One piece of slang that has long embodied the short attention span Internet age is TL;DR, short for “too long; didn’t read.” With the explosion of generative AI tools, we’re rapidly entering the age of TL;DW: “too long, didn’t write.”
A January survey from Fishbowl found that 40% of nearly 12,000 workers have used ChatGPT or other AI tools at work. Nearly 70% said they did so without telling their managers.
As Microsoft and Google accelerate the AI arms race in every communication tool, it will be interesting to see how workplace norms keep up. When we all have tools to create endless streams of content, we’ll also need tools to filter through endless streams of content.
John Herrman had an interesting take a few weeks ago in a New York magazine editorial titled “The Nightmare of AI-Powered Gmail Has Arrived.” John wrote:
“Are you excited for your co-workers to become way more verbose, turning every tapped-out “Sounds good” into a three-paragraph letter?
“Are you glad that the sort of semi-customized mass emails you’re used to getting from major brands with marketing departments (or from spammers and phishers) are now within reach for every entity with a Google account?
“Are you looking forward to wondering if that lovely condolence letter from a long-lost friend was entirely generated by software or if he just smashed the ‘More Heartfelt’ button before sending it?”
We’re in an awkward adolescence period of generative AI. There’s tremendous potential in these tools, but we’re going to trip over our feet occasionally.
Last month, Vanderbilt University administrators had to apologize after sending a condolence email to students about the shooting at Michigan State. At the bottom of the consoling email, they accidentally left in a footnote that the email had been written by ChatGPT.
Figuring out when and how to use these tools appropriately and productively will take time. When the same tools are available to everyone, the differentiator will be in how we use the tools, not the tools themselves. By default, they are homogenization machines, spinning out lookalike content for everyone. It takes work and creativity to use them in ways that will actually stand out.
I keep coming back to my favorite observation from Hubspot VP Scott Brinker: “Technology changes exponentially; organizations change logarithmically.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: