Semiotic Triangle

When it comes to writing, AI can generate poems, songs, stories, and fiction and nonfiction books. It can produce interviews and summaries and evaluations and copy of all kinds. As it gains more, better, and potentially multisensorial training, it will be able to do much, much more.

For some, the sudden surge in applications uncovers previously unexploited conveniences. If, for example, you spend too much time writing articles to refresh SEO relevance, AI offers a convenient solution.

For others, however, the purpose of writing is not always—or not only—to get the work done. It’s also to do the work. This is the case even though, as a proxy for thinking and reflection, and/or as a means for information exchange, writing is an inefficient, inconvenient medium.

It’s also often annoying, irritating, unpleasant, and very, very hard. Even writers consider writing torturous—a point made in Hemingway’s oft-quoted description of writing as “easy”—you just have to “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

But inefficiency and inconvenience—and annoyance and irritation (probably not the blood)—are important parts of the process. They’re cause and effect of the friction created when we attempt to match what we want to express with expression. 

AI can make the match easy by smoothing away this friction, but the convenience comes at a cost. In fact, Tim Wu writes in the still-relevant “Tyranny of Convenience” that although convenience helpfully and necessarily sands down some of life’s rough corners, if we sand away too much, we lose the edge.

Making easy our primary goal radically limits our choices, and thus the individuality we express in the act of choosing. Yes, AI can make the work of writing easy, but it smoothes away the friction that invites (perhaps requires) individuated expression.

We can and will turn to AI for a wide variety of tasks. But when it comes to writing, the hard work of enduring the annoying, irritating, unpleasant, and terribly inconvenient friction of writing is (part of) what makes us meaningful.