Hello, and happy Sunday to everyone who isn’t using ChatGPT to write their breakup messages for them!
In this week’s newsletter, writer Ali Shapiro chronicles her experience trying to use the AI for less nefarious purposes—as an attempted reprieve from her wellness-focused decision fatigue. We've also got some lovely recommendations from Kai Brach of the stellar Dense Discovery newsletter and lots more for you to read, listen to, and perhaps even crack a smile at.
As always, don’t hesitate to drop us a line sometime if you’ve got ideas you want to pitch or suggestions for people we should feature in later issues!
I TRIED OUTSOURCING MY DECISIONS TO CHATGPT AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS INCREASED EMPATHY FOR THE HUMAN CONDITION
Many aspects of wellness seem to be about making healthy decisions: choosing to eat a salad instead of a pizza, say, or writing in your gratitude journal instead of texting your ex. But decision fatigue can become quite draining, especially when your own overall wellness seems to be on the line. I’ll admit I’ve occasionally wished to relieve myself of the burdens of autonomy and take a break from choosing altogether.
So one night, while eating a pizza and waiting for my ex to text back, I had an idea. Maybe ChatGPT—the buzzy new tech possibly responsible for the sudden increase in my composition students’ verbosity—could make my wellness choices for me. And maybe, unlike my therapist, it would be willing and able to do so 24/7, at a moment’s notice, and without asking about my childhood first. I’d try it for a day, outsourcing as many potentially healthy decisions as possible to the AI. No more ruminating, no more waffling. Easy, right?
Well, sort of. As it turned out, getting ChatGPT to actually tell me what to do was harder than I’d imagined. The AI resists giving direct commands, even if you assure it that you “just want to be bossed around for fun.” Its default mode with simpler questions—what to eat for breakfast, for example—was to spit out a list of general guidelines or healthy options such as yogurt with granola and berries (“This is a quick and easy option”) or a smoothie bowl (“This is a refreshing and colorful option”). But it also tended to hedge that “it all depended” on other variables like the contents of my fridge, my hunger level, and my dietary restrictions. In the time it took to type those things out, I’d lost my appetite for AI-assisted meal planning. Asking the bot what time I should wake up in the morning resulted in similar tedium.
Besides, the decisions that really exhaust me aren’t ultimately about oatmeal vs. eggs. When I asked ChatGPT whether I should end a complicated romantic entanglement, it politely demurred (“As an AI language model, I cannot make that decision for you”). When I asked if I should go visit family next weekend, its response included lines as guilt-inducing as if I’d asked my own mother (“Consider your mother’s feelings, and whether your visit would be helpful and beneficial to her and the rest of your family”). No matter how I rejiggered my prompts, it stubbornly stuck to providing lists of factors that “may be helpful to consider” when making my own (*$&^%$) decision.
As the day wore on, a different kind of fatigue began to set in. At this point, I had forgotten what regular unassisted thinking felt like, so of course I asked ChatGPT to help me describe my state. It suggested:
I began to feel a sense of existential dread. Who was I, if not the master of my own destiny? If I let a robot make all of my decisions, was I still truly alive?
Okay, that was a little dramatic, especially considering ChatGPT’s own refusal to master my destiny for me. Really, I was just tired of trying to get the AI to tell me what to do. But this, I realized, was its own kind of insight. Prompting and re-prompting ChatGPT felt a lot like rumination: I was just going around in circles with the bot instead of myself. It was interesting to see this process externalized: All that typing and scrolling made it more obvious how exhausting it was. Why was I putting myself—not to mention ChatGPT—through any of this?
In a way, the difficulty of outsourcing my decisions to ChatGPT upped my empathy for all of us struggling to make good choices in a culture that is always pushing us, with everything from corporate mindfulness retreats to the latest diet trends, to be fitter, happier, and more productive. It’s hard enough just being human, what with all the uncertainty—and, okay, existential dread—built into the gift of free will. So for now, at least, I’ll just try to enjoy my pizza and be glad the robot overlords aren’t programmed to order us around (…yet?). And when I’m craving the input of a judgy AI, there’s always Co-Star.
This issue, we’re back to asking another of our favorite people to tell us about what helps them get through the day. Kai Brach is the designer, editor, and publisher of one of our most beloved newsletters, Dense Discovery, as well as the print magazine Offscreen. Kai was born in Germany and currently lives in Australia, where he spends his days sharing his interest in design, sustainability, tech, and culture with an audience of over 43,000 readers.
Reading The Art of Frugal Hedonism really reaffirmed my view that living relatively modestly can lead to more joy, less stress and, importantly, more freedom to do what your heart desires.
Connecting talented people and cross-pollinating thoughtful, smart ideas. I moved into a new, community-focused neighborhood last year and nothing shows the power of connection and collaboration more than a local group of good people who share similar interests.
Pizza. It’s my favorite comfort food. In particular margheritas. It’s a great way to benchmark the pizza joints in your area, because if you can’t pull off a decent margherita, your other pizzas are probably no good either.
A boat trip to a remote island in Tasmania. I usually try to stay away from boats/cruises due to their massive environmental impact, but during a rare family visit, we decided to take a small boat to Tasman Island. Seeing sea lions, large flocks of migratory birds, and lots of dolphins close-up was pure magic.
My bed. In my twenties I could sleep anywhere. Couch, floor, car seat? No problem! Now in my forties, I’ve become a real bed snob and instantly miss the comfort of my firm mattress and dense pillow.
➚ Why easy “Zone 2” workouts became the biggest thing in fitness
It’s really not that complicated.
➚ Honduran Hydra: The unstoppable Guapinol mine
On the deadly fight to protect the environment in Honduras.
➚ There's no such thing as a casual interaction with your doctor anymore
Why does everything count as a “visit” now?
➚ Rock is wellness (or creativity is, at least)
Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers is releasing a podcast this week all about music education. The show, “This Little Light,” also happens to be produced by our publisher, Parallel :)
➚ The future of Black queer characters in comics is joyful
BRB, gotta go read the love story about two grandmothers.
That's it for this week's Postcard! See you on the other side of a very low-intensity workout.
Prism Postcards takes the cringe out of wellness. It’s smart, inclusive, and funny. Sign up and get it delivered to your inbox every other week.