To Write or Not To Write… (E/S)

There is no other way to say this, to sugar coat it, or to soften the blow. So, I will just get it off my chest right now: “If you recognize the picture above from the early 70s, you are old!” If it helps, I remember it quite vividly. I am referring here to Memorex and their very successful advertising campaign with the slogan: “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” What the company was pitching was the high quality audio of its magnetic, 4 track cassette tapes, a quality so high, they were suggesting that consumers would have a difficult time distinguishing between a live performance and one recorded on their cassette tapes. To further drive the point home, a second iconic photo was used featuring Ella Fitzgerald and a broken wine glass:

Illustrating that the audio on the tape was so life-like, that played at the right volume it could shatter a glass! I cannot say for certain how many people believed this, but it was an effective campaign and they sold lots of cassette tapes. I remember thinking at the time that if the sound quality was that good, why were people lining up overnight for a chance to get a wristband, that would then allow them to line up yet again to purchase a coveted ticket to hear their favorite band perform live, as was the norm in the early 70s? I mean, why go through all that, when you could sit in the comfort of your own home in your jammies, and simply pop a Memorex tape into your cassette player? The answer, of course, is that a live concert is one-of-a-kind, and even if you splurged and bought a ticket for two shows that your favorite band was playing in your home town, every show would be different because it is virtually impossible to replicate exactly a live performance. The recorded version of the songs you heard live, will always be the same, exactly the same every time you listen to the tape. The other reason people stood in long lines seeking coveted tickets…bragging rights! How else do you explain the fact that over two million people, at some time or another, have claimed to have been at Woodstock, when we know that it was approximately 500,000 over that four day period in 1969!

What sparked this trip down memory lane, was yet another article I recently read in Vanity Fair titled “Writer’s Block” by Joe Pompeo, with the subtitle: “Journalists see artificial intelligence bots like ChatGPT as a potential threat – and an opportunity.” Pompeo refers to ChatGPT’s debut, stating that it “immediately stood out as the most proficient entrant in a growing field of robotic writing tools.” He even refers to other companies now getting into the game, like Google and Microsoft, as a “AI arms race,” which may be an accurate assessment of what’s going on, but it is also downright frightening! There have been article after article discussing these technologies and their impact on education, politics (remember all that Russian disinformation on the Internet that was poorly written?), and in general the written word. A common thread in all these articles is that at some point or other, every author has mentioned the words Orwellian and dystopian. For those that are not yet willing to denigrate what these bots are capable of, almost all of them point to the fact that they can create passable content “much faster” and in an “articulate way.” Because, as we all know, all the great works of literature were created very quickly!

For me, the tape cassette’s tag line: “Is it Live, Or Is It Memorex” can easily be applied to the current proliferation of writing bots with only a slight twist: Is It Human, Or Is It a Bot?” Do you think you could tell, after reading something like a short report on California’s wet winter, if it was written by a human or a bot? Well, today is your lucky day! I sat down at my computer this morning and wrote a short piece about the winter we’ve just experienced, and then I logged onto ChatGPT and gave it the following command: “Write 300 words on rain and snow in California this year.” See if you can determine who wrote what, and perhaps what factors informed your guesses. To borrow a line from another commercial from the same era as Memorex: “Try it, you’ll like it.”

Entry #1:

California is no stranger to extreme weather patterns, and this year has been no exception. The state has experienced a mix of heavy rain and snowfall, which has brought both benefits and challenges to the region.

Starting with rainfall, California has seen an unusual amount of precipitation this year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the state received above-average rainfall in the early months of 2023.This has led to higher-than-normal reservoir levels and increased water supply for farmers and the urban population. Moreover, the wet conditions have provided relief to drought-stricken areas, reducing the risk of wildfires, and improving air quality. However, heavy rainfall has also caused flooding and landslides in some areas, resulting in road closures and property damage.

As for snowfall, California’s mountains have seen significant snow accumulation this year. The Sierra Nevada range, which supplies much of the state’s water, has received above-average snowpack levels. This is good news for farmers, who rely on melting snow for irrigation during the dry summer months. Additionally, the snow has created ideal conditions for winter sports enthusiasts, boosting tourism in mountain towns. However, the heavy snowfall has also caused road closures and increased risk of avalanches, posing a danger to drivers and outdoor adventurers.

Overall, the unusual weather patterns in California this year have brought both benefits and challenges. While the rainfall and snow have provided much-needed relief to drought-stricken areas and boosted water supply, they have also caused flooding, landslides, and other hazards. As the climate continues to change, it is crucial for the state to develop effective strategies for managing extreme weather events and mitigating their impacts.

Entry # 2

Both Northern and Southern California are in the process of digging themselves out of a record-breaking winter, especially those communities at higher elevations. Over the last five months or so, Californians were either shoveling snow or dodging puddles as one storm after another pummeled the state in relentless torrents of rain and snow. The streams of concentrated moisture, otherwise known as “atmospheric rivers,” the likes of which had not been experienced in quite some time, had the positive effect of removing California from the “severe” drought that the state has been in for several years, and the corresponding negative effect of causing widespread damage to the landscape and personal property, forcing people to evacuate their homes, only to return facing costly cleanups and rebuilding.

 While it is good news that the severe drought has been alleviated somewhat, the state is now bracing itself for what is sure to follow as spring gives way to summer and the record snowpacks in the state’s mountainous areas begin to melt, which is almost certain to cause widespread flooding yet again, especially in low-lying areas.

There are already reports of rivers being near capacity, and in the central valley of the state, farmers and ranchers are bracing themselves for flooded fields and ruined crops, as they know that it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. It is quite a turnaround from what everyone has been hearing about this particular area over the last few years. Parched earth, water rationing, ruined crops, criticism of the state’s water management, aquifers, and reservoirs at historic lows, have all been part of the state’s narrative for far too long.

 While the first storms brought a sense of relief, when they continued to the tune of, at last count, twelve atmospheric rivers, some of them coming back, to back, to back, it was all too much to handle. The state reached 400%-600% of its average rainfall for the period of mid-December to January of this year, and there still more storms to come in February and March. It was also a much colder winter than normal, which is why the snowpack was so significant, because it occurred at lower elevations as well as the tallest peaks.

So. Which one did I write, and why do you think so? This is the first time I have ever used ChatGPT, and the last time. Go ahead and accuse me of being a technological neophyte, or worse yet, a Luddite, but please keep in mind that I am typing this on a computer, saving it to my external hard drive, saving it in the “cloud,” and posting it on a blog that I created from scratch. Luddite my ass!

Los Angeles 2023

10 thoughts on “To Write or Not To Write… (E/S)

  1. The second one is yours. The first was a recitation of facts, well organized and thorough, but without a perspective or viewpoint. Or soul. The second also covered what our weather has been, but included how it’s going to impact real people. Also, you used quotation marks in the first paragraph, and I know your style well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sherry already nailed it, but I thought the same. So far I have resisted using it. Do we need to post a notice on our blogs like the Chinese Food restaurants? No MSG and now Chat GBT free!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll take door number 2. Primarily because it comes from personal experience rather than objective observation and the language reflects that.

    Liked by 1 person

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