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A Case for Taking the Long Way

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

I’m not so naïve to think that we can stop technological advancements that will continue to fundamentally change the human experience. We are passing yet another point of no return as ChatGPT and other AI products permeate further into our everyday life. And why wouldn’t AI be embraced by so many people? It offers users something that the human species has an insatiable demand for: Short cuts.

Why wrestle through writer’s block, when you can just ask Chat GPT? Why tap into your inner wisdom to find the answer, when you can just tap a few terms into a search engine? Sure, it’s fast and ostensibly got you to your end goal, but what are all the experiences you would have gained if you had taken the scenic route?

Before the bots hijack my computer and begin speaking for me, I’d like to make a case for the long way.

I currently produce a podcast for the Nantucket Atheneum. I record the interviews, log the dialogue manually, and then edit the scripts together. My husband, a professional videographer and editor, has been trying to sell me on the latest AI that will speed up my process by removing “ums” and pauses and basically create a first edit.

I accept that I’m being stubborn and may have an “ah-ha” moment when I finally give it a try, but there’s something in my gut that makes me want to do it the “long way.” Yes, it is tedious to trim out the “ums” and filler words, but it forces me to listen to the interview slowly and multiple times, and I often pick up things I would have overlooked. It might seem helpful to have all the pauses removed automatically, but some of those pauses are meaningful… magical even. When I ask a colleague a question and they need to pause to mull it over, there’s something human and powerful about that silence that AI can’t feel.

A huge point of controversy for Chat GPT is in the educational world. I was listening to an episode of The Daily where educators share their concerns and frustration that they need to screen assignments for AI writing, and they have become suspicious of their students. When the journalist spoke to students about Chat GPT, many were grateful for the technology but also voiced ambivalence. It’s amazing to avoid that terrifying blank page, but what are they really getting out of their educational career if they are just falling back on AI when they feel challenged?

When asked what they would have done without ChatGPT, a few students said they would have asked a classmate or a friend. If they had reached out to another human for help, they would have found the answer they were looking for AND maybe had an opportunity for connection.

I’m not a futurist, an economist, or a sociologist, but my intuition tells me there is something ominous about AI creeping into every area of our life. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know something will be at best undervalued or at worst lost completely.

The skills and qualities I value most in myself (and usually others) are the ones that took years or even decades to develop. They are the product of failure, grit, curiosity and resilience.

As a journalism student, I had a writing assignment due every week. I learned the craft of producing concise and engaging content that was structured for the appropriate medium and fit within the time or space limitations. Article after article, I found my voice and learned to get my point across.

Years later, I started a (mostly) monthly blog, which has evolved into what you are reading now. There have been posts where people write back to say how much they enjoyed it and other posts that go off into the ether never to be spoken of again. Some months are easier than others, but again and again, I’m able to take a blank page and turn it into something I feel comfortable sharing with the world.

Interpersonal communication is another skill that I’ve carefully honed in the last two decades. I admit, I’ve always had a natural acumen for socializing, but there were lots of situations I avoided and terrible behavior I tolerated because I didn’t have the tools to address it. At age 25, I was fortunate enough to attend a two-day seminar for first-time supervisors and managers, and it set me off on a journey of professional and personal development. I didn’t just sit through the workshops and check off the boxes. Each time, I picked at least one tool, and, as awkward as it was, I started putting it to use. I fumbled over my words and messed up the steps, but eventually I started building better relationships, personally and professionally.

It took a long time to get here, but I learned to trust myself to think critically about what I want to say and how it will affect the person I’m saying it to.

I’m not arguing that AI is evil and has no place in our society. Like any change, there will be good parts and bad parts. In a few years, perhaps it will be quite obvious that the benefits of AI far outweigh what will be lost. Maybe I’m not a luddite, just a slow adopter.

Either way, it’s important to acknowledge what is lost in this change, so we can possibly create it some other way or at least mourn its passing and plan accordingly.

For all the “quicker” ways to get things done, I still think there are plenty of reasons and opportunities for taking the long way around.

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