“The computer is incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Man is unbelievably slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. The marriage of the two is a challenge and opportunity beyond imagination.”
― Stuart G. Walesh
Elon Musk was right. Humans are already cyborgs (Sway podcast, 9/28/20). Yesterday, sitting at my desk, my right hand conversed with a chat-box on my desktop, my lefthand typed into a chat-box on my laptop, and my cell phone lay poised between the two, googling information between spurts of chat-box conversation. I came home incredulous.
I said to Russ, “You just wouldn’t have believed it! How crazy is that?”
Cutting him off I added, “I was like Elton John playing two keyboards at once! It was totally ridiculous!”
Russ rolled his eyes.
He asked, “Why didn’t you just call them?”
What ‘a guy’ thing to say.
Like I didn’t think of that.
I threw my hands up in the air, my voice skyrocketing.
“Because I couldn’t find a frickin’ number anywhere! NO-WHERE! There’s no frigging number! You can’t call anyone! I looked forever trying to find a number!”
I really did.
I spent the morning entwined with chat-boxes, my questions extrapolated by Navar at Amazon and Katarina at Squarespace. While Katarina was prompt and answered each question systemically (sending a deluge of links for directions “how to”), I never got the answer I needed from Navar. It was clear from his sentence structures, English was not his first language. I only make this point because I learned chat-boxes are no easier a tool for comprehension than speaking through a phone. The challenges are the same. Finally, scouring the world-wide-web using my phone, I found my answer, thanked Navar, and moved on.
I still had more questions to fulfill from Google Workspace. Their ‘help center’ also offered a chat-box for solutions. I typed my question. Several chat-bubbles quickly populated, each with its own question, within the chat-box. My only choice was to click the question, best reflecting my question, and ask another question. This opened another set of chat-bubbles with more questions. The leader of information, communication, innovation and technology, Google, has decided the best strategy to engineer their ‘help desk’ is to answer a question by asking more questions.
I can’t decide if this is well-played, ironic, or absurd.
After a few rounds of volleying questions back and forth, I realised their questions were a stockpile of standard question-answers, so I recused my place within the infinite loop of failure. Sighing, I clicked back to the help menu to start over. Google also offered help by email or phone, two options I hadn’t seriously considered, neither being a paragon to the path of least resistance. This assumption proved to be true. The links were inactive. Clicking them yielded no response, their purpose more akin to window dressing, an empty proposition, not unlike the framed suggestion hanging above the washroom basin, “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.”
Google Workplace is not merely absurd, but passive aggressive too.
A friend recounted her own recent chat-box experience. With growing frustration, she admonished the chat-box for being “full of BS.” This chat-box did not lobby back a question, but scolded her. It stated offensive language would not be tolerated. My friend’s frustration erupted all over her keyboard. “BS isn’t even a word, you asshat, it’s an acronym! Bullshit is the word for the acronym BS which you are full of!” The chat-box repeated its moral decree before cutting off the conversation and closing.
Now even chat-boxes retreat to a “safe room” following a triggering event.
Often, I wonder if technology serves its intended purpose. I spend more time forging through several firewalls, the apps to access the networks, and the codes to approve the passwords, than I use it to accomplish my work. I said to a colleague the other day, “I think I would have saved a lot of time if I had created the whole document by hand and walked it over to it’s destination.”
My last project was held on the Slack platform. Besides having a Bot that occasionally offered useful suggestions, Slack also has an internal app (an app within an app) called Kyber. All told, the materials, deliverables, and operations for the project were shared between Slack and the other platforms/apps Calendy, Accuity and Notion.
I’m not sure who was working for who.
Keeping track of my passwords is a sport in itself. I edge closer to creating an Excel worksheet to manage them, but the thought feels counterintuitive. The worst is when the password for my entire office IoT expires. It’s like losing the keys to the kingdom. I have access to nothing, and it’s a hunt from the back door, through the dark, in order to locate the front latch.
Billy Cox said, “Technology should improve your life, not become your life.”
Technology is surely a challenge in endurance. Every time I sit down and face it, I have to be in it for the long haul. It’s like engaging a child who doesn’t listen, has no emotions, and no sense of accountability or remorse.
Isn’t that the definition of a psychopath?
As frustrating as it is negotiating the internet of things, I have to admit, I’m slightly envious of the chat-box. It controls the conversation, preventing the time-sucking derailment of irrelevant, superfulous questions, consigning it short and to-the-point, tasking users to stay the course. It can also be completely unhelpful, even hang up on you, with naught repercussions.
Chat-boxes have more autonomy, and power over the self than I do, and not even a modicum of the expectations saddling small children.
Elon Musk wants to plant a chip in our brains. It sounds like a terrible idea, but then I remember Chris Voss’ words, “The easiest way to ride a horse is the direction it’s already going.” Either get on board, or get run over. One day, we might all chuckle thinking we ever had a choice about it to begin with.
After nine months, with the pandemic headed down the homestretch, I have finally succumbed to yoga-on-demand. Never an early adopter of most things, I had to finally accept the truth. Turns out I’m quite lazy and prone to cheating, and even more perturbing is the ease to which I concealed this fact from myself for so long. I really miss the hot studio. I now don a polar fleece to trap close any heat my grisly strings might generate.
Screen-fatigue is real. Each day begins with writing, then yoga, work after, ending with the banquet of networks offered by Roku, all of it screen-time. My books are what is left, preserved in original form. I’m holding out as long as I can. I love the feel of them in my hands, the anticipation felt turning the page, the satisfaction absorbing each word of the next line. These days, I am forced to wear glasses, when reading for long periods of time.
On my laptop, however, the font size is always just right.
(Graphic found on Twitter, original source unknown)