When’s the last time you talked to your computer? Well, o.k. when’s the last time you talked to your computer and expected something to happen as a result? For me, it always was a little like talking to myself, something done more for the feel of it than the content. Recently however, the one-way pronouncements have begun to take on more of two-way flavor.
I’ve never been a big fan of Siri or Cortana or especially the creepy no-name Google that’s just trying too hard to be friendly. I still hear a bit of the drunken Swede that was state of the art for computer generated voices back in the 80’s when I first worked with the technology. Beyond that, though, I had to wonder what the point was. My experience both personally and watching others was that it was just easier to use the keyboard. I’m not a fan of endlessly repeating myself at ever escalating tones of voice and more precise diction and yet that seemed to be how things played out more times than not.
But recently, it feels like something has changed. Certainly the technology has gotten better in Moore’s Law like leaps and bounds. But more than that, I think the boundary between Analog me and the various Digital boxes has shifted, or more precisely, gone a little vague. Talking to my computer, or my phone, or my watch, isn’t just like talking to myself. It is talking to myself. These Digital gadgets have become an extension of me, my brain, my body, my self. I am becoming a cyborg, a blend of man and machine. And I have an endless amount of patience for my own foibles Analog or Digital.
Beneath all the hoop de do around first Google Glass and now the Apple Watch, there is a very real shift in how we bring digital devices into our daily lives, into our very being. Yeah, we all got used to the idea of curated personalities on-line, but this is something different, or maybe the next step. We were connected to our on-line selves through our finger tips primarily. Skype and web cams nibbled at the corners of that reality. Instagram and Vine and all the other visual toys we’ve added laid down another layer of representation, but none of that was in real time. Texting was closer, but as all the furor about texting and driving highlights, we haven’t quite got that one stabilized just yet.
We may prefer a text to a phone call when we’re dealing with humans, but apparently when it comes to the boxes, we want not only an instantaneous response, but some contextual awareness and continuity as well. We don’t just want the machines to be like us, we want the machines to be an extension of us. Just as we curate ourselves on-line, we now have begun to curate ourselves in our internal dialogs mediated by reminders, photo filters, contact lists longer than the Peking phone book and the like. Our computers and our tablets and our phones, our glasses, our watches, and activity trackers are not just things we own. They are quickly becoming things we are, part of our internal dialog of who we want to be, how we want to present ourselves to the world on the up side and part of our fears and biases on the down side.
So what? Well, it’s the same “So What” of any Analog/Digital divide. For the moment at least, despite all the advances in storage and processing power, it is an inescapable part of Digital reality that as the continuous Analog stream gets chopped up into the Digital representations, inevitably bits of the stream end up on the editing room floor. Has voice recognition gotten better? Oh yeah. Have I trained myself to use it more effectively? Hmmm. Probably. Did I simply stop doing some things that tripped it up? Did I tune myself towards activities and desires that lend themselves to things the boxes can handle? Ouch.
The future of robots walking the streets being a normal occurrence may still be a ways off, but the reality of cyborgs walking the streets is with us today. They are you and I, absorbed in our phones in public places, sneaking a text in as we hurtle down the interstate, hoping on-line to facebook in the middle of a family reunion, taking one more selfie in all the swirling mix of reality beyond ourselves.
That’s not intended to take the easy cheap shot at the dehumanizing meditation of experience by technology. That train has already left the station. Like most things past basic adolescence, it’s not a matter of black and white, good and evil. Even with all the Digital wrappers we put around ourselves, there is still an Analog core where one end of every continuum is inexorably linked to its opposite at some greater or lesser remove. Yes, there is much to bemoan in our clumsy cyborg selves, constantly having our stumbles amplified in ways only technology can. But all the handwringing in the world isn’t going to make things better. Like talking to yourself, or emerging from adolescent, the experience improves in direct relationship to the degree of self-accountability one takes for the physical, emotional, intellectual and, yes, cyborg outcomes.
I caught myself telling Cortana thanks for setting up a reminder the other day. I’m not sure if this speaks to the rise of digital relationships or the decline of our human ones.