My artist friend David Gibson and I were chatting on the phone the other day when he told me about a new series of paintings he is working on.
"The theme is robots," he said.
"I know, I see them everywhere," I said.
"Everywhere," he said.
Don't you? Look over here at your local bank. If it's anything like mine, the place is swarming with robots. David and I went into overdrive on that one. We both tried restructuring our mortgage loans to take advantage of the historically-low interest rates, and to ward off potential disaster made too real by the recession (don't laugh, we're in the arts). The results were predictable.
We both fit the same profile: no missed payments; excellent credit; sales looking scary; paying bills getting tougher and tougher. Good time to try for a more affordable payment, right? Good thinking, human! That's the hitch. One must be human to reason like this. If you are a robot, you do not reason. Your robot boss, whose aim is to fulfill the goal of the robots running the banking industry--which goal is to make as much money as possible while screwing as many consumers as possible--hands you a set of talking points. You may not veer away from those talking points, no matter what kind of scenario you are presented with.
The banker robot did not say this, but the message was clear: come back after you've missed several months of payments. I know because I have friends who took that advice, and guess what? The robots are working with them now. One friend hasn't made a payment on her house in two years. On purpose! The robots are happy to help; but they want you to ruin your credit first so that, the next time around, they can use your bad credit history to charge you higher rates. See? That's logical to a robot. And robot logic is commonplace now.
Now look over there at your credit card company. The robots took over a long time ago.
"Why have you doubled my rate when I usually pay my monthly bill in full? Plus I've never been late."
"I'm sorry," the credit card robot said, "there's nothing I can do about it."
"I have been an excellent customer for years. If I treated my customers this way, I wouldn't have any customers. Let me speak to your manager," I said.
"I'm sorry," the robot manager said, "there's nothing I can do about it."
But don't just look at institutions. Look about you on the street, in your car, in your house, at your dinner table. Chances are there is a robot walking around or sitting right next to you, staring into a contraption while his fingers mechanically dance around its keypad. These robots are not trained to talk or listen, only to process information. These are natural extensions of the former humans you knew who never listened, only waited for you to stop speaking so they could tell you everything they know about what you just said. These are the adult robots.
The younger generation of robots is also at hand. Where do they do their socializing? In a virtual playground located somewhere called cyberspace, the internet, the web, online. This is where total robot strangers meet thumbnail faces, make dates, hook up and go back to surfing the playground from a remote place called home, where human interaction is increasingly on the wane (see adult robot behavior above).
According to a recent piece in the New York Times, there is already a term for kids who grow up using computers: digital natives. Sound a little robotic to you? Just sayin'... In the article, one kid said that she'd "definitely done phone calls at one time or another," but that calling somebody up, as opposed to texting or facebooking was considered "old school." As old school as a heart-to-heart. A couple of surveys on the impact of all this technology on kids' [future] social skills found that one third of all people aged 12-17 send more than 100 text messages a day, and that most of them spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day with an electronic device.
The whole thing is so edgy and hip. I wonder what they'll use to replace good old-fashioned WD-40? You know, when they'll need to lubricate those squeaky, grinding, inner metal wheels rubbing that heart muscle so raw.
It's no secret that those of us who still make telephone calls get a surge of unanticipated joy when we hear a human being instead of a mechanized voice on the other end of the line."Oh! A real person. How nice!" Have you not heard yourself say this on those rare occasions? Between the real robots that handle so much of our business, and the robots we are becoming, it's only a matter of time before robots become the thing to be. Kind of like how, for a while there, it was reportedly cooler to have fake breasts that look more fake than real. Although I was encouraged to hear that nowadays, the new trend among modeling and casting agents is toward women with natural breasts. That's a hopeful sign, but maybe I'm just being optimistic.
Have you noticed those Svedka Vodka billboards with the "fembot" mascot? She is supposed to represent the future as envisioned in 2033. R. U. Bot or Not? the ad wants to know. I fear I am not. I fear because I may soon be alone.
The Fashion Model, Sleeping Robot, Robot Band-- Mixed media on canvas by David Gibson