Mr Roboto

“We have moved from multi-tasking to multi-lifing.”

I’m obsessed with robots. When I dream I dream about the inside of your head and moon orcas (don’t google it, that’s not what I dreamt of) in a biosphere and wires stuck to a face and energy and thunderstorms so powerful cars and trees slid sideways.

As I continue to read Alone Together I become more obsessed with deciphering our programming. Trying to understand our network of connections. Trying to understand the affect we perform by rote, the objectification of each other’s presence in our constant connection–accessing only the parts we like; responding to only the parts we approve– the projection onto any absence we sense. What parts of you am I taking? What parts of you am I filtering? Why am I ignoring the sum of your parts? Because you break yourself down for me.

We go to public spaces not to interact with one another, but to be alone with the people in our portal–in our virtual reality. We need the silence to focus on the text we’re sending. We treat people with physical presence as absent. I ignore the girl in the store on her phone as she ignores me. We both know neither of us is present in that moment of shared existence.

We mourn an unanswered text because of a perceived absence–the absence of a virtual presence. We feel tethered and obligated at all times of the day…to what? And then we become demanding. Demanding of the absence of physicality and demanding of the presence of virtuality. I don’t see you because my phone is in my face. I don’t see you because my phone is in my hand.

I think of your words and the name on the screen. Not a person, just a bunch of words, yet I have a relationship with the bubbles of text on a screen. They mean me and you. I’ve let that text come to represent and sustain the physical absences in my world. I’ve let that text replace, supplement, the constant absence of my loved ones. My loneliness is more present than ever when we interact through our screens. I yearn for physical presence only to find it inevitably tainted by our interactions with our networked virtual worlds. Our screens are inescapable.

We signal a presence through our screens. Why is it so important to be present there? For whom? To whom? But then we have little concern for the presence of our real selves. We blatantly ignore every incremental absence we create when we glance at our screens. We fill the world with noise because we have disappeared into the black hole of computer code…the black mirror.

Absence and transience have defined me. Is my experience replicable in today’s world?

With our black mirrors, do we ever leave home? Are we ever isolated? Do we still understand displacement? Do we still comprehend novelty? Detachment? Not the temporary kind which we plan to share later, but the real kind that goes undocumented, unnoticed, impossible to truly share? If we can always be elsewhere are we ever somewhere?

Companionship with convenience is ever possible, so now we’re too inconvenienced to try. We feel entitled to amusement and compliancy in all our interactions. Meet it or be dismissed. We feel entitled to control our interactions with others. We determine the duration; we turn them on and off. We control the tone. We control the where and the when. I want to strangle my students when they can’t bask in the ambiguity with me, and I find this sneaking into my daily life with my friends and family who can’t wait for a return text or meme or email. Remember when life was one big fucking question mark? Do we feel so entitled as to have taken that away from ourselves as well?

We’ve lost the patience for ambiguity and with it I fear, the ability to invest in figuring out ourselves. The most ambiguous of all. We’ve replaced living the question of ourselves with the performance of ourselves in the reflection of our black mirror. Our statuses and memes become our texts and our emails. They replace our in-real-life time together. They supplement our genuine wit and comedic talent. What will we lose next? I read fiction when I can’t travel to learn about the world. Now people scroll their feeds and live through the experiences of others, or copy their goals off of others. What will happen to the stories? To our stories? If we’re content to let the false selves of others inform our experience, then seriously, what is the point of living.

Im trying to understand the quirks that make us human and identify with the empathy we hold afar, even if that’s our singular defining characteristic. I question the short temper I take with my students–when they ask me the same question multiple times, when they don’t do their research and blame me for their lack. I question my frustration with my peers and colleagues, who overthink things or act short-sighted. I question my ridicule of the girl at the bank, who couldn’t quite decipher changing my dollar bills into rolls of coin.

What of it then, if we continue to short-change each other of our human quirks…as we continue to move further away from practicing our humanness, as we continue to restructure and reframe the very social interactions which define us. If we continue to rely upon our walls and our fears …what will we be analyzing ten years from now? How lost will we be in the new automaton? Where do we go from here? Maybe the old will become uncanny. Maybe we will circle back. Maybe we’ll have vintage, hipster human relationships. Maybe we will finally have to disconnect to hear ourselves again. Maybe it won’t come until we are forced to disconnect. I wonder if we’ll ever be present again.

What do we want? An art exhibit says, “Love is what you want.”

But I argue that terms and conditions apply. We want to be loved in a specific way for specific qualities by specific people. We project our favorite selves, expecting those to be loved, not realizing the angles other people see us from, which we can never hope to glance. Forgetting how different our own voice sounds outside of our heads. Forgetting when we look in any mirror that our reflection there isn’t how we appear to others. Forgetting the faces we often pull in a pose isn’t us at all. Isn’t what our loved ones see at all. Those who continue to love us despite our best efforts.  Those who have danced with our worst selves but keep coming back, song after song. Who have felt beyond our projections and become acquainted with our fear of ourselves. Our fear of rejection. Do you make me go away, dismiss me from your screen because you really want me to be gone, or because of all I’ve described here? Is life really so hard that you have to have it: Me in your mobile available at any time? Or me in your mobile dismissible/forgettable at any time? Which makes you feel better? Which helps ease the tension you wade through every day?

I’m pauseable…is that how you prefer me?


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