Friday, December 29, 2023

Vegetable Stands and Frozen Pizza

As published in The County Times ( 

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

A modified bookshelf sits prominently in an inviting living room that is otherwise decorated with memorabilia spanning 40 years of D.C. sports history.  On the shelves are hundreds of vinyl records; some are new but most are old, several even older than their present owner.  Conditions vary from pristine (great survivors of an untold provenance) to the “well played”, the latter population delivering that warm, snap-crackle-pop through the speakers as they spin across a needle delicately navigating ancient surface grooves.

I have trouble explaining my affinity for these records.  And as a writer, my struggle for words is bothersome.  On the surface, it makes no sense.  I could compile all of these albums in no time – click here, click there and boom…they are on my phone, tablet or computer in digital form.  Access would easy and from anywhere.  The sound would be crisp and clean.  The total acquisition cost would likely be less.  Storage - simple.

So why would I choose to attend countless records shows, hunt down record stores in every town I visit and sift through stack after stack of dusty vinyl just to assemble this swelling mass of music artifacts?

I don’t know.  But I can hypothesize.  And Sports Illustrated (SI), the once great must-read magazine for sports fans, provided a fantastic data point for my contemplation. 

Life moves fast, so in case you missed it (I did), SI recently faced heat for getting caught using content generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI).  The content not only did not disclose it was computer generated, it was attributed to a human author – a person who does not exist in carbon form.  When sleuths confronted SI, it did what many exposed people and entities do now: deny, divert and embrace victimhood.  SI’s official response was it used a third party for content and was duped themselves.  Ah, so SI wasn’t being disingenuous, it was incompetent.  That makes things so much better.

Spineless SI aside, AI content isn’t coming, it’s here and is poised to spread.  Disclosure of its use, at least by professional journalistic forums (there’s no hope for social media), is critical.  From there, consumers will decide its fate and proliferation.  As a sports writer, is it threatening?  Somewhat.  It is difficult to comprehend how pernicious it could be.  But human writers should gladly accept the challenge.  I believe sports fans will always want content – good content, not lazy, slap-it-together generic poo - generated by a fellow human.  It ensures accuracy and source-authenticity; and, if a piece is well-written, I refuse to believe that a machine can adequately capture and convey the intricacies of and human emotions generated by a sporting event.  For example, if you’re telling me a machine can properly communicate the passions of degenerates at Philadelphia Eagles games, I ain’t buying it.

Gut instinct (something AI doesn’t have): at the end of the day, most people will tolerate some AI for basic information, but will continue looking to other humans for deeper meaning and more thought-provoking stories.  I think – hope – the same will apply to other artforms.  AI-generated movie scripts and scores, faux lip-synched “live” concerts, hologram shows (ABBA, KISS) and macro, AI-generated pop songs have their place, I suppose (being kind).  But brass tacks: how much ultra-processing can the soul stand?

Which of course circles back to those vinyl records.  Why the allure?  They represent the music’s original intended form.  Led Zeppelin’s “IV”, Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Mainstreet”, Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” weren’t meant for a digital format.  An MP3 of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” piped into your brain via ear buds will never be an adequate substitute for holding an original album in your hands while the record spins and you work up a sweat dancing in your living room.  Records are music’s version of the local vegetable stand and farm-to-table food.  It's as good as it gets.  Digital music files are like facsimile autographs and frozen pizza. 

And much like frozen pizza has its place (especially at 2am), AI will no doubt become a regular source for sports information.  Let’s just hope it’s never more than niche.  Everything in moderation, eh? 

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