There’s so much that doesn’t make sense at the moment. And no, I don’t mean in general. We haven’t gotten to the general yet.
In a different lifetime, I used to have a purpose. The memory is quite vivid. Drive, commitment, moving with absolute certainty. I remember them well but can’t, for the life of me, remember what my purpose was back then.
After the last few years, finding a new purpose, a new destination to sail to, has proved challenging.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. Purpose? What purpose? Did somebody say purpose?
Being me, I sat down and wrote it all out.
What’s important enough?
Climate change activism to save the planet? Opinion writing, to get people used to thinking for themselves? Life writing, like this blog, to offer a lifeline to other poor sailors lost at sea? Should I go back to writing science fiction? Editing? Or become a self-proclaimed self-help guru? You must be joking. Okay. Then what about contributing to modern Stoicism? You certainly had a chance to practice. Ah, but even Stoicism has been overtaken by woke Silicon Valley types who claimed yet another system of values to justify being a bunch of entitled pricks. No, thank you.
All these are niches, genres, people, and audiences that could be served. Unfortunately, from where I stand now—and this is the uglier part of my public confession, I know, it isn’t right, but—everybody and everything is already overflowing with the sewage of sameness. Like NFTs. Says unique on the package, but aren’t they all virtually the same? Lazy copies. Or women on Instagram. An army of clones. Straight hair, big lips, oval face with overemphasized cheekbones. Can’t people see it? That they’re spending their lives turning themselves into easily-replaced nonentities?
Meanwhile, DALL-E-2 can already churn out art in the style of every famous artist who has ever lived. Painters, photographers. No one is safe. All the AI needs is a prompt. It will only get better with time.
Shortly before the pandemic, I remember reading about AI being able to write novels and essays in the style of famous writers. Its designers decided to keep it away from the public for ethical reasons. Think New York Times-styled articles supporting unethical causes, being churned en-masse, and flooding social media. All noise, no signal. Doesn’t take much to turn back the dial of social progress.
A curated stream of content and experiences that deliver exactly what people need. Not that hard to imagine, is it? Just take it to the next logical step. Movies written and directed live as you watch them. No real actors required. Just an AI with a prompt. Better yet, with access to the biometrics from your apple watch. To know what excites or bores you. To serve you with better and better content, and meanwhile—a small by the way— find out how much would it take to shift your system of values ever so slightly so you would change your stance on immigration.
But hey, you can watch great movies for as long as you like. Each one better than the previous.
We already live in the attention economy. I’m not inventing anything new, merely extrapolating the trends already there.
Art and entertainment, curated and polished to such an impossible standard that nothing real will ever be able to measure up. Certainly not my memory of a hot summer afternoon, sitting on a broken-down brick wall with my friends after class, drinking colorful sodas—it wasn’t Pepsi, not yet, was too expensive where I grew up—and talking about what we wanted to do when we grow up. Both dreams and conversations as fleeting as the gusts of wind we could trace over the field of wheat and weeds.
What is an artist’s role in a society that chooses the curated, the generic, the polished over the human and the authentic?