The 10X Scenario


Many people fail to grasp that one of this country’s chief problems is too much productivity. Including in the literary world. We’re drowning in productivity.

Legions of tech fanatics on Twitter and elsewhere continually claim that A.I. chatbots are or will be ten times more productive, for writers and other creators, than what existed prior. Few consider the consequences.

A.) If a magazine staff is suddenly ten times more productive, will this mean eliminating nine-tenths of the staff?

B.) If authors– self-published or mainstream– are ten times more productive, will ten times the number of books enter the book market?


ALREADY a host of genre authors make a living off the sheer volume of their novels. The more prolific produce ten novels a year (some more), now. What happens when they can release a new novel every week? Or every day?

Opportunists and financial operators exist who will take advantage of any opening. (There’s the example of author “Mari Silva,” who’s produced 340+ books in the past few years, before ChatGPT. The books have been traced to a real estate guy in Canada. A slick business, no doubt profitable, with no concern with such niceties as copyrights.)

100X

A figure as high as one-hundred times productivity becomes conceivable if every person who ever had the passing thought to write a book or novel, but lacked the ability to do so, decides to, using a chatbot.

(The figures of ChatGPT usage already are astounding, per this article, which sees increase in its use continuing at least until the end of 2024.)

It doesn’t matter if the resulting mass of books and ebooks are inept, or– as promised by AI tech fans– indistinguishable from human-written books. Of minimal quality or not, numbers of product will skyrocket. The question becomes: how many books will overwhelm an already-saturated market? Ten times what exists today? 30X? 100X?

Simple supply and demand: dumping too much product onto a market, without corresponding increase in demand, lessens the value of the product. In this case, books and writers.

The end of the Beanie Baby craze all over again: value plummeting to nothing.


The same situation will apply, by the way, to stories and poems sent to literary journals like ours. The increased bombardment will detract from the genuine article. For the serious individual poet or writer: the number of other poets and writers you’ll be competing against will be that much greater. It will be that much harder for the talented new writer to be discovered.

LIT-MAGS

Another problem for online literary sites and small press publishers will be upstart AI sites like this one, which is publishing as many as fifteen new AI-generated short stories per day. Given that search engines give preference to frequency of publication, it might become impossible for any human-powered literary magazine, no matter how well staffed, to keep up.

NOTE: Dozens of AI fiction-story generator websites are already available, including those run by established outfits like Canva and Reedsy– which seems, for those two enterprises, a betrayal of their previous customer base of actual artists and writers.

FIRST-STEP SOLUTION

A necessary first step is having all books which are generated by AI devices labeled as such, so readers know what they’re purchasing. Which is the point of our “Save the Writer!” petition.

Its real purpose: to draw attention to the problem and offer some pushback to the growing storm of AI operators.

Have you signed it yet?

XXX

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News.

More Thoughts About A.I.

MORE ABOUT CHAT GPT

Tesla’s proposed A.I. robot.

THE BIG NEWS in the publishing world revolves around science fiction magazine Clarksworld closing submissions after being swamped with ChatGPT-created short stories– an increase over three months from under 25 to over 500.

In other news, a spate of A.I.-generated books have already begun to hit the market, per this article from Reuters.

OR: disruption of the publishing industry has taken place much more swiftly than anticipated. We at New Pop Lit have attempted to be open-minded regarding the new technology. It’s usually futile to fight progress, or what’s marketed as progress. The new technology has undeniable benefits for the individual writer, in speed and ease of writing. We also believed that using it more astutely than others might be a way to take on publishing’s Big Five, who are slow at adapting to anything. (Much of their way of operating is lodged in the early 20th Century, if not the 19th.)

However, techies themselves have decided to become major players in writing and publishing. Here’s a Tweet from the founder and CEO of OpenAI, the company which has inflicted ChatGPT and Dall-E upon the world: the two A.I. devices most directly aimed at the literary world.

