Mostly Original.


I was sitting in a coffee shop trying to think of something to write and feeling pretty insecure about it because there was a guy next to me tapping away furiously at a keyboard. I tried to console myself with the thought that he might be writing a computer program or arguing on social media—not that there’s anything wrong with such pursuits if that’s how you want to spend your time—but then he talked a little to the barista, since they knew each other, about how he finally felt like he was making progress on the script he was writing. And once it was done he wanted the filming to be “as low-tech as possible, no CGI or any of that”, which just made me even more interested in his project. Then he got up and said, “Okay, I’m going to the bathroom, no one steal my ideas!”

When he got back I said, “I swear I didn’t steal any of your ideas.”

“Oh, good, I’m so glad,” he laughed and we talked a little about coffee shops being good places to write. He then added, “It’s not like this is a total ripoff of Moby Dick or anything like that.”

I said something about there being worse things one could choose to steal from but he was focused once again on what he was writing and I’d finished my coffee and blueberry muffin so I felt like it was time for me to go. And of course I was across the street before I realized I’d missed a real opportunity to ask him who he was and what he was working on, not because I wanted to steal it but because I want to see the final product. And maybe I will see him again—since he knew the barista he’s clearly a regular there; he even said it was one place where he could really focus on his writing because he’d been there so much that it had become a familiar place to him. That was interesting to me because one of the things I like about writing in coffee shops is I find the distractions, the unfamiliarity of the surroundings, at least as stimulating as the caffeine.

And I keep coming back to that “No one steal my ideas” and “This is a total ripoff of Moby Dick” because an idea I keep coming back to is how much ideas get recycled, reimagined, updated—whatever you want to call it. There’s plenty new under the sun but people haven’t really changed and a lot of old stories, whether consciously or not, get retold because they remain relevant to who we are. It was really funny to me that, of all the stories he could have chosen from, he went with Moby Dick. It’s a massive novel with a massive number of themes and interpretations. Also maybe he was just kidding. I don’t know. It’s funny, though, that one of the themes is the futile pursuit of a dangerous goal. The line I thought of after I’d crossed the street was, “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!” That’s not the full quote but then the first time I heard it—without knowing the source—was Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, in which those were Khan’s last words. Which just shows how much retellings and allusions permeate culture.

It also made me think of the ongoing conversation about AI and a question that I keep hearing brought up again and again: why is AI art so bad? And I don’t think I’m the first person to think that it’s because AI, contrary to its name, isn’t in any way “intelligent”. It remixes without understanding the material it’s remixing. It’s not just that it fails to bring anything new to what it “creates”. It doesn’t fill any need, it doesn’t come from any desire. And in response to anyone who wonders why artists should be compensated for their work—and, yes, they’re out there—I’d say, if art and writing and ideas created by people doesn’t have any value why is AI “scraping” it to make millions for a few tech companies?

I’m also probably not the only one to have thought or even said that—I may have even read something like it somewhere else even if it felt like that came to me naturally, but I can’t remember. It’s still a thought that came from a person, not a machine, and one I think the tech companies exploiting human “content” should answer. Let them give up the spear.

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  1. mydangblog

    Another cool Moby Dick reference from Star Trek is from First Contact–fantastic scene with Sir Pat and Alfre Woodard!
    mydangblog recently posted…Feeling Bubbly But Not ExpensiveMy Profile

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Oh yes–how could I have forgotten that one? There are seafaring references all through Star Trek and Moby Dick is, among other things, possibly the finest novel about life on the open ocean ever written.


    AI could never write as well as you, Chris, because there is nothing artificial about your intelligence.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you, Ann, for being a real person and real intelligent.


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