Work and Worker
An initial run-in with ChatGPT
People are talking a lot about ChatGPT lately - how it’s going to replace the roles of many people. Maybe it will. It seems like it could pretty readily do a lot of low-level copywriting. Maybe not. That’s a technical question we’ll see in time.
But ChatGPT can’t do what I’m doing right now.
What am I doing right now?
Am I just writing a blog?
“While it may seem that in the industrial process it is the machine that "works" and man merely supervises it, making it function and keeping it going in various ways, it is also true that for this very reason industrial development provides grounds for reproposing in new ways the question of human work. Both the original industrialization that gave rise to what is called the worker question and the subsequent industrial and post-industrial changes show in an eloquent manner that, even in the age of ever more mechanized "work", the proper subject of work continues to be man.”
(Laborem Exercens, JPII)
Right. That’s why I’m doing this. This work - this writing - is for my salvation. This writing changes me. This writing works on me.
It makes me persevere when I have writer’s block. It makes me back up and rethink when I’ve gone down a wrong path. If I just offload that onto an AI… I miss out on that work, which we’re often told is this grudging thing to avoid doing.
I could use a steamshovel to dig a trench, or I could get a spade out and do it myself. One of these works faster and builds my dexterity. One of these affords greater control and builds my muscles. Which am I after?
I did a brief foray with ChatGPT. I see the allure of using it like a machine. The better way is like a tool, if it can be used well that way at all. I might continue exploring this. But initially, I notice: when I write an article, I am exploring the space and topic. I don’t entirely know where I’m going. But, faced with asking ChatGPT what to write, what do I say? What is the topic of this article?
Writing this manually is the shovel. I get better control over the details. I can tell there’s a tile line before I plough right through it and ruin everything. It also forms my mind - it makes me more clear.
Maybe there’s a place for ChatGPT. It reads like boring sales copy (which I abhor… but I guess there’s some role for it, it does convey information). But for exploring the unknown, for artistic creation, and most of all, for human development - The case is less clear. I think the steamshovel analogy is apt; it will build dexterity over knobs and controls; but it develops a very different set of virtues and skills than actual writing will, and I imagine like mechanized work has largely done, necessitate compensatory exercise (e.g. gyms). I will continue exploring.