Keep in mind that Sam Altman, like his technology colleagues and peers, is utterly ruthless. Who were the other original investors in OpenAI when it began business in 2015? Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston, Elon Musk, Ilya Sutskever, Peter Thiel: billionaires all, almost a Who’s Who of technology venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. (Corporate investors included Amazon Web Services.)

Elon Musk is the most well-known of the bunch (Peter Thiel perhaps the most infamous). These are people who have their interests and money invested in everything.


Over the past few years I’ve been researching Musk, reading every book I could find on him. Why? Because he’s disrupting the automotive industry. Being from Detroit, I’ve worked in an auto plant, and have friends and relatives in the automobile business. As do most people in this area.

Elon Musk exemplifies the mindset. Move into a vulnerable field and with new technology and aggressive tactics– including hyperbolic salesmanship– take it over. These are not preppy Ivy Leaguers taking casual three-martini Manhattan lunches and dawdling over the perks of upper-level publishing. An entirely different animal is entering the literary arena.

Technology for these people isn’t a job or a game– it’s a religion. They want it all: spaceships to Mars, A.I. robots, eternal life: everything. They won’t stop until the science fiction world of their fantasies is reality.


THE IMPACT

In the meantime, what’s the impact on the cozy world of letters? Publications large and small, online and print, will be overwhelmed with submissions, as anyone who ever had a vague thought of becoming a writer can now create a manuscript in minutes with a few prompts. It may become difficult to tell real from fake. A culture which already has too many writers will see their number multiplied– which will make it that much greater a task for any of us to stand out from the mass. Connections to the right people– already a determining factor– will become even more important. Who you know and who you suck up to. Got a book you want to market? Good luck!

There may be solutions or ways to overcome the obstacles, but the odds against have increased.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

The Coming A.I. Literary World

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE


DILEMMAS AND NIGHTMARES


ARGUMENTS FOR A.I.

Use of the technology– ChatGPT and other such devices– like most new technologies, may be inevitable. It presents a shortcut for those who want to become writers, without having to learn the craft. Humans being what they are– a corrupt, opportunistic species– many wannabes will take the shortcut.

Could those who refuse the technology end up like old-school folk singers horrified when Bob Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival by playing an electric guitar? Were many of the changes in rock music in the 1960s and 70s due simply to improved technology– from larger amplifiers to enhanced studio recording tricks to computer synthesizers?

Will the situation be similar for literature?

One of the strongest arguments for A.I. might become the perceived need not to be left behind.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST A.I.

So far, opponents to ChatGPT writings are focused on copyright and plagiarism issues– potentially enormous as the robotic brains steal phrases and sentences from any and every writer contained in their data base. But also potentially unpoliceable.

Other arguments against the use of A.I.:

A.) The literary world is already swamped with too many writers and too much writing, for much of anything to stand out from the mass. With A.I. bots creating poems, stories, and novels, that enormous mass of writing will multiply many times over. Prolific genre authors who previously produced three books a year, will now produce ten. Or thirty.

Given the law of supply and demand, the value of the individual writer– already low– will drop near zero.

B.) The technology will put thousands of employed writers, particularly essayists and journalists, out of work. On-staff people and freelancers both. Articles for a magazine or news site which used to be written by, say, twenty different writers, will now be handled by two. Expand this situation to include copyeditors, illustrators, and graphic designers. That’s a lot of pink slips.

I’ve joked that eventually Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos will run their entire plutocratic business empires with a few apps on their phone. This is becoming increasingly true.

C.) There’s the question of what increased reliance on devices to do thinking and creativity for us will do to our minds. Will our brains further atrophy as we advance away from a human-skills based society? This is a huge and hugely-important subject I’ll tackle in another post.

TOO MUCH TECHNOLOGY?

Will we reach a point of Too Much Technology in the arts, when the unique virtuoso creator rises again in appreciation and importance?


