Congratulations to Victoria Studer for Winning the June 2024 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

What aspect of the writing business do you wish AI could take over for you that it can’t yet do?

Victoria’s original take on this prompt is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Enjoy her winning submission:

Victoria Studer
Victoria Studer

I wish AI could sound more human.

I know that’s counterintuitive, and it probably plays into everyone’s fears of what AI might become, but here’s the thing: I’m autistic.

Counter to what you might think, and what Hollywood would have you believe, people on the autism spectrum aren’t nonverbal scream machines incapable of interacting with the human race. At least, not all of us.

I have friends. I have a job. I have a family.

But being autistic means I process the world differently. I think differently. I respond differently.

I describe it as not being weird in normal ways; I’m weird in weird ways.

For example, think of what the letters “GP” might stand for. Most people would suggest “great pains” or “Good & Plenty” or “general practitioner.” However, the words that come to my mind are “geriatric proboscis.” Personally, I think this is hilarious, because imagining a crotchety old lady with a tapir-like snout is just hysterical to me. But most people don’t think like that.

Contrary to what Disney would have you believe, following your heart and being true to yourself don’t always lead to a choreographed dance number full of acceptance and love. Sometimes it results in being meanly teased because you fundamentally don’t understand the Tickle Me Elmo craze from the ’90s. Sometimes it means realizing 30 minutes into a conversation that people really aren’t that interested in the nuances of English grammar and they’re just nodding along to be polite. Sometimes it means bringing earplugs and fidgets and hiding in bathrooms because the noise of general social interaction at a small family gathering has become too much.

So when I sit down to write an article or interact with a client, I have to put my words and actions through a filter of “how neurotypical people act.” (I say “neurotypical” instead of “normal” because I’m not abnormal, I’m just autistic.)

Using this filter all day every day is called “masking,” and it gets exhausting. It means that I have to go through more drafts and revisions to make sure I’m not using word combos like “geriatric proboscis.” It means that even after revising, the words I choose might be slightly “off,” but no one can quite put their finger on how. It means that when I ask for advice, I’m just as likely to receive words that miss the mark as something actually useful, because people don’t entirely understand what I’m asking.

It would be great if AI could help me filter my words for a neurotypical world. Maybe someday it could even translate the rest of the world for me, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.