Rebel Yell! What if We’re Wrong About Progress?

I’ll start somewhere that’s easy to follow. Just bear this in mind: things will escalate quickly.

My mother gave me a picturebook about trains when I was a child. I remember it still. It was full of watercolour spreads in which Victorian ladies with frilled umbrellas and ribboned bonnets waved gaily at huge steamer trains. These steel beasts, with shining flanks, are really the earliest symbol of industrial progress. Now where does the relentless forward-push of innovation ultimately take us?

Trains > cars > driverless cars > electric scooters > heavy lift drones > virtual reality headsets that bring the world to your armchair. All of a sudden, you never have to go anywhere anymore. 

That got weird fast, didn’t it?

But that’s evolution. Or if you prefer, call it progress. I don’t like either word here. The usage is correct, no doubt about it. But the implications are misleading. They denote the overwhelmingly positive. And yet I don’t want to live in my armchair. 

You can apply this formula elsewhere and thus bring many things to their final conclusion. Let’s do it to my raison d’etre. Let’s do it for writing. 


Early humans expressed themselves through signs, sounds, and body language. Ancient humans invented alphabets to communicate, record and educate. Priests in the Middle Ages turned letters into art with their illuminated manuscripts. Europeans in the 18th century used diaries to explore their experiences. Then writing became mechanised with the invention of the typewriter, and since then, things have accelerated. 

I’ll whip through a few of the main technologies, fast. Desktop computers. Microsoft word. Predictive text. See where the trend switches? 

You have to look closely. 

First, what we use writing for expanded. It can be professional or personal; instructive or introspective.  We do a lot of it. Business noticed this.

First, we’re offered ways to ‘write’ more efficiently. On a keyboard, for instance. 

Today, to keep maximising efficiency, we’re offered ways out of writing altogether. 

It starts with what I call chipping. The chipping takes perfectly obvious words right out of your mouth. Remember that. It takes, it doesn’t give. 

I say: ‘how are-’

The machine butts in: ‘-you?’

I could have probably come up with that on my own. But then again, why make a big deal? 

I’ll tell you why.

Because when machines ‘suggest’ words for us, they are complicit in our communications. Like an overbearing parent they interrupt, speaking for us before we speak for ourselves. 

Picking our own words to express our own feelings is now a waste of time. 

What’s the final conclusion of writing? Where will the progress lead? To the same place as trains and transportation. Writing – and indeed writers – will become obsolete. Enter the era of ChatGPT.


Here’s the big reveal: I don’t like ChatGPT. 

I don’t like A.I. interference in art or language. Or expression. Or communication. I do not believe it adds to meaningful human exchange. I do not think it is a valuable tool for journalists to ‘cut corners’ and ‘simplify labour intensive research’. 

If you are a journalist who doesn’t want to research then you are in the wrong job. 

Of course, it’s not the fault of the journalist. I won’t say who’s fault I think it is. 

But if we lean on A.I. to give us ‘facts’ to inform our articles, how will we train the muscle that gathers information? How do we become worthy commentators and how do we keep the ability to construct an argument? How do we learn how to correlate seemingly random patterns, or follow the investigator’s gut instinct that has broken so many important stories over the years?

Humans are untrustworthy, we’re told. Biased. Liars. Mistake-makers. But the answer is not better education. It’s ‘outsource to technology’.

These are not God given talents, these are skills that need almost daily practice. 

Big media corporations seem to love these kinds of tools. It means their staff writers can write so much faster. But whilst all these sparkly, inquisitive minds get chained to the desk as de-facto editors of ChatGPT texts, I would like to ask these companies one thing: who is reading this insane mountain of output you can now produce by feeding prompts into a machine?

An estimated 2-3 million news articles are published every 24 hours online and offline. Does using ChatGPT and bringing that number up to 6 million make sense? Or does it make sense to bring the number down and concentrate on quality?

It’s a serious question.

Will advertisers want to sink their budgets into platforms that have more pages with less eyeballs? And honestly, can we be sure – heart-on-hand-sure, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die-sure – that when ChatGPT is out there ‘scraping’ the internet, that it is gathering information we should trust blindly? Sure it’s not capable of misinformation? Sure?

Humans are untrustworthy, we’re told. Biased. Liars. Mistake-makers. But the answer is not better education. It’s ‘outsource to technology’. 

‘This will save you time’. 

‘This will make your life easier’. 

Cut the corners. But if you keep cutting corners, you will end up with a circle. And going in circles is not very clever. 

Why are we so desperate to do nothing for ourselves? Would you consider being spoon-fed a luxury, or an insult? It would be interesting to hear the answers.

I also do not believe these solutions are good for the environment. Every smartphone, every minute spent on a screen, every server, and every energy intensive A.I. programme require power to be drawn from the grid, harvested from the Earth in one way or another. Often harmfully. We like to overlook this. 

Then there is the argument for art. For me writing is an art. As great an art as the swooping, weightless lines of a Picasso dove. As great an art as the floral garlands carved in stone on the Beaux-Arts façade of a Thomas Verity theatre. As great an art as the mermaid green so particular to the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka. 

No tech-fundamentalist snigger of, ‘Soon you won’t need to write at all!’, followed by ‘and anyway, nobody reads’, will stop me from picking up my pen. 

I do not want to be machine-assisted. I would rather get off the train and walk. 

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