I think of the 2008 documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” about rock music guitarists Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge from the band U2. The one of the three who relies the most on computer tricks and shortcuts for effects– The Edge– comes away from the documentary, at least for this viewer, by far the worst. Respect for him as an artist diminished, while appreciation of the other two true guitar virtuosos who rely on their hands and their own minds is enhanced.

Then again, in today’s world of pop music recording, the electric guitar itself has become a dinosaur.


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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

The A.I. Challenge

CHATGPT AND THE FUTURE OF LITERATURE PART ONE


The sudden emergence of the ChatGPT Artificial Intelligence device has raised a host of questions about what effect it will have on writers, and on literature itself.

To attempt to plot out where we’re headed, one has to look at both extremes of reaction– not just to A.I., but to the contemporary world itself.

TRUE BELIEVERS

Over the past thirty years new technology has become a religion. Its entrepreneurs and advocates see it as a solution to all problems– and are blind to its many downsides. On social media, apologists for A.I. and for everything digital are everywhere. For them, the Internet IS the world.

In the arena of art and letters, the thrust of their arguments is that A.I. allows greater, or at least easier, creativity. Much time is spent defending against accusations of plagiarism and copyright violations– which are not the biggest issues with A.I. technology.

THE REFUSAL-TO-CHANGE CROWD

At the other extreme are writers and literary critics who can’t conceive of any change to the refined literary art they know and love. Their essays overflow bemoaning the dwindling status of “serious reading,” as they look back fondly at past “avant-garde” innovators such as Virginia Woolf, now safely dead.

How will they react to an invasion of ChatGPT novels into an already-saturated publishing market?

One can expect they not only won’t attempt to use the device (well, some of them will if the wind blows strongly in that direction), they also won’t try to change the art to put it more in step with a changing world– as a way to ward off the A.I. threat. Instead they’ll retreat further into their bunker and their canons of the past. In this instance, classical music is the model for what will happen.

THE FUTURE

What are the real pros and cons of A.I. technology applied to writing and literature? What’s the best strategy to follow: to embrace the technology, or find ways to defend against it? I’ll address these questions in a future post.

In the meantime, what do you think?

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit News

The Short Story As Pop Song

ANALYZING THE SHORT STORY FORM

OUR CURRENT feature story, “True Survivor” by Greg Jenkins, is a good example of how a short story can be artistically successful by following– unintentionally or not– techniques used to find success in the music business.

Foremost among them is the story’s opening, which does two things done by the famed British pop group the Beatles and others in order to stand out from the musical crowd.

1.) THE ATTENTION-GETTER

First, the attention-getting first note. First done by Ludwig van Beethoven to open his Third Symphony. A more recent example is the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night,” the title song to the Beatles’ first film. Think of how it must’ve sounded coming from large speakers in a movie theater, accompanied on a giant screen by an image of the four young musicians being chased down a Liverpool street. Attention: caught.

Greg Jenkins does the same thing with his story’s opening sentence, consisting of a single word, each letter capitalized: “SULLIVAN!”

2.) START WITH THE CHORUS

The second technique used by the Beatles was to in effect start the story with the chorus. Or, if it were fiction, in the middle of the narrative. Like opening in the middle of a song.

A famous example of this is one of the rock group’s first hits, “She Loves You.”

Which ensures opening with a bang. The Beatles did this again at least one other time, with similar success, with “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

What’s the goal? To grab the listener– or reader– by the collar, lift the person out of his or her chair and not let go until the artistic experience is over. Part of the creation of Beatlemania involved hitting the record buyer with immediate energy.

With a different art form, Greg Jenkins starts his story in the middle of the action, then goes back to explain what led to the conflict. (Jack London does the same thing with his classic short story, “Lost Face.”)

