ChatGPT Doesn’t Get Writer’s Block. Discuss.

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

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*.

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Is the Most Creative Act a Human Can Engage in the Formation of a Good Question?

Wise, Kevin Kelly is.

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.

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The Next First Day

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.

It’s a risk.

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File Under “Hardcore, Great Men Are All”

There’s so much to say about what’s happening at Twitter, but I’m going to start with one word: “Hardcore.” That’s what Elon said he wants from all his employees going forward – a “hardcore” mentality, a coder-first culture, a sleep-at-the-office-and-pound-Red-Bull kind of sensibility.

I’m pretty familiar with this culture – an earlier, less toxic version of it pervaded the pre-Elon tech world, a culture I reported on at Wired, the Standard, and in coverage of Google and similar companies in the early 2000s. While it had its charms – most of us have pulled an all nighter trying to get a product out – memorializing “hardcore” as a work ethos is a deeply flawed management technique. Not only does it foster unhealthy relationships to work, it also celebrates a toxic brand of male-dominated power – the kind of power that many of tech’s current titans, including Musk, Andreessen, Thiel, and their ilk – seem to believe is threatened. In their writings, investments, and political lobbying, it’s clear that “hardcore” is a philosophy this group of Valley troll-bullies seem desperate to entrench.

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Writing

Time was, I sat down nearly every day of the week to contemplate a blank page – and a few hours later, more or less, I’d hit “publish” in the WordPress backend, and a few hundred (or thousand) new words would appear on this site.

It’s been a while since I’ve done that. I love writing, a process I’ve often called “thinking out loud,” and my relationship to this site was one of the most productive and important connections to the world I’ve ever had. But it’s atrophied, badly, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss it. I’m writing today not because I’ve had some insight or itch to scratch – I’ve had a million of them over the past few years, and developed an annoying habit of ignoring them all. But to be honest, I’m writing today because I can’t stand the tumbleweeds and dust bunnies dancing around this place. My email signature – the one for battellemedia.com, anyway – still has a link to this site, and this morning I considered taking it off.

Instead, I’m writing this, both a mea culpa and a promise to all of you who followed my work over the past few decades. First, the apology: I’ve met dozens of you in the past year who’ve asked me what happened to my writing, and it both pleases and pains me to hear that question. It’s something of a mystery to me why I stopped – I still write three pages a day in my personal journal, why did I fall out of practice in the public realm? Certainly my move to New York four years ago, starting another company, wrestling with my own demons as it relates to what I feel is worth paying attention to – all of that contributed. But I think in the end I just lost confidence that I had anything interesting to say. So to those of you who still believe I might, and who’ve encouraged me to start up again, I am sorry for my absence, and I will strive to make amends.

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Has Innovation Died in Marketing?

 

Caveat: This will likely be one of my longish, link-heavy Thinking Out Loud pieces, so I invite you all to pour yourselves a glass of your favorite adult beverage or rustle up a fine cannabis pairing, should you care to indulge…

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Let’s Argue About Web3!

Popcorn in  hand, I’ve been watching the recent religious war between tech leaders, and I find it all quite…wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve had this level of disagreement about the future of what we used to call “our industry,” and as long as the debate remains relatively civil, I’m here for it. Then again, we’ve already seen trolling (Elon Musk), blocking (Marc Andreessen), and shitposting (Jack Dorsey) from some of the biggest names in tech. But hey, at least the arguments are getting aired out.

So what are we arguing about? In short, the future. Nothing is more sacred in the world of tech – the industry has defined and owned the future’s brand for as long as I can remember. Arguing about how that future might play out used to be a full time gig for many of us. It was at the center of our editorial mission at Wired – to paraphrase founding editor Louis Rossetto, our job was “to make a magazine that felt like it was mailed back from the future.” But around a decade ago, arguments about the future subsided – what was the point, given that future had consolidated into a handful of technology titans like Facebook, Tesla, Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon? Whatever gifts or perils the future might bring, one thing was certain: The tech giants owned it. Where’s the fun in that?

This turn of events was profoundly dispiriting for some, particularly those of us who had taken the red pill at the dawn of the commercial internet. Sure, I moderated a conference on Web2, and I wrote a book on search and Google, so watching Web2 businesses grow into the most successful firms in the history of business was … cool, for a while. But by 2012 or so, I had lost the optimism and excitement I once had for the industry. It felt like our dreams for a better world had been hijacked by centralized models of capital, and the future had become predictable again. Boring.

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Why I’m Still Worried About TikTok

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News came last week that TikTok eclipsed both Google and Facebook as the most visited domain and most downloaded app in the United States. The mainstream media response can be summed up in this piece from CBS, which notes the news, then quotes a TikTok public policy executive. I wish I was making this up, but here’s the quote:

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Predictions 2022 – Crypto, Climate, Big Tech, Streaming, Offices, Tik Tok…and (ugh) Trump

Welcome to year nineteen of these annual predictions, which means….holy cow, twenty years of writing at this site. Searchblog has been neglected of late, running a media startup during a pandemic will do that to thoughtful writing. I hope to change that in 2022, starting with this bout of chin stroking. If you’re an old timer here, you know I don’t really prepare to write this post. Instead I sit down, summon the muse of flow, and let it rip in one go. Let’s get to it.

