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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King

Watching Movies in Our Underwear & ChatGPT

(Stay with me here; they connect.)

1895—Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière invent a portable motion-picture camera that doubles as a film-processing unit and projector. The invention is called the Cinematographe and using it, the Lumières project the motion picture for an audience.

Recently, a friend told me he’d see one of the Oscar nominated films at a local movie theater. He said it was a private screening. “No one goes to the movie theater anymore,” he bemoaned. A private screening may sound attractive, but beyond watching your movie on a “big screen,” going to the cinema used to be a communal experience. You laugh, gasp, and jump with a group of strangers in a dark room for two hours. It was considered a joyful experience.

However, producers and distributors have heeded the call of the crowd. People simply don’t want to leave their homes. So, this year, more than any other – even during the dark days of the pandemic -- fans can watch the year’s Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winners from home for about six bucks, and they only have to shush their partner (not the obnoxious stranger behind them). Sure, I hear people grumbling about having to pay $20 to rent/buy Everything, Everywhere, All at Once or M. Night Shyamalan’s new horror flick. I guess these people walk to the theatre (no car or subway), don’t require a babysitter, and don’t buy popcorn and Raisinets at a 200%+ mark-up. Because twenty bucks seems fair to me if you’re watching with one other person on your couch and a bag of microwaved popcorn.

I love movies. I want to keep supporting them so people keep making good ones.

1440 -- Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. A single Renaissance printing press could produce up to 3600 pages per workday, compared to forty by hand-printing and a few by hand-copying.

I also love(d) newspapers.

My Sunday morning ritual was to sit for two hours with the NY Times until my fingers became black with ink. (Do you know the NYT used to sell gloves to wear while you read their paper?) If you don’t read your local newspaper, how do you know what is going on in town? Facebook? TikTok? The dude in line at the self-service register? Hmm. Probably not the greatest sources for factual information.

But anyway, the Internet has made physical newspapers, not to mention those delightful, glossy magazines I indulged in, a thing of the quickly receding past. All those people who worked in the newspaper industry – not just the journalists who have had to scramble to adapt to online content – but the typesetters and the people who ran the press, the paper mills who produced the paper for the paper – why, even the kid who delivered your paper – out of work. Or, at least, that kind of work.

2022 – ChatGPT-3. “Released at the end of November as a web app by the San Francisco–based firm OpenAI, the chatbot exploded into the mainstream almost overnight. According to some estimates, it is the fastest-growing internet service ever, reaching 100 million users in January, just two months after launch. Through OpenAI’s $10 billion deal with Microsoft, the tech is now being built into Office software and the Bing search engine. Stung into action by its newly awakened onetime rival in the battle for search, Google is fast-tracking the rollout of its own chatbot, LaMDA.” (MIT Technology Review, by Will Douglas Heaven)

I love writing. I love teaching writing.

Who would imagine that teaching writing could become obsolete? I can’t, and I won’t | but . . . In my circle – the education circle – there has been a lot of chatter recently about ChatGPT and other AI software that will enable people who don’t want to write, don’t like to write, don’t have the time to write -- to use the software to write their documents.

Where will this leave writing teachers in the future? I only have a handful of years left in the classroom, but what about those who are earning their degrees today? Or the aspiring creative writer?

I am pretty sure that last semester I read an AI-generated short story. Thirty years’ experience told me something was off with the student’s submission. In learning more about AI writing programs this semester, I think that’s what I smelled. It was a fairly solid attempt for an intro to creative writing student who had earlier professed that he was neither “creative” nor “a good writer,” and whose previous effort was “D” work at best. Due to some requirements I embed in my assignments to prevent plagiarism, his short story did not earn an “A,” but it earned a solid “B.” And if I’m correct that the student used AI to earn that “B,” well, that does not bode well for the future of freshmen comp teachers the world over.

Will my job become obsolete? Will the tech writer’s job become obsolete in a decade or two? Will writing classes become electives instead of essential studies courses? English Departments everywhere will shrink. That will be good for the bean counters but horrible for those of us who make a living teaching others how to improve their written communication skills, not to mention their critical thinking skills. They won’t need us. They’ll have AI.

This must be how the abacus maker felt when the adding machine* was introduced.

