An ode to paper

Nobody has more intimate access to our deepest thoughts other than ourselves.

The corollary here is that we are all intellectually lonely. Every single one of us. The more intelligent we are, the higher is this loneliness. The obvious cure for this loneliness is to converse with people we are close to. A less obvious cure is to be found in a blank piece of paper.

Paper (physical or digital) has several advantages over people. Paper is patient – we can write for pages and pages and it never tires of faithfully recording our thoughts, unlike people who have limited temperaments. Paper is accurate – it reflects precisely whatever we have given it, unlike people who are rarely listening well. Paper is never busy – we don’t need to schedule an appointment. Paper doesn’t judge – it merely records.¬†We are fortunate to live in an era where paper is ubiquitous. And given how individualistic the world has gotten, paper is the only outlet that millions of people have.

In several ways, paper is our most effective cure for intellectual loneliness. It is startling how many of us owe our sanity to these unassuming little whisps of wood waste.

Can ChatGPT write this blog?

‘Write me a blogpost about how AI can be used to generate blogposts.’

ChatGPT is all the rave in the last couple of months. If you gave ChatGPT this prompt, odds are that you will end up with a good blogpost.

But what makes a blogpost ‘good’? What is it for? Is it to filling space on a website? Is it for driving traffic? Is it to say something interesting? Or is it to inspire a change?

When I write a blogpost, I wrestle with an idea and examine it critically. The idea changes in my mind as I explore it. But more importantly, my own mind changes. Every post I write rewires my mind a little. And through this process, I also hope to change the reader’s mind.

I could end up with an AI generated post that is more interesting and more engaging than my own post. But doing so doesn’t change my mind very much. It is the practice of writing one on my own that brings about change. In fact, that is the very point of this blog. Regardless of how good AI becomes, it will change little in how I show up to my blog.

If the work we do is to fill space or drive traffic, chances are that AI will disrupt it. Yet, it is unlikely to disrupt the work we do to change the culture.

Write like you talk

Spoken and written language is different. Reading any legal document makes this amply clear. Lawyers seldom write like they talk. While some of us enjoy listening to lawyers argue, nobody likes reading legal documents.

Have you noticed how it is easier to watch a video of somebody explaining a concept than to read about it? This is because we enjoy listening to spoken language more. We also have more practice with speaking than with writing, and therefore, most of us are better speakers than writers. On the other hand, we are also better listeners than readers.

As writers, it often helps to bridge this gap between the spoken and the written word. The key is to write like we speak. To be more precise, we need to edit like we speak. When editing a draft, we ought to ask ourselves whether what we have written down is actually something we would say out loud. To do this, it often helps to actually read out the draft aloud.

I am not very good with following this advice myself. While editing this very draft, I rewrote a few phrases to match what I would actually say.

‘To this end’ ‘To do this’.

On the flipside‘ ‘On the other hand’.

‘Is conducive’ ‘Is suitable’

Writing is hard work. We can make it a little easier, both on the writer and the reader, when we write like we talk.