There are these times in our lives when certain themes come to the fore; for me, it’s the weird relationship we have with things. I’m in the midst of reading The Word Exchange which is partly about becoming less human and more dependent on machines through losing language and giving up our memories to machines. I’m also reading The Mad Scientist’s Daughter which is about a relationship with an Android and along comes Her, a movie about a relationship with an OS. We’re seeing our lives become more entangled with devices; I don’t remember phone numbers or addresses, I look them up or just tell my phone “call so-and-so” or “find the nearest Starbucks”. Facebook reminds me of people’s birthdays and sends me an email with whose birthday is coming up that week. FollowUpThen.com sends me reminders of my “todos”. Beats music curates a list of the music to which I wish to listen. Windows Phone Cortana (a Siri like product in the next OS update) that will whisper in my ear that today is the birthday of the person with whom I’m on the phone. I call on Alexa (Amazon’s Echo) to give me my news flash and weather then play a little morning music. This list goes on.
As devices seem to become more human, are we giving up our humanity? When I hand over a task such as a reminder for a dentist visit, am I on safe ground? What about using my Kindle to touch a word and have it look it up for me; am I losing language or, at least, not growing my vocabulary? I don’t know the answers but once again literary fiction leads the way in asking the questions. Of course, this has been going on for some time; whether it’s Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or its related Blade Runner or Rosa Montero’s Tears in Rain to the movie Artificial Intelligence: AI, we have been dealing with this potential relationship between people and “things” that serve us ever since the potent for sentient artificial beings crossed our minds. I suspect that there is no right answer. Being utterly Luddite and dumping technology doesn’t seem to be the answer nor does unmitigated reliance on it. As usual, the answer lies somewhere in between. I think the adage “choose wisely” applies more aptly than “moderation in all things.” (Who would have thought that Indiana Jones would beat out Aristotle?)
We are more immersed in our technology than ever before. Whether it’s Pandora’s building on our musical tastes or smart phones augmenting our memories to wearable tech telling us when to get up and how our body is doing, we have become more dependent on these services. I suppose, if nothing else, we need to move forward carefully and reflectively.
Convenience has its price, whether it’s loss of privacy or loss of capability. We need to go in with eyes wide open and a willingness to forgo convenience when inconvenience is better. I guess it all comes down to being self-aware.