If that student of mine did use AI to write his short story, it would also suck for the future of creative writers. I mean, as AI gets better, publishers will be able to use it to create cheap content. Look at how CGI is used to create characters in video games. Sure, producers use real actors’ voices right now and Mo-cap (a video process of tracking movements by placing markers on real actors to record their motions), but what’s the next step as the graphics become more and more life-like? When there is enough data stored to simply generate the voices and movement in “live action” movies will real actors still be needed?

And don’t even get me started on live theatre and where it’s going. (Yet another blog.)

When asked if I could time travel and what era would I want to visit, I always thought I’d like to go back to the last half of the 1800s. I like the fashions and the big hats, the furniture, the houses, and attention to detail in the smallest items created – a door knob or a key, for example. Of course, I would want to be at least upper-middle class, so I could pay someone to empty my chamber pot. And I wouldn’t be a fan of the corset or a woman’s lack of control over her own body ---

(Oops. Had a bout of déjà vu there for a second.)

--, but it must have been exciting to live during the introduction of electric lights and phonographs (A Victrola is still a bucket list item I’d like to own – hint, hint, Alan King.), “moving pictures” and automobiles! Imagine the wonder when people could pick up a “phone” and hear the voice of their loved one miles away?

But what about the workers who lost their jobs due to these new wonders? The industries that completely disappeared?

Universal History Archives

In 1845, Elias Howe invented the sewing machine, and in 1851 Isaac Singer introduced his sewing machine, and four years later a motor to run it.

The woman who took pride in her “tiny,” near invisible stiches, her beautiful needle work was replaced by people who could operate sewing machines. Children who could operate sewing machines! Factories developed, sweatshops, removing the work from her hands. The factories could produce cheaper and faster what took her hours, days, and weeks to create.

In 1858, the washing machine was invented by Hamilton Smith. Hurrah! Right?

There is a fallacy held firmly as fact by some that feminism put women into the work place, thereby “depriving” her children and spouse of a mother and wife who stayed home all day cleaning and cooking for them. (In other words, a free servant.) The fact is poor women have always worked. (That chamber pot of mine wasn’t going to empty itself!) Some women brought work in, like the seamstress described above, some brought laundry in. With the advent of the washing machine, laundry became less burdensome so some could do it at home, but the washer woman of old either needed to purchase a machine so she could serve more customers, work in a laundry outside the home, or, once again, she needed to find different work.

1876—Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone.

And the guy who worked for the Pony Express needed to make a career change.

1879—Thomas Edison invents the first commercially viable incandescent electric light bulb.

And the candlemaker who came to America as a child apprentice now finds himself wondering what the hell to do with all that wax.

1886—Gottlieb Daimler designs and builds the world's first four-wheeled automobile. And in 1913 Ford develops an assembly line for automobile production.

Boom. An entire industry based around horses crumbles: Those who raise and sell horses. The livery stable owner in town/city. The blacksmith. The stagecoach and carriage maker. The tack creator. The guy who sells the leather to the tack creator. The guy who sells the brass rivets to the tack creator. The guy who sells the brass to the guy who makes the brass rivets. Why, even the guy whose job it is to pick up the horseshit in the street – they’re all out of work!

In 1903, the Wright brothers introduced us to flight!

Amtrak is holding on by its teeth in the U.S, and train travel here has become a novelty or for those who are retired. Ironically, luxury train travel exists for the wealthy who with enough money can actually time travel.

However, in the second half of the 19th century, it must have felt like every morning there was a wonderous new THING to discover.

But . . . other people were waking up to find out they were out of a job.

Of course, “progress” isn’t all bad:

1872—A.M. Ward creates the first mail-order catalog.

No more using corn husks in the outhouse!

1880—The British Perforated Paper Company debuts toilet paper.

No more using the mail-order catalog in the outhouse!

Progress can be a beautiful thing.

Or downright terrifying.

But one thing’s for sure: There’s no stopping it. Keep up, buttercup, or step aside.

*Blaise Pascal, 1642. He was still a teenager working out of his parents’ garage. (I mean stable.)


Writing prompt: What is one invention you have experienced when it was introduced and did you embrace or reject it? How old were you? How did you first come to learn about it, or experience it?

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