The title of this post was stolen from John Warner, whose book Why They Can’t Write was recommended to me by a friend. He tweeted a really excellent thread about how AI’s “correct-seeming” prose is an opportunity to rethink and improve how we teach students writing. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but here’s the highlight for me:
(James Brown summarized this as “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing.” It has become the default setting in American life.)
Warner wrote a followup post, “ChatGPT can’t kill anything worth preserving” that is also worth your time. Warner’s big idea is that students aren’t actually being asked to “express express themselves inside a genuine rhetorical situation (message/audience/purpose)” but are rather being asked to produce “writing-related simulations, utilizing prescriptive rules and templates (like the five-paragraph essay format)” which do fine on standardized tests, but don’t prepare them for writing at the college level, or writing anything that, you know, an actual human being would want to read.
“We made a mistake thinking it was a good thing to train students to write like an algorithm,” he writes. “Now we know we have to undo that mistake.”
Some of his suggestions are to “make the work worth doing,” to “value the process, rather than the product,” and to “move away from what an algorithm can do and towards how humans learn and develop.”
This strikes me as excellent advice not just for teachers, but for writers and artists of all kinds.
People keep asking me about AI and I really think how you feel about AI comes down to whether you believe art is about producing things (images, objects, data files, “content”) or about a way of operating in the world as an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional creature.
How you think it is to be a human.
As Warner puts it, writing “is an embodied process that connects me to my own humanity, by putting me in touch with my mind, the same way a vigorous hike through the woods can put me in touch with my body.”
Emphasis on embodied. Head, heart, and hands.
“As human[s], we are wired to communicate,” Warner writes. “We are also wired for ‘play.’ Under the right circumstances, writing allows us to do both of these things at the same time.”
Whether you’re into AI or not, it’s worth spending some time honoring what is not machine-like in you.
And if you’re going to spend time with machines, be sure to spend time with machines that make you feel more human.