite of which was “doppelganger.”) Oxford’s finalists were “prompt,” “situationship” and “Swiftie.”

So what does Webster’s word of the year have to do with the Pixel 8 ads? Every time I see one of the phone commercials, I think of that one episode of “Modern Family” (“Family Portrait,” the first-year season finale, I learned from Google) in which Claire hopes to get the perfect shot of the entire family, with everyone dressed in pristine white outfits. But family squabbles lead to a mud fight — and instead of a carefully posed portrait, the family ends up with an endearing candid shot that captures each member’s personality — and real life.

Maybe being authentic is the best rizz of all.

— Pamela Lannom is editor

of The Hinsdalean. Readers

can email her at

[email protected].