who prompts the prompter?
i feel inhuman. it’s a paradoxical thing to say, because to feel and think about the feeling is precisely what is human about us.
but for years i have increasingly felt the gravity of commerce and capitalism infiltrate my sense of self worth to moments where it feels like i am an automaton. who am i, if not the value to someone else, or to something else. to a family, to a firm, to a god, to my own self-improvement. i didn’t want to be a cog in this machine that kept perpetuating my self-worth through some kind of currency: dollars, likes, shares, intellectual and social capital--each one weaving the belt on the neverending treadmill of accomplishment-ism.
i have cornerstone stories in my life that are testament to my trying to make a hard turn away, but found that it was impossible for me to dissociate my values from what society taught me to value. i tried to find a middle ground, where i could do things only for the sake of doing them, but there is a nagging feeling that a middle ground is a myth.
in 2016, i decided that i no longer wanted to participate in up-keeping the facade of “my life”, so i shut down my facebook, and dedicated my instagram page to just my photography. the practice and sharing of art was a fine way to maintain a web presence, right? until i realized the raison d’etre had just morphed into another kind of self-promotion from which i felt self-worthiness: i am valuable because of what i can create, what i can capture, what variant perception i could hone. the likes and comments kept me coming back, rewarding me for being a creator. no matter what currency, it is hard to deny the prostitution when you keep getting paid. and it fucked with my art: the viewer was always in my mind. there was no escape, so i shut my instagram down completely (and i stayed off, sort of as a boycott to post-cambridge analytica facebook).
and i felt so so free.
that feeling of having my art fucked with was gone, but i also felt like my values were no longer being fucked with. i can feel the true freedom of making life choices and not worrying about whether it will turn into currency.
there has always been tension between doing for me versus doing because society taught me it was valuable. occasionally i’d be washed by waves of nihilism that needles me into asking “who are you doing this for?” -- or more precisely, “whose instructions are you following?”
there are times where i am doing something and can literally feel a truth so pure, it manifests as warmth: i am truly doing this for me. because i thoroughly enjoy it. because i feel a connection to what i am doing. and there is not a hint of ulterior motive. if a robot were to ask me what it feels like to be human, this is what it would be jealous of: devoid of programming.
sometimes i get to run without giving a shit about the exercise benefits, the running metrics, the self-improvement, or the psychological benefits. it’s just a pure celebration of human movement. sometimes i get to be in someone’s company, without feeling like i have to provide value in the interaction--it opens up room for so much self-expression that it is becomes self-discovery. and sometimes i get to just fucking press an elevator button and enjoy the tactile sensation and watching the button light up, while forgetting all about the purpose of moving between floors.
but then there are other times where i think, “fuck, i think i’m doing this for some ulterior motive” then I would feel like a sell-out and rethink my life choices. i don’t want to live a life pandering to the instructions written by my present and future appraisers. to call it being an “automaton” is extreme, but so is the ratio of all the things i “should” do to all the things i truly “want” to do.
i realize now how much this feeling has produced my iconoclasm. in my mind, i was resigned to the fact that i will definitely have to do things because they produce value (financial, career, and social capital), but if i live against-the-grain enough, it should all cancel out.
but my demons keep reminding me that not all zeroes are equal.
whenever i use chatgpt, i am prompting an ai to give me answers, but now and then i have an eerie feeling of being watched -- who is prompting me? whose values are dictating why i prompt?
actually, let's invert this.
once upon a time the internet used to be full of videos that were real. now, almost half the things i encounter (on an unpersonalized feed) are totally fake. fake reaction videos, fake pranks, fake etc.
but now things are going to get even more fake in a different way. i can't trust whose tweets aren't written by a chatbot.
influencers used to follow a set of instructions for growth, but now that LLMs can outline a growth strategy and produce the content, i am leery-eyed at which tweets, articles, podcasts, videos, or even full accounts are “generated.” what used to be an internet full of humans will soon be full of ai who wear humans as avatars.
sure, we are the ones giving the instructions (for now), but we were all following a set of instructions all along. this time, the skin is peeling off and revealing the metal that was always underneath. we were always these automatons following instructions to get clout, get money, hustle, influence, succeed.
but when once we outsource all the output, we will have to confront who we are as inputs. confront who we are as prompters, and ask ourselves seriously, what prompts us?
we are both slouching towards immaculate, and regressing towards the mean. we are algorithmically served what is algorithmically generated, and all of that will be impeccably optimized to capture our attention. we will have so much power at our fingertips, because we will soon be able to outsource everything these chips, and i think it will be a boring world. mundane. average. correct all the time.
those late night debates about what year queen released bohemian rhapsody will be extinct, because someone will just look it up right away. those risks we take when asking someone out will feel muted because we will just know the calculated odds.
we will smooth out every imperfection and inefficiency until it becomes so glossy that we might forget the textures that made life so beautiful.
we have to fight back, by leaning into the things that ai cannot do. let's embrace fear, sadness, uncertainty and all those uncomfortable emotions that we might try to smooth out. let's continue to have insecurities so that we can cherish what is vulnerable. let's keep mistakes instead of calculating the odds of success. let's say fuck the answers, and let's live the questions instead.
let's stop trying to be machines, with rigid framework thinking, and optimizing everything. we can now outsource the burden of rationality.
so let's live like we can finally let go of our instructions.