As the Age of AI dawns, the human touch is all the more important. Mere "content" is fully commoditized, too cheap to meter. An authentic point of view becomes priceless. Well, not quite priceless — I'll sell it to you 😉
I'm job-searching right now, and that's my pitch. I won't lie, this is a scary time to be a commercial writer. Even if my own idiosyncratic niche is safe for the moment, AI has me feeling like a farrier once Ford came around. But I do think there's a path forward, at least for me. (The lower swathe of the market is fucked, not to put too fine a point on it.)
In contexts beyond the extrusion of SEO drivel, someone needs to tell the AI what to say. That someone needs to know what is or isn't worth saying. Once the AI has dutifully spoken, its output needs to be vivified for fellow human beings — sophisticated ones who might spend nontrivial amounts of money.
So I'm not obsolete... yet. Gwern has pointed out that the "centaur" phase of AI chess, during which a computer-assisted human expert could outperform a computer alone, lasted about a femtosecond. But I think — hope — that aesthetic domains are different. The production context matters nearly as much as the output.
My bet is the kind of writing I do will remain economically relevant due to the importance of costly signals in marketing. As I said, "content" has become too cheap to meter. So it's not much good as a differentiator, is it? That which anyone can have does not mark the bearer as special.
A lot of business writing exists to demonstrate "we have our shit together enough to produce these signifiers that we have our shit together." ChatGPT and its ilk have drastically lowered the shit-togetherness threshold necessary to produce today's set of signifiers.
But ChatGPT couldn't — or perhaps isn't allowed to — write a sentence like the previous one.
My last job was comms at a fintech startup that handled people's money (specifically crypto). Before that I did the same thing at a nonprofit (also crypto-focused). "Comms" for a small organization is a nebulous, multifunctional role that encompasses social media, community engagement, content marketing, PR, copywriting, and technical writing.
In several of those domains, while what you write does matter, it's equally important simply that it's being written. Financial firms need to display indicators of legitness. It's an existential imperative to demonstrate that you're not some fly-by-night Mickey Mouse operation. You need to show that you're staffed by people who won't run off with the money or leave it lying around unattended.
Due to the Red Queen's race, the efforts of a comms person are among the trappings of a trustworthy company. If the website is grammatically correct, if there are periodic social posts, if the blog is active — these things show that the company has a certain level of funding and savvy, that it probably won't disappear tomorrow, and that the leadership is compelling enough to recruit a professional wordsmith.
Often the point of doing something is not just the thing in itself, for its own sake, but also — sometimes primarily — for the sake of proving your capability to do the thing, which communicates something about you. This may sound tautological, and it is, which is also the point.
That which you cannot accomplish without accomplishing it is an unforgeable proof that you can accomplish it. In other words, the meta is material. The term for this concept is "costly signal."
Hire me, the costly producer of signals!
Seriously though, I'm looking for work. Reply to this email or contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you've got a prospect for me.
- My mom and aunt wrote an adorable historical romance novel called The Secret Gift, for grown-up fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. It's heartwarming and heartbreaking and then heartwarming again. Perfect for curling up by the proverbial fireplace (or a real one, if you're lucky) for the holidays — not least because there's a pivotal Christmas scene! Welcome to Harmony Creek 💐
- I greatly enjoyed Robert Heaton's wry series on parenthood.
- "commentary on xunzi's 'discourse on heaven'" by Alice Maz:
[R]itual exists as a way to give form and expressions to human emotions. You celebrate marriage with rituals meant to heighten and make explicit your joy, and you mourn death with rituals meant to deepen and give shape to your sorrow. The outward forms are a means to guide your inner feelings and allow healthy expression of human emotions without cutting them short or dragging them out.
In this way, the rain sacrifice gives form to the longing for rain, and divination gives form to the hope for clear direction. The people may regard these as magical formulae, though the sage knows they're merely expressions of a desire. But — and this is an important point — the sage does them anyway. And not as a cynical performance to appease the masses, or a begrudging exercise in conformity to tradition. The sage knows that these rituals mean something to the human heart, even to his own, even if they mean nothing to Heaven.
- "my mother's friends" and "parenting off-balance" by Ben Hsieh
- "maybe buy more waffle irons" by Visakan Veerasamy
- "The Ideological Subversion of Biology" by Jerry Coyne and Luana S. Maroja
- "Watering the Tree of Life — My notes on growing your (my) Jewish connection" by @orthonormalist
- "Byrne Hobart, the unlikely oracle" by Shreeda Segan
- "Lament of the Magus" (poetry) by J. Elliot:
What I wanted, oh, what I wanted too late
Was not knowledge but light and warmth, and merely
A direction to crawl in could have made me happy.
My desire, not dates nor times, not ideas nor language,
But a certain face, yours, turned toward the heavens,
And next to it, mine,
And a bird passing, and you whispering his Christian name
Like a dangerous secret,
Which it is, which all birds fear,
Initiates in the great temple of the sky,
Whose center is everywhere and whose limit, inside us.
Happy Advent! I hope you're doing well. Reply and tell me what you're up to, particularly if it's a creative project. Also, don't forget, refer me to your employer!
Feature image: The Banker's Table (1877) by William Michael Harnett.