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Robots

Photo © copyright by Carol Bergman 2019

Once I believed that the any expression of civility was only possible face to face, eyeball to eyeball, and voice to voice. And though I have not stopped believing that civility and kindness is best articulated in this way, like everyone else in our fast-moving, post-industrial, digital world, I've had to adapt to cold media—text, email—if I want to stay humanly and humanely interfaced with others of our species.


But I am not a robot, nor do I want to behave like a robot, or to continually answer insincere questions about my anti-robotic nature on security-enhanced medical portals, for example. Am I entering websites and portals, dear reader, or are they entering me, forever changing my neural pathways to resemble... robots? Are the decisions we are making amplified or diminished by the erosion of three-dimensional connections? A rhetorical question.


The other day I arrived at the small, human-scale gym where I work out only to discover that it/they/the franchise owner had decided to "go 24-7." The emergency pull cords were being tested while I was on the bike listening to Annie Lennox—deep, throaty Scottish voice—and I had to dis-mount the bike and hold my ears for the duration of the test. Having been interrupted, I decided to interview the owner. His explanation makes complete (financial) sense—to him. "I wouldn't be able to retire unless I did this," he said, meaning a gym run nearly remotely and robotically with only minimal managerial hours. "It's the "new business model for gyms," he said.


"No more SUNY students at the front desk?"


"They weren't that reliable. The gym can almost run itself."


"Robotically?"


"I wouldn't go so far."


"I found the students congenial and helpful," I said. "They smile, they speak. When this desk is empty, it feels strange. Strange and cold."


"You'll get used to it," he said.


I doubt it.


And there's more, all of it connected to the state of our economy, our education system, and our exploited labor force, a labor force that has little security, works more than one job, has no paid vacation, and is in debt. Every one of the half dozen or so student workers I have met at the gym are struggling to maintain their financial equilibrium while they are studying. Any job is important to them. Most are on scholarship or have loans. Their parents are often struggling. In a small town where opportunities are scarce, the gym once provided a few hours of employment for a handful of students, a contribution to their future, and ours.


Fake news. Fabricated stories. Fantasies. It is well documented by now that it is not immigrants who are threatening our jobs, it is robots. By definition, they have no social conscience.



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