MORE POP

The most extreme musical example of this technique came a bit later in the frenzied history of the so-called British Invasion of America, in 1965, when Herman’s Hermits had a Number One hit by eliminating a song’s verses altogether– to a 1911 music hall ditty, “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”– and singing only the chorus, repeated three times. The result was not exactly artistic, but it was effective with the intended audience.

Could this be done with the short story– taking technique one step beyond? Stripping down a tale to its barest essentials and depending upon pure pop energy and enthusiasm to carry it?

We don’t know, but in our New Pop Lit LABS we’re not above trying every trick possible in our quest to reinvent literary forms, and in so doing enliven literature itself.

We also look for writers, like Greg Jenkins, who use innovative techniques. Know any others? Send them our way!

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Mid-Century Modern Movies

DESIGN VIBES

I’ve identified four movies which epitomize the apex of mid-century modern thought and design. They are:

1.) Forbidden Planet (1956).

2.) North by Northwest (1959).

3.) Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

4.) Point Blank (1967).

The important point is that all of these films are visually designed to be ultra-modern, so the design itself enhances– or really, expresses– the story or the theme of the story, which are themselves ultra-modern.

1.) THEME: The future is us. ALTERNATE THEME: The future as nightmare.

2.) THEME: Ad man as quintessential American hero. SUB-THEME: Discovery and rescue of the soul mate.

3.) THEME: Pop culture as American Dream.

4.) THEME: The modern world as duplicitous hellscape.

Design is the quintessential American art. All four of these movies can be watched for their styles, clothing, colors, and designs.

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Teardowns and Literature

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART IV

There are 20 possible opening moves in chess. How many ways are there to write the short story? There should be hundreds. In practice, there are maybe ten– and some of those, like Poe’s, are no longer done.

HOW?

How does one create a new short story form– or a new anything? One way is the concept of returning to First Principles, which is outlined here.

The first question: What’s essential? The sentence. Basic grammar. The alphabet. Words. All else is up for grabs. The idea to recreate from the ground up.

I’ve asked the question: Why do people read?

FOR: Mystery, character, adventure, ideas, knowledge, sensation, emotion, passion, entertainment, escape, understanding, wisdom, experience. What else?

The idea should be to construct a narrative, and adopt a writing style, which can best present these attributes. Or, as many of them as possible.

Our first step has been to break away from the strictly linear, single-viewpoint mode of operating. My first attempts relied too heavily on precise structure conceived in advance. KMC’s, not as much. In the future we’ll move away from that. My belief is that with further attempts we’ll find the non-linear format gives the writer more creative freedom, not less.

TEARDOWNS

The electric vehicle crowd has been big on tearing down automobiles of all kinds to find out what makes them work, then re-engineering them. The most prominent teardown engineer is Sandy Munro, a former Ford engineer who’s put out dozens of videos depicting his analysis of various vehicles.

c/o munrolive.com

For the New Pop Lit project, I’ve taken apart short stories of all kinds to discover what makes them work– from Edgar Allan Poe’s, which rely heavily on exposition and invariably lead to a strong or explosive conclusion conceived in advance– such as this one— to romantic adventure stories from Robert Louis Stevenson, to Jack London’s brutally surprising “Lost Face,” to tales by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, to Ernest Hemingway’s famous and subtly complex “The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” As well as more recent work, such as stories by Mary Gaitskill. There’s much to learn in all of them.

PROTOTYPES

The next step, after many teardowns, is constructing an all-new prototype utilizing what’s been learned. A topic I’ll cover in a later installment of this series on creative change and how to make it.

K.W.

Three Kinds of Revolution

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART III

1.

TRADITIONAL REVOLUTION. Thorough and swift destruction and replacement designed to demolish existing institutions and the System itself and replace them with all-new everything. See Robespierre and Lenin.

2.

GRADUAL REVOLUTION. Change within existing institutions and hierarchies, designed to capture them. Theodore Adorno and the Frankfurt School might exemplify this mode of thinking. Or were precursors of it, along with Antonio Gramsci.

3.

