The Only Thing Constant…

Letter blocks that spell the word Change. There is a hand flipping over the letter G to C, spelling Chance.

For many years while building a career in showbiz, I had a comfy job making bank, as a medical transcriptionist. I chose to be a contractor, because it paid on production, I could type like nobody’s business, had a great ear for accents, and I could be at home for my daughter. Those years were spent working in my pajamas five hours a day, volunteering at my daughter’s school on Tuesdays, driving her and her friends around the San Fernando Valley, then writing, and performing comedy at night in Los Angeles’ comedy venues.

I was also in the process of losing my sight during this time, so the medical transcription work was perfect for me. All you needed was a medical background, good ears, an ergonomic chair, and typing skills – and not telling them you’re vision impaired. As time went on, something called voice recognition filled MT forums.  It was some new computer software that could type everything the doctor dictated into a report. Some called bullshit, some feared it, some waited to see what would happen. No way a computer could understand what we humans have to sometimes rewind and slow down, because a doctor speaks fast, too low, or has static in the background. But, one by one, we MTs became ‘medical proofreaders or editors’. It paid even more, but we saw the major critical flaws in the software spitting out words that didn’t even sound similar such as right vs left or 1.3 mm vs 2.6 cm mass, or ‘right upper quadrant vs left lower quadrant’. Therefore, we had to be very tedious with our proofreading. Wouldn’t ya know, along came cataracts with my vision loss, which got me booted from a long time, well-paying proofreading job that I could do perfectly well with my dwindling sight. I was the one making the errors now. I frantically searched for old school transcription jobs that relied on listening, but they were extinct.

After a couple years of dire financial struggle and accepting my progressing blindness, I gained gratitude for the loss of transcription, which pushed me to do full-time what I had come to Los Angeles for originally. Writing and performing. Being a person with a visible (meaning what others see – white cane) disability, it’s hard to be accepted or hired. I would occasionally get frustrated and search for medical transcription work again. I’d had the cataracts removed by now. I could do that on the side when times were slow in the industry. The only problem was, there were no longer medical transcription or editing jobs. There were now medical ‘scribe’ jobs that paid pennies, or simply doctors dictating and settling for what was written.

This, my friends, is what I fear AI will do to us as writers. We writers, who read copies of our medical records now days, and irk at the loss of punctuation, capitalization, and incorrect information on our paperwork. Skipping words such as “no” history of… It goes unnoticed unless we call the healthcare provider’s office, hold for 45 minutes, and ask to have it removed, only to be told it has to undergo review and be approved. Your manager has to approve that I’ve never had genital herpes? This really happened.

I prefer to be optimistic. I like keeping my glass over half full. I like to be grateful for opportunities and I love change. But the changes I like are moving to a new neighborhood, change of wardrobe, hair color, but not the change of destroying an entire industry for a flawed one.

Prior to the transcription gig, I was a medical assistant and phlebotomist in a local hospital. This would be my first experience of industry changes and jobs fizzling out. I was a damn good phlebotomist. I could get hard sticks – the preemies, drug users, and cancer patients. They all had the hardest veins to get. Ah, the satisfaction of coming back down from the lab with two vials of blood you’d just sucked out of a patient that three colleagues couldn’t get. Along came change and we phlebotomists began training all the nurses and IV techs how to do our jobs, and the phlebomoty department was phased out.

My first boss at that hospital job, Ms McCoy, would frequently say, “The only thing constant, is change”. She said it with anything – a merger, a hospital-wide memo, or the hallways being painted a new color. She would say it in a ringtone that I found very annoying.  But her words, which I think were originated elsewhere, have rang through my head throughout the decades. I was later grateful for that change, because it led to another medical gig, which led to the transcription job, which paid a lot more and working from home was unusual back then, and unheard of for a single mom.

Let’s hope, pray, meditate, burn sage, throw salt over our shoulders, and manifest that AI is one thing that doesn’t turn into change leading to extinction.

I like to think this whole AI scare will turn into something good for us – whatever that good might be, and even if it takes time before the good happens.

Recently I heard an actor in an interview where the host was telling the actor how ‘the cinematography was so beautiful!’. The actor replied with a smile, ‘that’s because it was shot on film’. I ask you, my fellow writers, during the scary attempt of change, go back to being indie filmmakers if you must. Show them content that will make them say, ‘the story was so beautiful’. And you can reply, that’s because a ‘screenwriter wrote it’.

Spill your thoughts.

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