Category Archives: A little sad

I am not a Robot

I gotta tell you. Writing a shallow blog these days is tough. There are just so many things that make it hard. Believe me. It’s not just about the “moron” (not my words) down south. He’s a problem but like many things, he too shall pass. Unfortunately there are more endemic issues we all face over the long term. Like climate change. Unless you have been living under a rock, and one that miraculously hasn’t been uprooted by a major hurricane, or bulldozed by those brave men and women fighting the extraordinary fires of late, it seems almost impossible to deny that our climate is, in fact, changing, leaving paths of death and destruction in it’s wake. And guns. I suppose not guns in and of themselves. But guns without controls. Guns that end up in the hands of people who, perhaps due to mental illness or, in my less benevolent moments, are quite simply horrible, decide to use them to take away hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Lately that’s happened a lot. Honestly, it seems not a week goes by without some natural or unnatural disaster taking place and so it’s hard. Hard to be shallow in this world of ours.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure you understand by now that even though I am a self professed shallow person, I have feelings. Just like you. Well almost. So all this stuff bothers me too. Afterall, I am not a robot. Google knows that ‘cause I always check off the “I am not a robot” CAPTCHA on their sites. Which is a good thing since, to be brutally honest, I don’t really like robots very much. As a matter of fact, I find them pretty creepy. And if I must say so myself, I’m in pretty good company with the likes of Elon Musk, and my personal fav, Dr. Sherry Turkle, weighing in on what our collective future could hold with a bunch of tin men and women walking by our sides. Ok, they might not be made of tin but, make no mistake about it, they will be walking by our sides.  

I’m guessing that for some of you this revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Because you might expect that if anyone was going to embrace the prospect of having a companion who, for all intents and purposes, looks and feels like you and me but remains unencumbered by the complexities of the human condition, it would be me. After all, we’re talking about a facsimile that will pretty much do your bidding without batting an eyelash, which, by the way, they will have. No questions asked. No drama. No feelings to hurt. Actually, no feelings what so ever. They’ll laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. Out of bananas? They’ll get those for you without all the whining that would normally accompany such a request to the “real” people who reside in your home. With a robot by your side you could start to think that life had become that proverbial bowl of cherries. And I’m pretty sure they’ll pit those for you too. So what’s my beef? Why would the shallow gal feel so apprehensive about what is clearly touted as the next best thing since sliced bread? Well, here’s why.

Call me crazy but somehow I don’t cherish the prospect of sharing my life with an animate, inanimate object. Especially one that has a brain programmed to learn way more than my brain ever will. I’m an adult educator. I know all about lifelong learning. But this brings that concept to a whole new level. We’re not talking just about intelligence. We’re talking about artificial intelligence. This is not computer assisted learning. This is computers actually learning. Computers that are walking around your homes, businesses, playgrounds. Yep, there too. Computers that are getting smarter and smarter every day. Certainly smarter than you and me but also smarter than the smartest people we have among us. And they’re going to look a lot like us, although they are never going to get blemishes or wrinkles or big brown spots on their faces and hands. Elon Musk is worried that robots will take away our jobs. Rightly so. They can already teach themselves how to walk and talk and very soon they will be able to do what you and I do, only much better. Sherry Turkle worries that we have become so accustomed to interacting with devices that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s not. Nor will we care. It’s a worry for sure. But I’m worried about a couple of other things.

Like guns. Guns and robots. We all know that guns are a problem. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a bigger problem. Guns in the hands of robots? A problem perhaps too big to imagine. Here’s a scenario for you. A robot walks into a gun shop. Asks to buy a gun. Of course they do a background check. Not a problem. Robots don’t have backgrounds. It gets the gun. Now it tells its robot friends how easy it was. They all decide this is a really good idea and do the same. Remember.  There are hundreds and hundreds of robots who are smarter than us and have no real feelings. But now they have guns. Maybe they decide they don’t like people who are not as smart as they are. Or maybe they decide they just want to have some fun. You know. Like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know about you but this seems like a big problem and a pretty good reason to not like robots very much.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t like robots. It seems to me that if anyone or anything could be more shallow than me, it would  be a robot. A really smart robot. With no feelings. Smarter and shallower than me. I’m guessing that robot would never be stumped for ideas about what to write. No matter what’s going on in this world of ours. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to give this some more thought. Under the circumstances, getting a robot to write this blog might not be such a bad idea. 