  1. Crypto blows up. 2022 will be a chaotic year for crypto – both the decentralized finance and social token/NFT/gaming portions of the industry, which will grow massively but be beset by fraud, grift, and regulatory uncertainty, as well as an explosion of new apps based on scaleable blockchains such as Solana and Avalanche. Most of these apps will fade (much as early dot com stocks did), but the overall space will be markedly larger as a result. And while 2021 was the year most of the world learned about crypto, 2022 will be the year crypto dominates the tech narrative. I’m holding off on calling a crash – ’22 feels a bit more like ’98 or ’99 than the year 2000, which is when “web1” topped out. But that first top is coming, and when it crests, look the f*ck out. Crypto is a far more integrated into the global economy than we might suspect. In fact, I’ll toss in a corollary to this first prediction: In 2022, a major story will break that exposes a major state actor has been manipulating the crypto markets in a bid to destroy US financial markets.
  2. Oculus will be a breakout hit, but it’ll  immediately be consumed in the same controversies besetting the rest of Facebook’s platforms. The company throws money and lobbyists at the problem, including enough advertising budget to mute mainstream press outrage.  Apple will try to capitalize on all of this FUD as it introduces its own VR play. Regardless, the Oculus division becomes a meaningful portion of Meta’s top line, which starts the change the narrative around Facebook’s surveillance capitalism business model.
  3. Twitter changes the game. I have no particular insight into new CEO Parag Agrawal, but the company has had a long suffering relationship with its true value in the world, and I think the table is set for an acceleration of its product in ways that will surprise and even delight its most ardent fans (I count myself somewhat reluctantly among them). How might this happen? First, look for a major announcement around how the company works with developers. Next, deeper support and integration of all things crypto, in particular crypto wallets like MetaMask. And last (and related), a play in portable identity, where your Twitter ID brings value across other apps and environments.
  4. Climate has its worst – and best – year ever. Worst because while 2021 was simply awful (I mean, the year ends with a winter draught, then a historic fire in… Boulder?) things can always get worse, and they will. Best, because finally, the political will to do something about it will rise, thanks mainly to the voice of young people around the world, and in particular in the United States.
  5. The return of the office. Yes, I know, everything’s changed because of the pandemic. But truth is, we work best when we work together, and by year’s end, the “new normal” will be the old normal – most of us will go back to going into work. A healthy new percentage of workers will remain remote, but look for trend stories in the Post and Times about how that portion of the workforce is feeling left out and anxious about missing out on key opportunities, connections, and promotions. One caveat to this prediction is the emergence of some awful new variant that sends us all back into our caves, but I refuse to consider such horrors. I REFUSE.
  6. Divisions in the US reaching a boiling point. I hate even writing these words, but with the midterms in 2022 and a ’24 campaign spinning up, Trump will return to the national stage. He’ll offer a north star for Big Lie-driven tribalism, a terrifying rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes, all fueled by torrents of racial and economic anger. I really, really hope I’m wrong here. But this feels inevitable to me.
  7. Big Tech bulks up. Despite a doubling down in anti-trust saber rattling from the EU and the Biden administration, Big Tech companies must grow, and they’ll look toward orthogonal markets to do it. Meta and Apple will buy gaming companies, Amazon will buy enterprise software companies, and Google will buy a content library. Google’s always been a bit confused about what its entertainment strategy should be. YouTube is so damn big, and its search business so bulletproof, the company hasn’t really had to play the game the way Meta, Amazon, and Apple have. That likely changes in 22.
  8. The streaming market takes a pause. The advertising business has yet to catch up with consumer behavior in the streaming television market, and as I’ve written elsewhere, the consumer experience is fracking awful. In 2022, those chickens will come home to roost. There’s only so much attention in the world, and with more than $100 billon to invest in content in 2022, something’s gotta give. Plus, if we get through Omicron and back out into the world, consumers might just find themselves doing something besides binging forgettable, algorithmically manufactured programming. I’m not predicting that streaming crashes, but just that the market will have a year of consolidation and, I hope, improvements in its consumer experience and advertising technology stack.
  9. Tik Tok will fall out of favor in the US. Everyone is predicting that 2022 will be The Year Of Tik Tok, but I think they’re wrong in one big way: This won’t be a positive story. First off, the public will wake to the possibility that Tik Tok is, at its core, a massive Chinese PsyOp. Think I’m crazy? I certainly hope so! But you don’t have to wear a tin foil hat to be concerned about the fact that the world’s most powerful social algorithm is driven by a company with a member of the Chinese Communist Party on its board. And second, US-based competitors are already learning, fast, what makes Tik Tok tick. YouTube, Insta, Snap and others will take share all year long.
  10. Trump’s social media company delivers exactly nothing.  Hey, I needed one sandbag in the mix – and this one comes with a heaping side of schadenfreude. The company will become mired in legal fights, and Trump, having grifted a billion or so from favor-currying investors, will move on to ever more ruinous pursuits.

Well, that’s ten, and I wanted to keep this year’s version under a thousand words. Have a wonderful New Year’s, dear readers. I hope I see you out there in the real world, and soon.


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Why Is The Streaming Experience So Terrible?

I wrote this for P&G’s Signal360 publication, but I thought I’d toss it up here as well. I know I’ve been very, very absent from writing for – well, for the entire pandemic. I plan to change that, but for now, here’s a mini-rant (I could have gone on forever) about the state of the television experience for us cord cutters out there. 


I can’t believe I’m about to write these words, but…I kind of miss cable TV.

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