May 17, 2020 § 4 Comments
I am good at reading people. You are too. We humans get the meaning of gestures. We stand close together so we can make eye contact or put a hand on an arm. We choose our words and the tone in which we say them, we listen for signals that are not embodied in words—just the intake of a breath can be enough to cue us.
Human to human communication is nuanced and subtle, but we get it. Life is a dance we do with others. We lead, we follow. Either way we are attuned to each others’ signals.
But, at least for now, we can’t do that. For now other people are off-limits: people in close proximity; people within range of a hug, a subtle gesture, a facial expression; people close enough to be read human-to-human.
All situations that require cooperation and advice are now mediated through one device or another. Sometimes a human face appears, sometimes a human voice speaks, but often the human is prerecorded, not there in the moment at all.
That face, that voice are no longer connected to a human ear, a human mind, a human heart: “We are currently experiencing longer-than-usual wait times due to the unusually high volume of calls. Hold time is now three hours.”
No human would say that so cheerfully in real time, but the human who said it has no connection to the desperate person on hold.
The voice chirps on: “Continue to hold or press two for a call back.” The caller presses two, but knows, no one is calling back.
In this time of crisis the call that is going unanswered is not frivolous. It is made to procure food, or rent money, or medical advice. It is made after the caller has tried to get an answer through a search of the ether, a search that hit a dead end, the algorithm saying in computer-eze: You have failed to jump through the hoops properly. There is no help forthcoming for you, oh unworthy nitwit.
If only the caller could explain the situation to a human being…
But there is no human being. So the unworthy nitwit gets no answer and feels like a failure into the bargain. In truth, it is The Machine that is the unworthy nitwit. The nuanced, intuitive, thinking, human, who is capable of solving problems in myriad different ways, interfaces with The Machine which thwarts the human for not following its baroque, un-intuitive protocols, for not executing perfectly a series of Mother-May-I steps no human would ever require.
And so, the subtle, thoughtful (and desperate) human being is told. No answer for you. You’re doing it all wrong–but to get by now, we must figure out how to do it right.
As imperfect as the match is, we now interact with The Machine, or if we are interacting with each other, it is often mediated by some form of technology.
We deal with each other, hands-off. No human touch. No human warmth, and every time we are unable to manage the virtual world, we take the blame.
We are stupid, slow, old, frustrated. Stuck.
No we’re not. We’re human.
For the entirety of our evolution we have relied on subtle, person-to-person communication. We have cooperated and collaborated. We have sought each other’s advice, solved problems together. We have lived real, not virtual lives.
There is much to be said for the high-speed, super-fast, data-driven virtual world, especially in a time when we are literally a threat to each other’s health, but if you don’t believe in the greater nuance and power of human-to-human contact step in front of a mirror and make a couple emoji faces. You look insane, right?
The cues we send each other are subtle, multi-layered. Artificial intelligence cannot replace human intelligence and the ingenuity, kindness, and understanding that resides in our gestures, our facial expressions, our voices, our touch—our humanity.
Note: I write this because I miss all of you–and I am mad at a printer that will not do my bidding. I believe if it could, it would be making the face that is at the far right on the bottom row above. It is disquieting to have a printer LOL at me.
April 26, 2020 § 8 Comments
I take nothing for granted these days. I make no easy assumptions. I have no expectations beyond this moment.
This makes disappointment less likely and, strangely, it makes the small things: modest tasks accomplished, the beauty of the non-human life around me, the throaty voice of my guitar, the unexpected message from a friend, feel like gifts—if I don’t expect, anticipate, or feel deserving-of, when the good happens, gratitude washes over me.
This flood of gratitude, far rarer when I believed I controlled my destiny, is a reaction I hope I don’t lose when the panic passes.
The downside is that I don’t dare to hope or let myself look ahead and plan—what if the current darkness catches me nurturing that glimmer and snuffs it out?
Without hope or plan, I hold on tight to right-now, the future a bridge too rickety to walk across.
I clutch this moment hard, doing one thing, then the next. I call a friend, stir the spaghetti sauce on the stove, sit on my front stoop and gaze into the yard, I cross a small and finite task off my small and finite list, and I keep going.
Yes, I keep going.
I haven’t given up. I hold a pen and write my daily pages, realizing that if nothing else, I am a witness, one of many court stenographers recording the unfolding and overwhelming case being made by the pandemic.
Although what I am recording has changed since “normal” took a hike, I have always been a writer, a journal-keeper. By doing the things I have always done I prove to myself that I am still me.
And so I write.
I make music.
I weed the garden.
I reach out to others, although I can no longer hug them, or get close enough to breathe the same air.
I study the buzz and hum of the natural world.
And I think.
I am still here, acknowledging—and experiencing perhaps for the first time—this moment.
I would love to regain the luxury of planning, the comfort of believing in a long, long future, but this moment is all I have, and I now realize, it is all I’ve ever had. And it is enough.