Human and non-Human Writing

When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. In my young mind, the best “writers” wore a tweed jacket, elbow pads. They smoked a pipe. They were mostly male, unfortunately. They either lived in the English Lake District, like Tolkien, or a Manhattan brownstone apartment, like a Saul Bellow character. A writer wrote for an audience, but mostly they wrote for themselves. They wrote as an act of discovery first and foremost.

But there are different types of writing, as we’re learning: writing that can easily be done by a robot, and then “Writing” with a capital W (what we might otherwise call “literature” or art). Writing that is important because it speaks to human experience. The act of journaling falls under this umbrella. But so does a well-written tutorial.

ChatGPT (and the whole field of robotics and AI) really have moved the boundaries between what can only be done by a human and what can be done by a robot. This means that everything feels really up in the air right now.

And perhaps robot writing shouldn’t even be called “writing”- we could call it “content generation”. Press releases, marketing copy, articles that rank things, articles that list things, and so on. Writing that’s meant for easy analysis by robots (like Google’s search algorithm) and high school teachers. I’m not sure if anyone starts out with the goal of being that type of writer. But maybe.

This isn’t meant to devalue people who spend time writing things like marketing copy. It’s just that the younger version of myself never pictured the adult me slaving away over a really good description of a software feature. Writing good marketing copy can be fun, like solving a crossword puzzle. But it’s something that I’m ready to hand over to a robot. Mainly because it’s not paying my bills. I’d feel differently if it was.

I’m sure anyone who made writing part of their career goals did it because they wanted something more. That’s probably the feeling every food blogger has when they start their recipe post with a forty minute soliloquy about where the recipe came from. The desire to discover and to express yourself.

The robot-style-writing pays the bills in the modern economy. At least, it did. Until robots learned how to write for themselves. In the age of the internet, the most “successful” content is what is most helpful to your audience. If your main audience is an algorithm, then you’re engaging in non-human writing.

In the grand scheme of life, I still think the most important writing is what helps you understand yourself. Of course, few people pay you for that.

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