How long have I been staring at a blank screen, this accusing white box, struggling to compose the first sentence of a post I know will be difficult to write? About two minutes, actually, but that’s at least ten times longer than ChatGPT takes to compose a full page. And it’s those two minutes – and the several days I struggled with this post afterwards – that convince me that ChatGPT will not destroy writing. In fact, I think it may encourage more of us to write, and more still to consume the imperfect, raw, and resonant product of our efforts.
I’m a pretty fast writer, but I’m a deliberate and vicious editor – I’ll happily kill several paragraphs of my own text just minutes after I’ve composed them. I know that the best writing happens in the editing, and the most important part of composition is to simply get some decent clay on the wheel. ChatGPT seems to be really good at that clay part. But it’s in the second part – the editing – that the pot gets thrown*.
Watching the hype cycle build around OpenAI’s ChatGPT, I can’t help but wonder when the first New York Times or Atlantic story comes out calling the top – declaring the whole thing just another busted Silicon Valley fantasy, this year’s version of crypto or the metaverse. Anything tagged as “the talk of Davos” is destined for a ritual media takedown, after all. We’re already seeing the hype start to fade, with stories reframing ChatGPT as a “co-pilot” that helps everyone from musicians to coders to regular folk create better work.
But I think there’s far more to the story. There’s something about ChatGPT that feels like a seminal moment in the history of tech – the launch of the Mac in 1984, for example, or the launch of the browser one decade later. Is this a fundamental, platform-level innovation that could unleash a new era in digital?
Today let’s think out loud about TikTok, perhaps the most vexing and fascinating expression of Big Tech power since Google in the early 2000s. I’ve written about TikTok several times, and today’s news, from the Wall Street Journal, raises fresh questions that feel under-appreciated.
First, the background. As most of you likely know, TikTok is owned by a large Chinese company called ByteDance. In less than five years, TikTok has hijacked the very heart of Big Tech’s consumer business in the United States – our attention. Nearly 100 million US consumers will spend an average of more than 90 mins a day watching TikTok this year. That’s time that Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and every other consumer tech and media company can’t get back. Here’s Scott Galloway’s visualization of the trend, from a piece last Fall:
I’ve an ambitious goal for 2023: Write more out loud. I write (by hand) every day in a journal, but that’s more of a personal practice, a meditation. This year I want to get back to writing publicly, and last week, I managed to write four days in a row, a rare streak over the past few years.
I was all fired up to continue my new habit this morning, but my internet provider has decided that it’s a good day to remind me what life was like in the days of the dial up modem. Something’s awry with my connection, and without broadband, I can’t properly write.
No, that’s not quite it – without broadband, I can’t properly think. I have dozens of active tabs open when I write, and I’ll often make on the fly phone calls to sources as well. Cell service sucks where I live, so I use WiFi calling. With these two main inputs offline, I’m stuck staring at a blank page. For me writing isn’t so much placing one word after the other as it is a record of active inquiry, of engaging with the Internet and reporting back what I’ve found (and how it’s changed or informed my point of view).
What’s the hardest thing you could do as a tech-driven startup? I’ve been asked that question a few times over the years, and my immediate answer is always the same: Trying to beat Google in search. A few have tried – DuckDuckGo has built itself a sizable niche business, and there’s always Bing, thought it’s stuck at less than ten percent of Google’s market (and Microsoft isn’t exactly a startup.) But it’s damn hard to find venture money for a company whose mission is to disrupt the multi-hundred billion dollar search market – and for good reason. Google is just too damn well positioned, and if Microsoft can’t unseat them, how the hell could a small team of upstarts?
Today I’d like to ponder something Kevin Kelly – a fellow co-founding editor of Wired – said to me roughly 30 years ago. During one editorial conversation or another, Kevin said – and I’m paraphrasing here – “The most creative act a human can engage in is forming a good question.”
That idea has stuck with me ever since, and informed a lot of my career. I’m likely guilty of turning Kevin into a Yoda-like figure – he was a mentor to me in the early years of the digital revolution. But the idea rings true – and it lies at the heart of the debate around artificial intelligence and its purported impact on our commonly held beliefs around literacy.
Just last week I predicted that Google would leverage ChatGPT to create a conversational interface to its search business, and that Microsoft would do the same in the enterprise data market. I briefly considered that I might have gotten it exactly backwards – Google has a robust enterprise data business in its cloud business (known as GCP), and of course Microsoft has Bing. But I quickly dismissed that notion – figuring that each behemoth would play the GPT card toward their strengths.
While I may have been right about ChatGPT getting a business model this year, it looks like I could be wrong on the details. Here’s The Information with a scoop:
Today is the first workday of the new year. For most of us, that means the slow roll of the holidays is over. Today we answer all those emails we left unattended, resume work we left on hold in early December, and start filling up our calendars with meetings we’d rather not attend.
I’ve chosen a different path this year, for me, an uncertain path. I’m resolved to write here more frequently, even if what I produce isn’t exactly consistent with whatever it is I do for a living. The past four years have been strange – I started a political media company with a dear friend, it triumphed and it failed and it continues to this day. I learned more than I thought was possible, but my writing stagnated. I’ve decided to return to this blank space filling slowly with words – to prioritize it, to make it more important than the meetings and the unsent emails and the work left on hold late last year.