A few words on the last day of College Writing R4B, Fall 2013
For Mimi, Nick, Nathan, Brent, Jeevan, Kristine, Jasmine, Noosha, Grant, Kevin, Kevyn, Alan, Michelle, Richard, Nicole, Estefania, and Lulu…
[Note: If you’re reading on a computer, the hyperlinks in the text should come through fine. For those of you reading this on a mobile device, some of the hyperlinks don’t seem to be activating, so I’ve listed a few raw URLs at the end of the post. ]
We live in heady times. Every day there is something new.
Talk of Amazon delivering packages by drone and Google doing so via robot, and of hyper-connected, love sick couples in Seoul, along with ongoing discussions of whether the Long Tail is a good thing–for consumers, for artists, for businesses, for the culture.
Remember the Long Tail? Jaron Lanier talked a little bit about it: most of us are in the long tail, while a few Amazonians, among others, are in the slender tippy top of the curve.
Speaking of Lanier, here’s what he had to say in the New York Times a couple of days ago about that Amazon drone delivery idea:
“I can easily picture a scenario where drones deliver things to upscale tech-savvy customers,” he said. “But note the implication, whether intended or not, that working-class truck drivers will no longer transgress geographic class lines. It’s also hard to imagine delivery drones flying unmolested in restive working-class or poor areas. They’d become skeet or be ‘occupied,’ depending on the nature of the neighborhood.”
A prospect both funny and sad because it all seems so likely.
An End to the Introductory Digression…
What is it that I want to say to you?
I’m not sure, but I’ve given myself an hour to do it. (Or 50 minutes, really, since that’s how much time we have together each day.) This is in keeping with the ethos of the speed of technology.
I suppose I want to say this: The sentence is human.
The sentence is human?
Human, the sentence is.
Is it human, though?
(Apparently, I’m talking to myself; that’s what writers do sometimes.)
Only humans can write sentences, really. Machines can’t write them.
Jewel Darling, you are my covetous infatuation. My lovely infatuation. You are my precious sympathy. My precious desire impatiently adores your fancy. You are my avid fancy.
Jewel moppet. You are my loving rapture. My heart breathlessly adores your desire. You are my beautiful adoration. My precious charm. My sympathy impatiently tempts your yearning.
These are love letters written by a computer program. The program itself was first written over 60 years ago(!)
And then there’s this:
“WISCONSIN appears to be in the driver’s seat en route to a win, as it leads 51-10 after the third quarter. Wisconsin added to its lead when Russell Wilson found Jacob Pedersen for an eight-yard touchdown to make the score 44-3 … . ”
“In five years,a computer program will win a Pulitzer Prize — and I’ll be damned if it’s not our technology.”
Program + input of data = news story.
But can such a program write this?
Quoyle experienced moments in all colors, uttered brilliancies, paid attention to the rich sound of waves counting stones, he laughed and wept, noticed sunsets, heard music in rain, said I do. A row of shining hubcaps on sticks appeared in the front yard of Burkes’ house. A wedding present from the bride’s father.
For if Jack Buggit could escape in a pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.
A machine can’t write that. Not yet.
(It’s from the last two paragraphs of The Shipping News, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Annie Proulx.)
So: what’s my point? What’s the So What?
Still not sure, other than showing my biases.
I think it’s partly this, though:
We read on machines.
We write on them.
We do research on them.
And we use them to cite so incredibly easily. (Though my citation here, particularly of the images, is quite poor. Most of the images come from Creative Commons. I’ll take the time to cite them later. This post, like so much that is online, is a draft.)
(An aside on “citation” and provision of evidence: Don’t you love it when articles give you a hyperlink trail so they don’t have to give you all sorts of tedious explanatory context? And sometimes you can find little gems. For instance, they can just go: “For something quite silly, go here or here.”)
Machines might serve as excellent tools to do a certain degree of our writing and reading for us.
But in this context, there are certain things a machine can’t do–that a machine shouldn’t do. Sharp writing and careful critical reading become even more important as automation makes aspects of it undeniably easier.
So who’s going to do it?
(You knew I’d say that, didn’t you?)
Mimi and Estefania will show us how cyberbullying and sex trafficking online, respectively, might be stopped by, in part, expanding our Circle of Empathy.
Noosha will make us more aware of what Facebook might be doing to women’s body images, and maybe Nicole will provide us solutions to that problem by showing us some non-stereotyped female gamers who will kick some misogynistic butt.
Or maybe we’ll all just chill out, go to Disneyland, and wear RFID wristbands with Kristine, except Kevin will say, “No No! Don’t you know what they’re going to do with your information?! Doesn’t anyone care about their privacy anymore?”
Nathan will tell us to calm down, he knows just what to do, let’s all go on Twitter and pass along information about this crisis as it happens, and if we decide we don’t want our RFID bands anymore, then Michelle will tell us how to dispose of them properly.
Or else she’ll totally freak us out by showing us something like this:
Maybe one way to deal with all that e-waste is to generate less of it by pirating more things and torrenting them, though Kevyn will actually give us other ways in which we ought not to worry so much (and worry a little? yes?) about piracy.
And what happens if the Great Firewall of China comes down? Less piracy? More growth? Richard will show us–and the Chinese economy–how to make a booming economy boomier. In the meantime, Lulu will give us the tools to become as famous (and rich!!) as social media make-up maven Michelle Phan.
Speaking of make-up, let’s watch some baseball being umpired entirely by technology, and then take a moment to stare at Grant’s newly peroxided Game of Thrones hair.
[Self conscious, real-time, staring-at-Grant break]
Is he remaking his in-person image for an online presence? Brent will tell us what he thinks about that, and Alan will tell us whether that’s why teens find Facebook so appealing, even as Jasmine tells young people that people, people, Facebook isn’t reality and there are better ways to achieve true happiness and among them is…Jeevan! Jeevan! Stop looking at your own profile picture!!
Not to worry though, all will be well, because once he leverages his Obama-esque knowledge of social media campaigning, Nick will solve all our problems as our future Senator from California. You can all say you knew him back in his humble beginnings in 263 Dwinelle.
(BTW, what a crappy room, eh?)
So, the machines have started, and E.M. Forster (may he Rest in Peace) might well be dismayed if he were still with us (and he is still with us–his writing!). But the humans haven’t stopped yet. I have faith in you.
In the meantime, it’s best to laugh in the face of our imminent demise. That is, until machines get a sense of humor too. So I turn now–as I often do at this time of the semester–to the Kiwis:
Cheers and Adieu.
Raw URL Links (in case the embedded ones above didn’t work):
On Amazon delivery drones: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/03/technology/amazon-delivers-some-pie-in-the-sky.html
On “The Love App” in Seoul: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/11/25/131125fa_fact_collins
About the Long Tail and blockbusters: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/12/02/131202crbo_books_sanneh
Narrative Science: http://narrativescience.com/artificial-intelligence-data-engine/#section2
Computer generated articles: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/business/computer-generated-articles-are-gaining-traction.html?pagewanted=all
Creative Commons: http://search.creativecommons.org/
Something silly #1:
Something silly #2 (a book trailer for the novel Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart):