Why write an essay when you can type a few words and have AI generate one for you? Why write an email when AI can auto-respond for you with all the typical pleasantries and talking-points?
While AI doing these things for you is likely to happen, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Even when these tools exist, they are not a replacement for writing.
Writing is the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about. Importantly, writing is also the process by which you figure it out.
Writing about something teaches you about what you know, what you don’t know, and how to think. Writing about something is one of the best ways to learn about it. Writing is not just a vehicle to share ideas with others but also a way to understand them better yourself.
Paul Graham put it this way: “A good writer doesn’t just think, and then write down what he thought, as a sort of transcript. A good writer will almost always discover new things in the process of writing.”
There is another important element to writing that often gets overlooked. Writing requires the compression of an idea. When done poorly, compression removes insights. When done well, compression keeps the insights and removes the rest. Compression requires both thinking and understanding, which is one reason writing is so important.
Great writing requires you to position your idea in a way that will resonate with the reader. Average writers start with what they want to say without considering how it will land with the reader. Great writers understand the journey starts with what the reader desires. Think of the difference as starting at the beginning or the end of a maze. When you start at the beginning, you have to convince people the path is the right one. When you start at the end, they already know you’re taking them where they want to go.
In a world of average writing available on demand, every organization will start communicating like a big one. The signal-to-noise ratio will change for the worse. If you’ve ever read a government communication, you understand how a lot of words can say nothing. Bandwidth will be filled with common ideas, verbose communication, and ambiguous jargon. In the future, information will become even more of a substitute for thought than it already is.
Many things can be done by tools that write for you, but they won’t help you learn to think or understand a problem with deep fluency. And you need deep fluency to solve hard problems.
A world of common thinking available on demand will tempt people to outsource their thinking and disproportionately reward people who don’t. In the future, clear thinking will become more valuable, not less.
(Modeled on an essay by Paul Graham, on reading.)