Look Ma, no hands! (It’s all virtual now).

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.

Twilight of the book.

February 8, 2015 § 4 Comments

Books and the small animals that guard them.

Books and the small animals that guard them.

I am going to miss the book.

That stodgy brick of wood pulp.

Obstinately linear and unsearchable.

Demanding time and effort.

The U-Store-It of human stories and ideas, taking up space on a shelf that exists only because the book exists.

I like the smell of a book.

The acidic tang of a cheap paperback.

The musty damp scent of a classic, as if the reader were opening a long-closed trunk.

Standing together on a shelf, books are a forest that invites you to wander in and get lost.

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Tech no.

March 29, 2014 § 12 Comments

My friend, Craig, asserts that once a technology becomes affordable and available there is no stopping it; it will be adopted and become the new normal.

I argue that he is wrong, that we have the ability to analyze and choose. But I am probably the one who is wrong, at least in terms of outcomes.

Henry Ford With 1921 Model TThe folks who yelled, “Get a horse!’ at the owner of the Model T that sat smoking by the roadside, ended up with a Model T of their own—or a Model A if they were slow-adopters.

For good and bad Mr. Ford’s affordable and widely available invention left a world that traveled on two or four feet in the dust.

We rarely question the wisdom of powering up three thousand pounds of car to carry a couple hundred pounds of human to the store to buy a dozen eggs.

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October 20, 2013 § 9 Comments

Martha the last Passenger PigeonI sometimes feel like Martha, the last passenger pigeon, living out the final days of her uniqueness alone in a small cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Far from vanishing, my species is overwhelming the earth–just as Martha’ s once obliterated the sky,

But my species is undergoing a voluntary and collective evolutionary change that is making the kind of human I am seem quaint, a relic, irrelevant.

Humanity and technology are evolving together. We led it, now it leads us.

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Apologies from Uncle Harry.

May 17, 2012 § 11 Comments

Bet your family has at least one Uncle Harry.

The guy whose stories you know so well you can anticipate the cheesy grin.

The pregnant pause.

The guffaw.

He smells like cough drops and, lord love him, he never shuts up. As he likes to say, “I can’t exhale without talking.”

Get ready. He’s about to exhale.  “Did I tell you about the time…?” And of course he has, but you smile. You pretend to listen. Good thing you love him or you’d never put up with him.

This is my hundredth blog post. By now you probably know me as well as you know Uncle Harry. “Did I tell you about the time…?”

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How not to blog.

August 16, 2011 § 15 Comments

I just got back from speaking at a writers conference—and listening.

I discovered that I’m doing this blogging thing all wrong.

A blogger should post 3 to 5 times a week.

The posts should be snappy and short, say 300 to 500 words.

The blog should be part of the writer’s image-building strategy called a Platform.

A smart author strives to become a household name like Coca-Cola or Cheerios.

In addition to the blog a writer should have a website, should Tweet, should have printed materials…

The list was more extensive but at that point my brain seized.

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Virtually yours.

January 30, 2011 § 16 Comments

Your words come through the ether and appear on this screen.  Black on white, as if you are no part of the world that contains the trees outside my window, the dog asleep on my floor.  You shimmer in a parallel universe of over-excited electrons.

A moment in the real world--delivered virtually.

You claim to send posts from your car, your desk, the cereal aisle at the store, but you might as well be reporting from a space capsule circling the planet.

No matter how hard I reach toward you, I can’t touch you.

You send me this  : ) 

I get it.  You’re smiling.

If your real smile were that simple you would be sitting on a bench in the sun, drooling.  Your real smile is subtle, complicated.  Sad as well as happy, it proves that you are human.

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How to slow…time…down.

October 4, 2010 § 5 Comments

I felt as if I was standing in a cloud of gnats–buzzed by emails, phone calls, the internet, and  the expectation that I could keep up with everything  happening everywhere, and respond with the appropriate sympathy, indignation, joy, or sorrow.

In the constant barrage of information/stimuli/requests for my immediate attention I strove to move ever faster, assuming a defensive posture, as if covering my head with my arms, and I kept going.  But the faster I ran, the faster time sped, until I woke one morning wondering if anything fit into a day anymore, even something as modest as forming a coherent thought.

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