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, even though, as a proxy for thinking and reflection, and/or as a means for information exchange, writing is an 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 the inconvenience—the annoyance, the irritation (probably not the bleeding)—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 our expression. 

AI can make the match easy by smoothing away this friction, but the convenience cuts both ways. In fact, convenience, writes Tim Wu in the still-relevant “Tyranny of Convenience,” helpfully and necessarily sands down some of life’s rough corners. However, if we sand away too much, we lose our edge. When we make easy our primary goal, we radically limit our choices, as well as the individuality we express in choosing.

AI makes the work of writing easy—makes the work nonexistent, in fact—by smoothing away the friction that requires our individuated expression. This can be very convenient, but it comes at a significant cost.

Though we can and will turn to AI for a wide variety of tasks, when we instead do the very hard work of overcoming the annoying, irritating, unpleasant, and terribly inconvenient friction of writing, we make ourselves meaningful.