ChatGPT, Strollers and the Anxiety of Automation
Life as we know it keeps being changed by automation
Last fall, I published a book about strollers and what they reveal about our attitudes toward children and their caretakers. Although I pitched Strolleras, in part, a critique of the consumer culture of contemporary American parenthood, I came to love my (many) strollers. In the years when I routinely ran while pushing my kids ahead of me in our jogging stroller, I recorded race times faster than I had as the captain of my college track team. In the long, claustrophobic early days of the pandemic, my son and I meandered slowly up and down the sidewalks of our neighborhood watching that late, cold spring come to New England. Often, at the end of a long stroller walk or run, my kids fell asleep, and on warm days, I’d park them in the shade and myself in the sun to work while they slept, feeling a proud mix of self-sufficiency and frugality (no childcare needed to run or meet a deadline).
In the months after my book came out, friends and family sent me pictures of themselves pushing strollers in iconic places (the Brooklyn Bridge, a protest in front of the Supreme Court, Buckingham Palace) as though to say: Here I am living an adventuresome life with my children right alongside me. In my inbox I had photos of a fleet of UppaBaby Vista strollers outside the 92nd Street Y, a suburban garage filled not with cars but with strollers, movie clips of runaway prams, and, more than once, stories about self-driving strollers. One video clip from my husband’s cousin showed a woman jogging, swinging her unencumbered arms next to a stroller while it matched her pace. To that one, I responded with a quick line about how much faster it would be to run without having to push the 100-plus pounds of my Double BOB.
That kind of casualness was a relic of a time before my inbox started to fill up with another flurry of emails, this time about ChatGPT. I taught high school English for many years and now teach freshman composition, so news about the new—horrifying, amazing, fascinating, or dystopian, depending on how one sees it—large language models, and their role at the nexus of writing and teaching, often made friends and family think of me. Because everyone has a wealth of (often fraught) memories about their own high school years, and because many of my friends now have children around the age of the students my husband and I teach, we end up talking about work in social contexts fairly often. Just how stressed out are the high school students enrolled in multiple AP classes? Are our students' weekends like an episode of Euphoria or even—and this would be alarming enough—more like what our own adolescent parties were in the late '90s? What do we wish our students were better equipped to do? How do we keep them off their phones in class? And, most recently, as news about ChatGPT swept through increasingly wide rings of society, I began to get questions that were not so different than those that accompanied the emails about self-driving strollers: What are we going to do about life as we know it being changed by automation?
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