The Robots Are Coming! The Robots Are Coming!
January 09, 2014
I came home the other night to a warm home filled with the smells of a wonderful meal my wife had just prepared. As I took off my coat, gave her a peck on the cheek, and got myself a beverage from the refrigerator, I asked her where our oldest daughter was and if she was joining us for dinner. She said that the teenager was in her room and would be joining us. My wife then pulled out her cell phone and typed something. She was sending a text message to the girl to let her know dinner was ready! Now, this girl has a room downstairs in part of our finished basement. It takes going through a door and down a flight of stairs to get to the room, so simply shouting "dinner's ready!" may not be enough. But was it really necessary to text this announcement? Couldn't my wife have told me to knock on her door or stomp on the floor? What's wrong with just saying, "Tim will be home at 9:10... that's when we'll eat" earlier? I told my wife, only half joking, that the machines are taking over. Strains of Who Made Who by AC/DC were running through my brain. (Not the best song in the illustrious band's catalog, but a catchy tune all the same.) Thoughts of Cyberdyne Systems, the fictional company from the Terminator films that launches Skynet and subsequently the end of civilization as we know it, entered my mind as well.
Recently, the aforementioned daughter came home about 60 minutes past her curfew. Needless to say, we were concerned. She is always good about calling if she is going to be a little late or answering her phone if she is not at home on time. On this particular evening, she didn't return calls or text messages, and we weren't sure where she was. When she finally arrived at home, I asked why she didn't call or return messages. Her curt reply? "My phone battery was dead, and I didn't have my charger!." To which I responded, "You couldn't use someone else's phone to call?" She came back with, "All your numbers were in my phone!" Now I'm usually a patient man. I don't expect people to have a memory of phone numbers of everyone they know, but I answered this with "Where is that mini phone and address book I bought you a couple of years ago?" Now of course she came back with a bunch of excuses as to how she has no place to carry it (a pocket? purse?) and such. I reminded her that notebooks and pencils don't have batteries that die. The logic seemed to blow her mind because she muttered a few angry words I didn't quite hear and stormed off to bed.
Isn't that the way things are now? We seem to have forgotten that sometimes the simple ways we did things in the past are still reliable.
Google, Bing, and other search engines are steering us away from the joys of discovery. No longer are there opportunities for learning. You simply type it into the computer and assume the answer written by someone else on the Internet is the correct one. The technology is wonderful and helpful, but it makes us dependent. Look how much trust we put into municipal power grids, satellites, and such. Relatively simple glitches could throw the whole world as we know it into chaos. The television show, Revolution, addresses this. (Great concept for a show, but I couldn't make it through the pilot episode!)
The delightful Wall-E shows us a future that could be... one where the few humans who are left abandon on an over-consumed and over-garbaged Earth for a decadent, lazy life in outer space. It's just a work of fiction, but is it so implausible?
I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, so that may be why I'm expressing concern over this issue so much that it borders on paranoia. But I really think the art of conversation, especially uninterrupted conversation, is disappearing. And that makes me sad.
While on this subject, and if you want to give yourself a nice little scare, I recommend a couple of classics. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is a collection of stories upon which the Will Smith film of the same title is loosely based (don't let the lacklusterness of the film sway you from checking out the book, the parallels are few and far between). There is also Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick. The cult hit, Blade Runner, is based on this great story. More recently, I read the altogether creepy Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson of World War Z fame. I mentioned Who Made Who? above. The song was featured in the film, Maximum Overdrive. It is available on WorldCat, as well as a couple of my favorites like The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
On a final note: I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean recently. I observed adults of all ages around the pools lounging, reading, laughing, eating, drinking, splashing, and playing. There were children giggling, diving, jumping, running, and enjoying games with each other. For an entire week, I saw no one with a phone to their ear or engaged in typing tiny keys on a device. This was wonderful. This was humanity.