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*.
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).
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.
I don’t write here anymore. I write almost entirely on Medium now. It’s not a choice I made to NOT write here, it’s a choice I made to edit NewCo Shift, our new publication. It lives on Medium, but if it were a WordPress site, well, my writing would all be on that site. It’s less about the medium (so to speak) and more about the publication.
As the days go by, and this site gets longer in the tooth, the challenge of updating it and making it current gets bigger and bigger. It eats at me. And I miss the engagement that this place used to have. I know it’s all my fault, and I’m sorry. I don’t have a plan to return to this place, because as much as I love the kind of writing I do here, I simply don’t have the time to do it. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Yesterday I stumbled onto a fascinating PBS Newshour interview with book designer Peter Mendelsund, well-regarded for his cover treatments of titles ranging from George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Mendelsen argued that when we read, we visualize the text, each of us creating a different reality in our minds. Those co-created images – created by both the author and the reader – are unique and vital to the process of reading – and by extension, to our ability to imagine and to create.
Family, colleagues, and friends knew this day was coming, I knew it was coming, but here it is: I’ve rented a new place to write, a small, remote house directly on the beach, about 12 miles as the crow flies from my home in Marin county. It’s not a direct 12 miles – that crow would have to fly up about 2500 feet so as to clear the peak of Mt. Tamalpais. And that mountainous impediment is intentional – it takes close to the same time to ride a mountain bike from my home to this office as it does to drive one of several winding routes between here and there. I’m hoping that will spur me to take my commute by bicycle. I won’t be here every day, but I certainly hope to spend a fair bit of time here over the coming months.
I’ve added this new address to my long list of offices for one reason: To complete the book I’ve been talking about for nearly half a decade. That book began as an idea I called “The Conversation Economy,” but grew in both scope and ambition to encompass a much larger idea: an archaeology of the future, as seen through the digital artifacts of the present. Along the way, it’s changed a lot – 18 months ago, its title was “What We Hath Wrought.” Now, I’m thinking it’ll be called “If/Then.” I may yet call it “If/Then…Else” – or, as I wander through this journey, it might end up as something entirely different.
At this moment, I’m not certain. And that’s a bit scary.