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What Artificial Intelligence cannot replace
Human abilities are the best differentiator
It’s a little bit funny that I am writing to you about human connection during Valentine’s Day. However, after a recent trip to San Diego, I cannot stop thinking about the value of offline human touch and how the internet and AI specifically cannot replace human interactions. They can mimic them via their chat or voice capabilities. They may even be able to have more profound and intelligent conversations than most humans. What they cannot do is provide an irreplaceable sensation to us.
This past weekend I took an offline trip to San Diego, CA. I printed my boarding pass, bought a physical transit card, and got lost downtown trying to find the restaurant I had jotted down on my last day connected to the internet. This was my second time forgoing the web this year, but the first outside of my state. I bought a book at Denver airport and brought it with me everywhere during my first hours in San Diego as I had to wait for friends to arrive.
In the book, Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque, he posits that we must treat people kindly, starting with ourselves, and create an atmosphere of collaboration from a leadership perspective. While not directly related to digital minimalism, it awoke in me the thought that human connection and nuance cannot be understated in the 21st century. We are, by virtue of our disconnection from each other, heading toward a world where we live through the lens of our devices instead of living assisted by them. After 72 hours of hanging out with friends, I certainly do not want to be a part of that world.
Not possessing a smartphone’s browser in a new city can be intimidating. New streets, new options for transport, and new foods to try out without any reviews! Yet, we used to do it all the time. I walked to the information desk to ask about the best way to acquire a Pronto card, the physical transit card for the trolley and bus. An older lady was kind to show me how to purchase one from the machine and gave me a personal recommendation of how much to load it with. She listened to my specific scenario of travel and gave me suggestions based on her experience living in the city and using transport herself.
After our short interaction, she guided me to the stand with brochures that could give me extra information about other options that I had not considered from my limited search on the web three days before. While I had prepared an itinerary with friends trying to hit the best spots in town recommended by search engines, the airport employee gave me a wealth of knowledge that I had not considered. Her local expertise and experience guided my thinking from a narrow set of options curated by the internet to a nuanced view of the city. AI could definitely attempt to put a schedule together, but it could not replace her personal touch.
If you live in San Diego, you are blessed to have so many great food options. By virtue of the 9 meals I had while visiting the coastal city, I was not only satisfied but delighted with the variety of flavors. From Little Italy restaurants to Cocina 35, which has the best chilaquiles I’ve had from a sit-down place, the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods have a wealth of ingredients to be wowed by. Jeff, a longtime friend from graduate school, and I were able to find excellent food without the need for the web. We asked for local’s recommendations, walked around to find some options, and took a chance on the back alley Italian place that happened to be one of the top-rated ones in the city.
Traveling through San Diego reminded me of the streets of Nicaragua. The warm weather, decently friendly pedestrian streets, and Hispanic foods transported my mind back to my origins where people came first and phones second. Every bite taken without the need to showcase it to the powers of social media was an empowering and tasty choice. I had not caught up with some of these friends for a long time. We laughed, shared personal stories from the past 4 years, and created an atmosphere that artificial intelligence can only dream of. While the new engines from OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google can give you recipe ingredients and enhance creative designs of food, they cannot replace the smells, sauces, and the general vis-a-vis experience of our family and friends.
Value what you have, for AI will try (and fail) to come after it
All in all, this offline weekend was a success. I traveled to a different state, reconnected with friends, and watch how the NFL and its referees continue to make bad calls in very important games. Playing basketball, staying up late chatting with old friends, and experiencing delectable foods are just some of the things that AI and the internet cannot replace. My only wish is to do it more often.
In this journey of moving offline, I cannot wait for the day that this newsletter is just a project of the past. I long for the day that I am able to stay connected to the only world that matters, the one that is in front of my eyes and not my screen.
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Just a note that this newsletter will continue in its current format until I am able to find a cost-effective paper newsletter version. I want to transition to paper correspondence with you and create an offline network of content that motivates you to be offline. Until then, substack will do the job :)