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For someone who loves writing, 2022 was a rubbish year for me. My normal flow of ideas into words turned into a dribble, so this post is an effort to break the dreaded writer’s block by writing about writing content. Predictable I know, but let’s see where this ends up.
A big part of my lack of writing in 2022 was related to my health. I got hit hard by three viral infections (at least one of them was Covid) during the year and found that “brain fog” can be a very real and annoying side effect of post-viral fatigue. I have a genetic auto-immune condition that causes my body to overproduce an inflammatory response to infections, and it turns out that sometimes that inflammation can make its way into my brain, awesome.
Writing has been around for thousands of years and has been invented multiple times by multiple cultures across human history. From Bronze Age marking on clay tablets to the Rongorongo script of Easter Island to ancient Chinese pictographs, different human cultures have come up with different ways to record their thoughts and experiences.
Historical reading and writing were practised by a small part of society - scholars, priests or the ruling class. But over the thousands of years since we started writing, technological and cultural advancements have opened up reading and writing to the point that in 2023 around 9 in 10 adult humans can read and write - double the global literacy rate from 70 years ago.
We can point to technology like the printing press, typewriter, internet and mobile phone as opening up the world of words to billions of people. But as we reach a world where everyone can read and write, what happens next?
It should be noted that the term “reading and writing” covers a huge range of human ability - from our most popular authors to people who find it challenging and time-consuming to write a coherent sentence.
At the end of November 2022 while my sluggish brain grappled with forming coherent paragraphs, a new piece of technology leapt into the public consciousness, which had no problem at all forming paragraphs.
ChatGPT is currently the best-known advanced AI chatbot - a computer programme that can write like a human about almost anything you can think of. It will remember what it’s written, and humans can even use it to build fictional worlds and characters. Other AI bots like MidJourney and DALL-E2 can create images, photos and art from simple text prompts.
Forming paragraphs is no longer an issue, I can just feed ChatGPT a few ideas and let it do the rest. People who struggle to turn their thoughts and ideas into coherent paragraphs now have a free (for now) service that will write for them.
At this point in the story of writing, I have to admit I’m torn about whether this is a net good thing.
On one side, tools like Chat GPT empower people who struggle to put their thoughts into written word, on the other side it opens the floodgates of written content - allowing content generation far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.
I’m 50 minutes and 534 words into writing this post, I thought about it on the bike ride to work, I mentally prepared myself for what I wanted to say and have spent almost an hour bashing my keyboard, attempting to create a thoughtful, considered post. Meanwhile, on the other half of my computer monitor, ChatGPT is open with my prompt:
Write an article about "Writer's Block, ChatGPT and the Future of Content"
Hitting Enter will produce an article in under a minute & it will probably be absolutely fine with some insights & thoughtful ideas. This begs the question why am I sweating out this post when I could let a machine write something for me?
But the bigger question is, “what is the value of writing?”
I think of the issue as a “classic supply vs demand question” - but framed as “content vs time”. In yee olde days people had more time than content to consume - even taking oral storytelling into account.
Now we are living at a point in history when our time is highly valued, yet content is being generated at a rate that even if all of humanity were tasked with consuming what is being produced we’d struggle to read every word, look at every image, or watch every second of video.
This feeds into concerns about our collapsing attention spans - a trend that’s been particularly noticeable this century with social media trying to squeeze content into small shallow chunks we consume in a constant unbroken stream, leaving very little time for consideration or self-reflection.
My hope is we come up with ways to discover, digest, consider and share content that hits us in the feels, or tickles our brain into new ways of thinking. But that means giving ourselves time to digest and consider - stepping back from social media feeds, clickbait and content farms to give ourselves and our brains time to breathe.
If you’ve made it this far - thank you for reading something I put time and effort into creating. For an encore, I asked ChatGPT to do some writing on my behalf on this topic - you can check out its response here.
Banner Image by MidJourney
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