COMPETITIVE REVOLUTION. Competing with existing institutions using smaller, faster, more mobile and vastly more creative new organizations. Elon Musk’s various projects, as well as many popular DIY podcasts, fit this category.

CHANGE AGENTS

Currently we live in a world where Revolution Style #3 has pushed its way to the forefront. Upstarts everyplace. New ways of thinking pushed by what could be called change agents. The active molecules mentioned in Part I of this series.

Musk due to his penchant for publicity is at the forefront of such energized entities. Elon Musk has always been a huckster, combined with an arrogance unleavened by humility. (He’s yet to be knocked down hard by life.) His real strength lies in his ability to see weakness in established institutions, whether they be Boeing in aerospace, or General Motors and other legacy giants in the auto industry. The ability to observe “the best” and realize they can be taken down.

Elon Musk carries the ethos of the upstart– eager to topple complacent established kings and set himself up as new one.

In this quest, he relies on the doctrine of First Principles, which we’ll look at in the next installment of this series on change and how to make it.

-K.W.

Teaching Gatsby

MAKING CREATIVE CHANGE PART II

MOST WRITERS are the product of the stale way literature is taught.

Much emphasis on themes and sentences. A great example of this is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, a favorite of high school teachers and freshman-level college American lit profs. Along with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the most over-taught American novel ever.

Yet none of the instructors approaches what Fitzgerald was doing with it that gives the story and the main character their sense of mystery. What’s taught instead are its themes: “The American Dream”– striving after “the green light” blah blah– along with the book’s lyricism. Fitzgerald’s beautiful passages, particularly the opening and closing. “The well-written sentence.” What’s missing?

For starters, Fitzgerald combines pop elements with the literary. Gatsby, after all, is a gangster. The lyricism is used carefully– much of the story is propelled by simple declarative sentences. Like a baseball fastball following a series of off-speed pitches, the occasional lyrical sentence stands out.

Most important though and seldom examined is the book’s structure. The serious writer, when confronting the novel, needs to approach it like an engineer. How does it really work?

Take the book apart and you find it has a complex structure– the story of Jay Gatsby put together using the narrator Nick Carraway’s own impressions combined with rumor, speculation, and hearsay. Beyond this, the narrative doesn’t stick strictly to the present, but gives the reader, in segments, a great deal of backstory. Jumps into glimpses of the past.

Examining the thematic instead of the technical is fine if you’re an English professor, but writers looking to reinvent the art need to seek all possible examples of structural innovation, which can be utilized, refreshed, or merged, toward the goal of creating a more exciting product.

Which will be discussed in future parts of this impromptu series intended to explain a little of what we’re up to in the New Pop Lit development studio.

-K.W.

Making Creative Change

PART I: WHAT WE’RE NOT TAUGHT

Few people see the world as it really is, because we’re not taught to see it that way: As conflict between the dynamic and the static. The active agent, and the acted upon.

Count Leo Tolstoy discussed this in his massive masterpiece novel War and Peace. Is history the product of great men– or of the movement of massive unseen forces? Or a combination of both?

In his discussion of Napoleon and the invasion of Russia, Tolstoy saw the great man as merely along for the ride, accompanying a wave of economic and social forces. Yet change as often as not, even in the instance cited, is a matter of the willful individual pushing and driving the merely passive: the static. The inertia of movement pushing the inertia of the unmoving. Force upon molecules. One dynamic individual disturbing all around itself, like a cue ball upsetting a rack of balls in a pool hall.

XXXX

CHANGE should be especially true in the arts, which are intended to be dynamic. In constant flux.

The question for writers is: Which side of the equation are you on?

If you’re not published by one of the Big Four Manhattan publishers, or a professor at a university, it makes little sense to be on the side of the static. Of the aesthetic status quo. (Unless you write and publish as a hobby, to impress relatives and friends. But if you want more– ?)

NEXT: “Teaching Gatsby.”