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I’m Learning a Lot

capsuleSometimes when you start thinking about things in a different way you keep thinking about them that way. Sometimes it even makes you wonder why you never thought about those things that way before. Which is what has happened to me over the past three weeks since I last wrote about, what I have now come to know as “degrees of dislike”. It hasn’t been hard to do all that thinking. You see, for the last of those weeks I have found myself sick and pretty much relegated to my chair, yet again. As a result I have confronted first hand something I now know, and am happy to admit, I strongly dislike. Yep. I can now honestly say that I strongly dislike being sick and pretty much relegated to my chair, twice in two months. I mean, who would like that? It’s really not all that pleasant. And when you’re as sick as I was there’s not all that much to do. Which lead me to discover the next thing that I strongly dislike.

Imagine. You wake up one morning and all you know is if your head had actually fallen off your neck and onto the floor you’d feel and probably look, a whole lot better.  Everything hurts. Somehow, and you don’t really remember the exact details of this event, you make your way from your bed to your chair where for the next four days just about all you have the energy to do is press the little button on the remote, and you only do that to avoid watching consecutive repeat episodes of the  “Big Bang Theory”. Someone, and you’re pretty sure it’s someone who is rightfully in your home, brings you a little pill which they assure you will make things better, you swallow it and sometime within the next couple of hours you realize that the very sharp pain that has been pulsing through your head every ten to twenty seconds has abated to the point where it occurs only a few times each minute and you rejoice, because a small victory is a victory nonetheless. And that’s when it happens. The insult to the injury.

So I’m minding my own business watching, for the umpteenth time, Sheldon deride poor, ol’ Wolowitz for only having a lowly Master’s degree from MIT, (so what if he’s been to the International Space Station), when the commercial break takes me to the bedroom of some poor sot like myself who is apparently suffering with an affliction similar to my own. Since we all know that misery loves miserable company, I am immediately drawn to another’s suffering and so find myself directing my attention to what’s happening on the screen. The scene is of a pyjama clad woman who, like me, is holed up with a nasty head cold. Within moments, and what a coincidence this is, she pops the very same pill that I myself had just popped. Only in this version of the story it’s no time before she is literally dancing her way to, what appears to me to be, a rather miraculous recovery. Now as a shallow person I am honest to a fault, (it’s way too much work not to be) so it is with some dismay that I have to conclude that either she and I have significantly different reactions to the same medication or someone isn’t telling the exact truth, and since I am pretty sure about how I feel I can only conclude that it must be her.  It’s possible that, if I hadn’t been feeling quite as lousy as I was, I might have been just a tad more forgiving of this whole thing. Perhaps my judgement was even clouded by the piercing pain coursing through my head. But under these circumstances and in that moment I can confidently say that her feeling so good so fast, while I continue to feel so bad for so long, is something I strongly dislike.

I suppose I’m learning a lot from writing this blog. Since I started reflecting on this whole “dislike” stuff I also figured out that I strongly dislike fridge magnets. I mean, whoever thought that refrigerators were meant to be bulletin boards? But perhaps that’s a story for another day.

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Sleeping in Seattle

Seattle skylinePicture this. You’re in the shoe department of Nordstrom’s on Black Friday and, in most people’s books, it’s pretty frenetic. Not that there are shoes flying everywhere or anything like that. I mean this is *Nordstrom’s* where a live pianist replaces the drone of the mood-altering Musak and shoes range in price from “ok I can do that” to “maybe not, I’d still like to eat this year”. And everything considered you gotta know that they’ve done this before because things go like clockwork. I mean you nonchalantly pick up a shoe and before you know it there’s someone with a loud speaker summoning help on your behalf. Almost instantaneously they provide you with not only the “E.T.A.” but just about all of the information you need to become good friends with your “shoe consultant” (their term not mine) which, in my case of course, might just happen. All in all, given the circumstances, it’s not a half-bad experience and, as my Mother would say, worse things could happen to you. This however, is apparently a sentiment not shared by the woman I unfortunately came to know when paying for my purchases.

I should make something clear. The shoe consultants at Nordstrom’s all work on commission which explains the great service you get and the fact that you are bound to walk out with more than you had planned. But who can’t use an extra pair or two of Tom’s especially when the design is exclusive to Nordstrom’s so there is no way you are going to pick them up once you are north of the 49th and anyway, you’ve just bought yet another few pairs of shoes for children in need. (Note: excessive shoe purchase justified.) And for the most part, they are nice people just like you and me who simply want to do the best job they can even on days like Black Friday. Which is why I found the “woman from New York City”(WFNYC), as I have now come to know her, particularly heinous.

