Yes, I am the “Old Man Yells at Cloud,” especiallywith technology. From my day job as a software developer to my night job as family tech support, whatever synapses left firing by evening are on the verge of short circuiting. Fortunately, when the last of the trouble tickets are marked complete, I can open a book, read a piece of journalism, or write my own words knowing I am sharing in the world of human experience.
That is until the cloud of ChatGPT darkened my literary sky.
Now, I’m not concerned about ChatGPT for student essays, TPS reports, or yet another Medium listicle. I’m not here to judge some overloaded kid who resorts to kickstarting an essay for a class they never wanted to take or an exhausted office worker trying to get out the door on a Friday afternoon.
My worry is storytelling and how an algorithm can impact that initial seed of beauty, humor, horror, and meaning created in the human mind — the core of what makes our stories alive.
I’ve seen enough of the “I told ChatGPT to tell me a story in the style of Hemmingway of an alien driving a pickup truck while holding a puppy and this is what it said” pieces. Those results? Robotic foundational structures that send a writer down a path not of their own creation and, upon conclusion, not their own story.
Using ChatGPT for that jump start is literary juicing. We shouted “Shame!” at Lance Armstrong when he admitted using performance enhancing drugs. Sportswriters rejoiced last summer about Aaron Judge and his quest to beat Roger Maris’s home run mark. He would have the “real” record, they said, not the tainted results of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. The Russian team was banned from the Olympics because of their assembly line doping during the Sochi games. But what is ChatGPT other than a PED for the mind?
I’ll never claim to be a good writer. You would only have to look at my Medium stats to confirm that. But when I make that next step into a new story, it will start with my words, my structure, my ideas, as it has for ages of writers. And when technology has done its best to finish me, when I take that desperate break from the stream of bits and bytes, I will be brought back to humanity by those who have open up their personal door into their hearts and minds.
An algorithm cannot replace what touches us with storytelling.
An algorithm will never have a soul.