We’ve figured out the master plot:
Robots are easy. The initial design and build of them must be quite complicated, but there are many brilliant humans who can figure it all out. After they’re built, all we have to do is maintain, usually by plugging them in to charge and occasionally doing some small maintenance.
With our lovely Roomba, that means making sure it sits back on the charging dock like it’s supposed to, but of course we first have to play “find Roomba” where we search around the house to see where it got stuck or find its final resting place when the battery died and it couldn’t find its way back home. The next step is to change its diaper (clean out the tank) and clean the brushes as necessary.
Besides that, it’s amazingly easy (I hope you’re catching my sarcasm). But think about how much harder a human floor cleaner would be to maintain. They need to be fed, watered, clothed, let outside, healthcare and a paycheck.
Robots are so much easier, and they have no identity besides the identity given to them by humans. Roomba has a nice LED light that indicates battery level, a human recorded voice that tells us what’s wrong and a sleek black plastic surface. Roomba doesn’t get to or have to change its identity.
An identity is created by a personality, and personalities are pretty unique among humans. It’s so amazing when babies start showing their unique personalities and start developing into real humans (it seems many parents take offense when I tell them there babies aren’t real humans yet), it’s not something they have to be taught.
However, it all seems to change when we become adults. When we describe other adults as having “a lot of personality”, we usually don’t intend it to be a compliment! Oh yeah, crazy Eddie down the street, he has a lot of personality.
My friend Doug recently told me, “I can’t wait until your hair goes down to your waist”. It might sound like he’s happy that I’m showing lots of personality, but when you take it in context with his other statements like “who would have thought you’d turn into a hobo” or “now you have an Airstream and the no f*cks given attitude” or “I hope you don’t smell” or “you look like a cross between a hobo and a fly fisherman” you start to wonder if it’s a genuine compliment!*
Robots have no personality and are given an identity by their human creators. As we discussed earlier in Step 1, when humans began working more monotonous jobs like in a factory, the tedious tasks leave “no room for the enlargement of the mind and spirit”, and we became more like robot ourselves.
Let’s go back to Styx’s Mr. Roboto lyrics for more clues… and yes, he has the answer:
The problem’s plain to see:
Too much technology
Machines to save our lives.
Machines dehumanize. The more we become like robots, the less we stay like humans.
But if we start building great little personalities when we’re kids, when did we lose our uniqueness as adults?
It all starts when we take our great little human personalities to school and it’s beaten out of us for the next 12-20 years of formal education. Public school is an enormously valuable thing, but it was also partly developed to make us good workers and doesn’t exactly teach us to be unique. Unique is too hard to manage.
We then become adults who are ready for the working world where we get trapped in the working and consuming cycle that stops us from ever experiencing freedom. We outsource our thinking to advertisers who tell us how we should act and what we should look like.
Nothing pisses me off more than a car company telling you the path to freedom includes quitting your job, buying a new car and running out of your office.
Step three is to free the human inside of us, to get back to the unique personalities we started developing as a child. The only way to do this is to start exploring and doing things outside of your routine and outside of your comfort zone. As Thoreau said:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall”.
We equate consistency with stability and stability with happiness, but consistency has the more dangerous effect of numbness. Our actions are so robotic that we don’t even think anymore as the path is the same everyday. Our senses numb, and we begin losing what makes us human.
*But seriously, I know Doug loves me so it’s okay