I’m not one to make generalizations about extremely large populations of people but, according to WFNYC, all people in New York move quite a lot more quickly than the rest of us. And by the rest of us I mean (and again, I defer to her judgement here) the people of Seattle. Now I am aware that there is a slight tendency for those who are partial to life on the Pacific to be a tad laid back but I am not certain there was evidence of this in the flurry of activity I was witnessing behind the cash desk at Nordstrom’s on this, the busiest shopping day of the year. And yet, her conversation went something like this:

Shoe Consultant: Let me ring this up for you. Was there someone helping you today?
WFNYC: I can’t believe how slow things are here. Just ring the f—— thing up! (Might I add here that this is the first time since the inception of this blog that any such language has been used or alluded to but in this case I am afraid it is germane to the telling of the story so please accept my apology on her behalf.)
WFNYC: I’m from New York! I’m not used to this! Everyone is so slow here!
WFNYC: I can’t believe how slow they are here! I’m from New York! This would never happen in New York!
WFNYC: It’s so slow here! WTF!!!! I’m not used to this!!!!

Well as you can see this was a rather one sided conversation but more importantly, and what should be noted, was that the WFNYC was not only speaking like this to those of us who had the misfortune of being able to hear her but also to whoever it was that she was simultaneously talking to on her phone which solidified for me just how busy a person she really was. And how a delay of even a few seconds was eating into her otherwise “chock full of important things to do” day.

But wait. Isn’t this Black Friday? Is this not a holiday in the U.S. of A? Are not all of the businesses, other than retail closed on this day? And didn’t she mention once or twice that she was from New York? Would it be reasonable then to assume that she was not on her lunch break from work where, if she was a minute late to return would risk being fired on the spot? So where exactly was she going? Now I can’t say this for sure but given the day and the circumstances I’m thinking she was going to do more shopping. Which leaves me to wonder why it was that she couldn’t take a second or two to let the cashier know who had helped her buy her multiple pairs of boots and shoes so that sales person could be appropriately rewarded for their time. Because it seems to me that if you are sleeping in Seattle you should at least take the time to be decent to the people who live and work there.

And then a rather frightening thought occurred to me. For one split second I realized that I may just have met the person who is better placed to write this blog than I am. Good thing she will never have the time to do it.

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It’s a shallow world after all

World on rippled waterWhen “the Kev” and I first conceived of the idea of writing a book about being shallow we felt as though we were an island unto ourselves. We were younger then and living among friends who were, in many cases, on a quest to find meaning and purpose in their lives. More often than not we found ourselves sitting in the midst of those who were asking the “bigger” questions as they sought to understand what life was really about.

Meaning seeking friend: So do you think there is some kind of plan that guides our lives? That we are put on this earth for a special purpose? And if we are how do we know what that is. And what can we do to make sure we live up to our potential? Meet the expectations? Make the most of our lives here on earth?
Me: Not sure.
Kev: Beats me.

Needless to say, we weren’t always invested in those conversations.

But as we formulated the chapters of our book (yes we had chapters) we sometimes struggled to find examples that we could use to guide people into the shallow realm. For example, in our chapter  titled “Shallow TV Shows: Watch This!” it was easy enough to point our readers to “Seinfeld” because afterall, this was a show that prided itself on being about nothing. And he was our hero of sorts. But beyond that we had some trouble. Could we really rely on any of the other hits of the time to stay true to the cause and not try to get some sort of message across to the viewers? I mean Karen and Jack showed lots of promise but then the writers of Will and Grace  did that “first same sex kiss on TV” thing and there was nothing shallow about that. And while I can’t say that every episode of “Ellen” was necessarily thought provoking, her character did “come out” on that show which created quite a hullabaloo at the time. Even the talk shows were not a safe haven, what with Oprah turning her back on the exploitation of the downtrodden. Let’s face it, sometimes it felt like we were up a creek with one paddle.

Fast forward 10 years and it’s a horse of a different colour. Now I don’t want to claim that we were trailblazers, pioneers of a sort, but it does seem to me that the world has caught up with us. Perhaps we were just a little ahead of our time. If you don’t believe, here’s some proof. There are authors (and yes, I have read some of them) that describe how our brains have changed to adapt to this new world that we live in. In his book “The Shallows” (honestly, it’s a coincidence) Nicholas Carr tells us that with all of our multitasking we are developing the parts of our brains responsible for “shallow” thinking at the expense of those dedicated to more contemplative and reasoned thought. We have lost our ability to pay attention. To anything. For any length of time. We have 673 friends on facebook, most of whom we wouldn’t recognize if we fell over them. And yet they share with us their every move. Because they think we care. But we don’t. We protest injustice in 140 characters imagining that we are making a difference. And our political leaders respond in like sound bytes. And people continue to kill each other. I could go on but at the risk of losing you, I rest my case. It is a shallow world after all.

