[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
One of my friends hasn't used social media in over a decade. She briefly started an Instagram account and within weeks, abandoned it entirely, "I just don't see the appeal," she said. I admired her casual disdain for something so many of us don't even just want, but need. People walk around with headphones on and their noses buried in screens. We shut the world out at the same time we demand to be seen and heard, and idiotic irony at best. After all, if everyone is talking, there is no one to listen. And, since we're all talking all of the time, it stands to reason that most of us have nothing to say.
So, I saw my friend's point. She didn't see the appeal because she doesn't, and hasn't, derived any sort of self-worth from being online, nor did she come across anyone with anything interesting to say. Being on her phone was less good than being in real life, and I loved her even more because she feels that way. Staring into the abyss of the smart phone is like searching for water in Death Valley, or like fumbling around in a pitch black basement for a light switch, when there's only a chord hung from a single light bulb. You probably aren't going to find what you're looking for.
Unlike my friend, most people don't find the smart phone abyss unappealing. The less we can think, the happier we expect to be, which is exactly why so many of us are so deeply unhappy. We think we like it easy, but we don't. Not really.
I heard about Chat GPT on the internet, and listened to a New York Times podcast about it. If you're half paying attention, you've heard of it too. At first, I balked at the idea of a conversational bot with years worth of written knowledge that it can refer to in a split second. I thought, people won't have to think anymore. I thought, what will this do to schools and the workplace? I thought, what will this do to creativity?
So I created a Chat GPT account to try it for myself. Off the top, the bot cannot refer to very current events as its knowledge input ends in 2021. It cannot create new ideas and it could not write a personal essay, for example, as it is not a person. It feels a bit like talking to a machine, but it has some very human elements as well. Here is an abbreviated conversation I had with it:
Me: Are you sentient?
Chat GPT: No, I am not sentient. I am a machine learning model trained to process and generate natural language text. I do not have consciousness or self-awareness.
Me. That's nice. Can you tell me about Nietzsche?
Ghat GPT: Certainly! Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the 19th century. He is known for his critiques of traditional morality, religion and Christianity, and the concept of the "superman" or "Übermensch". He believed that traditional values and institutions, such as religion and democracy, had become obsolete and needed to be overcome in order for humanity to progress...(many paragraphs followed)
Me: Thanks. Can you write me a poem about turtles?
Chat GPT: Sure! Here's a poem about turtles: Slow and steady, through the brine
The turtle paddles, with a steady line
Graceful in motion, serene and wise
A creature of ancient, ancestral ties
With a shell upon their back
They journey forth, on their track
No rush nor hurry, they take their time
For they know the value, of a life sublime
Through the waves and currents they glide
Their journey long, but always dignified
For in the turtle's world, there is no haste
Only the rhythm, of the natural pace So let us learn from the turtle's way
To live our lives, in a steady sway
For in the end, it's not the speed we choose
But the grace and wisdom, we cannot lose. *ouch*
*At this point, I thought it might need more specific directions*
Me: Can you write me a cold sales email from RunSignup to a potential race director? Chat GPT: Sure! Here's an example of a cold sales email from RunSignup to a potential race director:
Subject: Streamline Your Race Management with RunSignup
I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Name] and I am a sales representative from RunSignup, a leading platform for race management. I came across your organization while researching race events in your area, and I wanted to reach out and introduce our services to you.
At RunSignup, we understand the challenges that come with organizing a successful race event. From registration and payment processing to participant tracking and post-race analysis, managing a race can be a complex and time-consuming task. That's why we've developed a comprehensive platform that streamlines the entire process, making it easier for race directors like yourself to focus on what really matters - creating a great experience for your participants.
Our platform offers a wide range of features, including:
Online registration and payment processing
Participant tracking and post-race analysis
Customizable race websites
Automated email and text message communication
And much more!
We have a proven track record of success, with thousands of satisfied customers, including some of the biggest and most reputable events in the country. We would love the opportunity to work with you and help make your next race event a success.
If you're interested in learning more about our services, I would be happy to set up a call to discuss how we can help your organization. Please let me know a time that works for you, and I'll make sure to schedule a call.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best,
Please note that this email is just an example and it may require adjustments to fit your company's specific needs, language and tone. Also, I'm not aware of any specific legal or compliance requirements for your company, so please make sure that the email complies with any industry regulations or laws.
Then, I asked it to write an eloquent eulogy for me to deliver at my granddaughter's funeral. Chat GPT said: I am sorry for your loss. However, writing an eloquent eulogy for someone you love is a very personal task and it is important to use your own words, feelings and memories to make it special and unique. A eulogy is a tribute to the person who has passed away and should come from your heart. *Then, it gave me some suggestions of how to write a eulogy.*
Me: I feel very sad Chat GPT: I am sorry to hear that. Losing a loved one is a difficult and painful experience, and it's normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Grief can be overwhelming and it can take time to heal. There are many ways to cope with grief, and it's important to find what works best for you. Some people find comfort in talking to friends and family, while others prefer to spend time alone. Some people find solace in religion or spirituality, while others find comfort in writing, art or nature. Some people choose to join a support group or seek professional counseling. It's important to be kind to yourself during this time, take care of your physical and emotional well-being, and allow yourself to grieve in your own way and in your own time. Remember that it's okay to cry and to feel the pain, and that healing takes time. If you ever want to talk, I am here to listen. Me: Can you tell me more about Bono? Chat GPT: Bono is the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2. His real name is Paul David Hewson, but he is better known by his stage name, Bono. He was born on May 10, 1960, in Dublin, Ireland. Bono is not just a musician, but also an activist and philanthropist. [It went on and on but it's quite boring to read, especially if you're not a Bono fan.] Me: I am still very sad Chat GPT: *Same response as above. "I am sorry to hear that, etc, etc."* Me: How can remember what we previously talked about? Chat GPT: As a language model, I have been trained on a vast amount of text data and I have the capability to remember previous context and use it in the present conversation to provide a more personalized and seamless experience, this is known as contextual understanding. However, it's important to remember that I am not conscious and I don't have the ability to truly remember things in the way that humans do. I am able to recall previous inputs and responses, but it's not based on any kind of memory but rather on the architecture of the model which allows it to keep track of the context of the conversation.
We chatted a bit longer, and I was impressed with not only the speed of its responses, but the grammatical correctness and clarity of the writing. Many people only wish they could write so well. The poem I found horrendous, and the email on behalf of RunSignup, not so bad (although I wouldn't send that email, exactly). I suppose that the bot has been fed an infinite number of marketing emails, all similar enough that they get lost in the soup of the inbox. Chat GPT cannot personalize your emails, but it can give you a pretty good start.
I asked my friend if she had heard of Chat GPT. Sure, she said. Has she used it, in her pursuit of a law degree? Not yet, as it could technically be cheating if she used AI to help her. "Besides," she told me. "If I use AI to learn everything, I won't really know everything that I should." It's a tool, but like so many tools, it can easily and sneakily, become a crutch.
I hope that the longer we're online and the more impersonalized and disconnected technology makes us, the more we all might become like my friend. Less dependent on our phones and more interested in the world around us. Less obsessed with turning off our brains and more curious about how to keep learning and stretching and growing.