There was an episode of ‘The Obsolete Man’. Apparently, in the Twilight Zone, believing in literacy and books makes you obsolete.’ in the early 1960s where a man is sentenced to death for the crime of curating books. In other words, he was a librarian. The episode was called ‘
This would be a great segue into all the statistics of late regarding reading rates in the United States. That a majority of kids would rather play video games than read a book. Youngsters say it’s embarrassing to be caught reading. Most adults didn’t consume more than one book last year, many of them not reading even ONE book.
On and on, we slowly march toward becoming a post-literate society. That’s a population in which reading has been invented, but with the aid of technology, we’ve moved past the need for it. (But we are now a post-agrarian society too where nearly no one is a farmer and we could feed the entire world if we really wanted to. The point being a post-literate society will likely survive).
But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to talk about the other obsolete person in the book/reader equation. It’s the writer.
If you think the publishing industry is already filled with enough books that you will never have enough time to read, wait until your average computer can crank out a competent novel. Books are reaching a singularity, where they will be written by algorithms. ‘Written’ is probably not the correct word. More like computed.
This means books will be ubiquitous, on every device screen, each book will only be read by a few people, and also essentially worthless. You computer may crank you out a unique novel every day if you want it to.
Is The Brain Just an Algorithm Machine?
The belief is that most writing is formulaic. Here is the couplet, put the rhyming word here. Number the chapters in order. Make them all about the same length. It’s basically a formula: hero, journey, adversity, twist, return. You get the point.
In other words, algorithms can write a competent, formulaic book. I assume the algorithms will only get better until one day computer software produces books that are equivalent in quality to best sellers.
This has already happened in music. People believed for decades that computers could never compose symphonies. That machines are missing some basic element that stops them from creating beautiful, blended instrumentations. Well, that’s wrong. And machines do a damn fine job at it.
If computers can create art, this implies the human mind doesn’t actually think. That it just mimics and recreates and follows its own algorithms and patterns. Maybe that’s true. Romance novels are highly formulaic and easy to mimic. But sadly, we don’t realize many other books are also simple to crack. Business. Self-help. Weight loss. On and on.
Real Writers, Please Stand Up. . . . For Other Homosapiens
Humans, it’s time we fight back and keep our books human. Being pushed out of writing, a business that people sort of invented, just isn’t right.
Either writers will be deemed as outdated as the typewriters before them, or they must exhibit the one thing machines can never reproduce: the experience of being human.
Sure. Algorithms can get all the words right and in order. Software can mimic the prose of famous authors. But it will always misinterpret what it feels like to be alive. It can only guess about the confusion and existential angst and joy it is to breathe.
That is why we write. To affirm our existence. To show the world we were here and that we experienced stuff and made things and died. A computer can never understand that. Even if it can mimic the words, it can never have the experience between the words.
To save books and literacy, we should all become writers who write like humans, not humans who write like machines that write like humans.
What does that mean?
If you don’t understand it, perhaps you’ve already become an obsolete man or woman.
There is a signpost up ahead. Next stop, The Twilight Zone.