Well it looks like I have finally found them. Some deeps thoughts on being and becoming shallow. Don’t blame me; sometimes this blog takes on a life of its own. But to lighten things up I have written a little ditty. And here it is. My song. I don’t have any music for these lyrics so if you can come up with a tune that works let me know. Just don’t blame me if you spend the rest of the day bopping to beat of this drum.

It’s a Shallow World After All

It’s a world full of TV reality shows
Where we vote to decide who will stay or who goes
So they lie and they cheat
If they have to they’ll mistreat
It’s a shallow world after all.

Chorus 

It’s a shallow world after all
It’s a shallow world after all
It’s a shallow world after all
It’s a shallow, shallow world.

We don’t need to see anyone face-to-face
It’s the internet now that’s our meeting place
We don’t talk we just text
Move from one to the next
It’s a shallow world after all.

Chorus

Pretty soon we won’t know what is real and what’s not
And your best friend could easily be a robot
Who will tell you they care
And that they like your hair
It’s a shallow world after all.

Chorus: Altogether now

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Obsessed with the blog

I know I haven’t posted for almost a week, but here’s the thing. My greatest fear has been realized. You will recall in my second post I posited that blogging about being shallow might make me less shallow. I have to be honest, the only reason I got into this blogging thing was because of the enormous potential blogs have to generate wealth. I did my research, I know there are financially successful blogs out there. I mean if “Stuff White People Like” can make money surely a blog about being and becoming shallow can’t be far behind. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want a “Shallow and Proud” t-shirt to wear at their next school reunion or better yet, a “Shallow Be My Name” mug to display prominently on their desk at work? But now that seemingly flippant, off-the-cuff question, created for the primary purpose of literary symmetry, has come back to bite me pretty hard. It would appear that this blog has elicited in me a response that most other things in my life have failed to do and I have become obsessed. If I actually believed it could happen I might say I am having an out of body experience.

I first noticed that things might be going sideways when I found myself incessantly hitting the refresh button to see how many hits I had. The robust tracking that WordPress provides is both a blessing and a curse. At about the same time my followers grew to eight, far exceeding my wildest dreams not to mention RC’s predictions which had seemed like a pipedream to me at the time. So what if RC is my brother who writes an awesomely funny blog on another network which I don’t think I can mention here, and I follow him. Who cares that another is a colleague of mine who, at my suggestion, decided that being a follower was easier than typing in the URL. The three followers who work for me really do have a choice, and our HR person may or may not be following for the sole purpose of compiling evidence for my next performance review. And I am sure that other bloggers have even more than two friends committed to following if for no other reason than to show their support. The very fact that there are eight has made me a believer that one day someone I don’t know will become a follower too.

Next I started telling everyone about the blog, sharing the URL at meetings encouraging my faculty colleagues to visit if only because it is “an interesting link with a rather well developed instructional component”, masterfully slipping it into conversations with people I only very occasionally run into at the grocery store (the tomatoes are lovely and on sale and did you know I am writing a blog now?) and even getting friends and family to share it with their friends and family on facebook. Apparently while in some kind of euphoric state resulting from yet another comment made in response to a posting, I even promised to buy my Mother a computer just to increase my readership.

All of this has led me to spending an inordinate amount of time sitting in my favourite chair writing, rewriting, editing, re-editing and generally musing about what to write next. I even pre-write, and for those of you who don’t have the same formal English credentials as I, that’s when you run out of the bathroom, jot down an idea in its most primitive form returning later to flesh it out and give it the attention it deserves. But while I can define this process it still seems odd to me. In university I didn’t even know what a first draft was! I hardly recognize myself anymore. This is not what I do! At least it wasn’t what I did, but now apparently it is. For those who have taken the time not only to read but to comment and engage in the more personal back and forth banter with the author exploiting the interactive nature of what would otherwise be a rather one dimensional medium and for those whose comments are still swirling in their minds not yet ready to be openly expressed, I will continue to write.

Yes I am afraid that writing about being shallow has in fact become an obsession, worse perhaps, a passion, and damn it! it hasn’t made me one red cent yet.

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