Summer Woolly Mammoth Moon
Gonna work a new technology into old relationships this morning. At 9 am MDT, 10 am CDT and 11 am EDT, Mark, Paul, Bill and I will crank up Zoom. A virtual gathering of part of the Woolly Mammoth herd. On the shores of the St. Croix River in northern Maine, the top of Shadow Mountain, and in the Twin Cities of Minnesota we’ll gather around an early 21st century campfire and tell stories. It’s hard to say how this sort of meetup, a more sophisticated version of Skype, might transform relationships, but that it has begun already, is clear to me.
In fact, over the last week I used Zoom twice, having never used it at all before that. The first instance was a national gathering of Jewish educators piloting a new curriculum for pre Bar or Bat Mitzvah students. The second was a more local gathering with folks in the Denver metroplex talking about starting a speaker’s bureau for the state Sierra Club.
Years ago my brother Mark, my sister Mary, and I would use Skype to bridge even further distances, Singapore and Saudi Arabia to mid-continent North America. Neither Skype nor Zoom has the visual clarity and sense of presence of the video conferencing rooms used by large corporations, but they are a way to use the technology on the cheap. Skype is free and Zoom is inexpensive, free for all but the person who agrees to pay a modest monthly charge for an account.
Could relationships exist only fed by this technology? I doubt it. Alvin Toffler, writing in 1970, used the term high tech, high touch in his work Future Shock. He posited that the more we use advanced digital technology to communicate, to share information, the more we would desire being with each other in person, in IRL. Of course, this observation applies, too, to our use of the so-called smart phones (actually, hand held computing devices) and social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram.
In writing that I can recall that there is, in fact, a third category of relationship, one between IRL and virtual with folks from real life. I’m remembering Kathryn Donahue, for instance, a woman I met only on Facebook though she grew up in my hometown, younger than me. When she died a couple of years ago from lung cancer, I was shocked and sad. I never met her though I talked with her and saw her posts. The same may as well be true for many of of the college friends I see on Facebook and now on Instagram. I knew them once, long ago, but these folks, too, I never see in person. Even Anitha, Mary’s friend in Singapore, I’ve only met once, for lunch, when Kate and I visited Mary, yet I now follow her career and life with interest on Facebook. We exchange notes occasionally.
Those relationships are thinner than friendships, but more than casual acquaintances. Not sure what they are. I find them valuable, enriching, especially now that I’m over 900 miles from the physical locations of my youth and second phase life. Would this technology solve loneliness for a person confined to home or to a room? I don’t know, somehow I doubt it; but, perhaps we’re still in the very early stages of understanding how human relationships can be nurtured absent any physical contact. (forgot about letters, the old form of social media. letters are different than Zoom, of course, in some ways more personal, in some ways less. the obvious difference now is that contact is so much easier and much, much faster. and, with Zoom and Skype, we can add in body language.)
I suppose this has implications as well for the old wheeze of uploading my consciousness, complete with memories, to the cloud. What would I, or you, be then? What would it be like to not be embodied? I suppose these virtual platforms give us a way to try out that transition without going all the way into an electronic reality. Perhaps they’re really a transition moment between this stage of human evolution and one we cannot imagine.
Could be, I suppose, that this will be the workaround for the singularity. Instead of becoming subordinate beings to vastly superior machine intelligence we can become machine-like intelligence ourselves, augmented in our virtual life by artificial intelligence.
Before that happens, though, I’ll chat with my buddies, folks I’ve known IRL for over thirty years. Looking forward to it.