“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?” —A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
And so it was in those last days, when artificial intelligence had finally won the hearts and minds of advertisers and their agencies, when algorithms had driven the final stake into the heart of the human imagination. The few creatives who somehow managed to survive the end of the advertising world as they had known it scuffled from cities to towns in search of a home, finding work where they could. Sketching pictures that no one wanted to see. Writing poetry that no one wanted to hear. One by one, they succumbed.
But then there was Julia.
A friend of mine told me about her. She was a writer. A good one. AI never cared about awards, of course, but Julia had won them all. Even as the noose of technology tightened its grip around her spirit, as it had all of us, she refused to give up. Eventually, she lost her job, but not even this succeeded in bringing her down. She freelanced for a time, working for small clients in the hinterlands who still believed in human beings over machines. It wasn’t much of a living, but at least she could pay the rent, and it kept her sane. But even that dried up eventually. The last anyone heard, Julia had packed up her car and headed for Minnesota. Why, no one knew. All they could guess was that she had found something up there. A haven. A creative sanctuary.
If it was the last thing I did, I was going to find her. She might well be the last of her breed. I know what you’re thinking. What does it matter? It isn’t as if this young woman is Shakespeare or Monet or Tolstoy. She wrote ads. That’s it. That’s all. Still...
On the flight to Minneapolis, I pulled out my notes. My friend who’d known Julia from their days at BBDO—the last good days, as it turned out—told me she’d grown up in a small village on a lake near the Canadian border. If she was in Minnesota, she was probably there. Although, what kind of creative sanctuary she could have found, I couldn’t begin to imagine. But then again, it was getting hard to imagine much of anything since the AI had taken over.
The next morning, I was on Main Street. I thought that if anyone would know where I could find her, it might be someone from her old high school. A teacher. The principal. The janitor maybe.
Arthur Munson still taught French. It hadn’t been all that long since Julia had graduated and went off to college in New York City. Sure, he remembered her. Better yet, he knew where I could find her because yes, as a matter of fact, she had come back to town.
The little church had one of those signs on the front lawn. You know the ones: little billboards with clever quips about heaven and hell and the word of the Lord. This one said, “YOU HAVE ONE NEW FRIEND REQUEST FROM JESUS.”
I found her in the church basement, pecking at her laptop.
“Hey, Julia. You don’t know me, but when I heard about you, I had to see if the stories were true.”
After a long moment, she turned to look at me.
“You know what sucks? What sucks is that people like you didn’t speak up. You knew what was happening. You knew about Watson and Marcel and Terranova. You knew what they were capable of. But no. You know what you and your buddies did when the first campaigns started getting launched with AI? You snickered. A joke, you called it. And now here I am, writing headlines for a church in the middle of nowhere.”
CHOOSE THE BREAD OF LIFE OR YOU ARE TOAST. TWEET OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TWEETED.
ADAM AND EVE. YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST NOT TO READ THE APPLE TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
JESUS HAD TWO DADS AND HE TURNED OUT JUST FINE.
GOD HAS NO FAVORITES BUT OUR PASTOR DOES. GO VIKINGS!
Not that there was anything wrong with that. Still, it had come to this. As I headed back to Minneapolis, all I could think was, how? How did we let it happen? At what point did we let the toys start playing with the people? But, all was not entirely lost. Was it? There was still Julia. There was still me. There were still thousands of us. We could turn it around. It wasn’t too late... was it?
Will there someday be a real Last Creative? I hope not. Make no mistake: Julia isn’t necessarily the shadow of what will be. Whether or not she turns out to be the shadow of what might be is up to us. Let’s not demonize technology. But let’s not lionize it either. ca