Before that, he was a person in my office with a nose ring and a bouquet of hair, asking me to change his grade. Even with his prepared script—beside this one lapse in judgment, I was in good standing—his voice tremored. It had been an online class, so this was our first time meeting, his proof of existence, and to see him like this, I felt sad in the manner of observing something in captivity. My instinct was he was an A24 type, someone who read poetry on a bus but might also fistfight. In another life he and I probably vibed, got blunted and talked West Side Gunn. I had a criminal record for the way I behaved in my twenties. I was not a professor hung up on integrity. In this life though, my decision to fail him was final. His chin dimpled and he left before I could see him cry. I wanted to say this grade was meaningless and his soul was warm even if the first part was a lie I wanted to be true.
So that no more students went out like him, I went to the library to collect ChatGPT articles. A masked librarian whispered how to renew a library card to a man with double hearing aids. Leaning over the counter, he looked hollow, a former mollusk windblown on the beach. He took instructions down with a half pencil but I could tell he wasn't catching everything. I wondered if he had possessions beyond what a library card granted him. Would he live through his next borrowed book? My mind worked on why I didn't slow the moment down for him, lend my tech literacy to see his renewal through. The best I could come up with was how ecosystems are delicate and we're told not to interfere with them.
In my office, I asked ChatGPT: Why am I emotional from seeing an elderly man try to renew a library card?
It gathered its thoughts: The image of an elderly man desperate to renew his library card can evoke feelings of sadness and emotion in people because it suggests that the man values books and reading, but may be facing challenges related to age or physical health. The image also touches on themes of loneliness, isolation, and a sense of loss or fading of an important part of the man's life.
It first sounded correct but somewhat lacking. Then after a few reads, I wanted to put my head through glass because it was bullshit plus I didn't have a better answer. A single ant was moving across some office papers, a glitch in the pixels of my periphery. It made its way to my computer speakers, around my computer cord, onto the phone in my hand. Then it was on my finger so that I could no longer ignore it. I let it roam my second and third knuckle, its tickle so faint I couldn't be sure I felt it. Suddenly it was clear to me that this was my student, reminding me of...me? It was a literary moment, painfully blatant, like if you told ChatGPT to write a story with a metaphor about guilty conscience. I wondered how ChatGPT, given the early stage it was in, would end such a story. Would it have me usher the ant to an office plant, or rub it between my fingers into an ink dot? Was I myself a ChatGPT story, and a cheating student and deaf man the live wires in a maze I don't think I'm in.
I woke up one day and machines could think for all of us, plus make a song that sounded more like Drake than Drake. The emotional response to this intrigued me—fantasy, disillusionment—because, (and I'll probably end up being wrong about this someday) feelings remain the one thing unable to be replicated or stolen.