“Well, hello there. Have you been waiting long?”
“Oh, just almost two years.”
“Wow. Has it been that long?”
Ummmm….yep. It has been almost two years since I last posted to my blog. Ooops?
To be fair, my last post here (February 2022) coincides with when I launched my monthly newsletter. So, the people who subscribe to that know I am alive and well. (Here are all those newsletters, as proof!) But, as was recently pointed out to me by a very astute and trusted business friend, no posts here may as well signal to a casual web browser that I’ve folded. As a person, as a business, whichever. Both.
Basically, in the digital world, if you’re not posting YOU DON’T EXIST.
Rude, right? (Not the friend! The notion. It’s a harsh world out here on the internet.)
The truth is that it’s a lot of work to write a blog post. You need time, energy, and a topic that inspires. For me that means *I* have to be inspired.
I’ve always said I do this all wrong. My blog posts are about what I want to write about, not about what I am supposed to write about. Getting on that ‘expert’ train is not something I’ve ever been comfortable with, so rarely if ever do I crank out a thought-leader piece on the current hot topic. (Although, I did write this newsletter about ChatGPT several months ago.)
Where was I?
Back to this proof of life — when my friend-in-business pointed out that I really need to post something here, she also downloaded on me a lot of revelatory information about how LinkedIn works with the website/blog, all in the hopes that someone might be intrigued enough to subscribe or follow or take any other action that pulls them into my orbit. Or me into theirs. I dunno. We are nothing if we don’t have eyeballs on us. The internet says so.
How odd that we allow the algorithm to tell us how valid we are. That’s the AI that gives me the most pause.
Social media is nothing without it. Google is nothing without it. Modern advertising is nothing without it.
Is it a robot? Is it artificial intelligence? Is it machine learning? Is it generative AI? Is it finally this generation’s Frankenstein monster, electrified and alive?
Whatever it is, it isn’t human. Or, maybe it’s more human than human.
What does it mean to be human after all?
Is it consciousness? Simple sentience? Belonging? Happiness? Love?
Loneliness? Pain? Fear?
The Algorithm doesn’t quite have any of that yet. It just churns and churns and churns us as bits and bytes of data.
Maybe the way we set ourselves apart is not so much as our capacity to BE human, but by our capacity to DE-humanize. It’s in this way that humans have proven over and over again to be ironically inadequate for representation of our species.
To dehumanize is to make it easier to deny. To deny is to withdraw our love. Why? What are people so afraid of?
Look to the Storytellers
*Warning: This section contains book spoilers. If you have not read these titles, be aware that while my comments are brief, I do hit on key plot points!
For years I have been fascinated by certain stories that end up feeling like a physical blow. The ones that when I finish the book I close it in tears. Or sit through the credits of a movie, stunned. These are the stories that stay with me for weeks and send me into a quiet, staring contemplation when I should be eating or washing dishes or answering an email. Only in the last couple of years has my understanding coalesced; these are all stories about what it means to be human.
So, what happens to those who are dehumanized? Is this the classic question of nature versus nurture? Mary Shelley (who, btw, invented sci-fi) may have been the first to grapple with the question, and did so brilliantly if gruesomely.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is a literary masterpiece. Full stop. And it is an indictment of humanity’s callousness toward anything deemed ‘sub’. All The Creature wanted was love and belonging. The hubris of human hands built him, but Rejection created him. Dr. Frankenstein gave the creature life but denied his living. He ran from it, spat upon it, and tried to murder it! It’s a pretty extreme (if wholly clear) case of abandonment issues.
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, is what a world looks like when we each can have our own personal non-rampaging Frankenstein on standby should you need to replace a kidney or something. Here, people are created as spare bodies because life is precious, but that means only certain lives. Other living, breathing, and loving beings are wholly expendable.
The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis, starts to blur the lines. With apologies to the unique genius of David Bowie, this is not a recommendation to watch the movie. The movie is only adjacent to the book. Perhaps you can arrive at the same destination, but when the journey is the thing, stick with the book. So, Thomas (the one who fell to earth) isn’t human at all. He is an extraterrestrial whose mission here on Earth is to save his people (including his family) from his own dying planet. He is desperately lonely. His methods exploit(?) human foibles, and in the end, it is what cuts him off from his goal. Do they all die? Does it matter if they are not human?
Klara and the Sun, also by Kazuo Ishiguro, gets even more blurry. Robots are built in service to humans and their sentience is pure; not exactly childlike, but free from disillusionment. They do learn, but not in a way that they can surpass the humans they are meant to serve; they are meant to do good and be good. They are needed, used, and ultimately maligned. Treated as objects, dehumanized to transactions. Then they are thrown away. Maybe it’s misplaced anthropomorphism, but I cried at the end of WALL-E and I cried at the end of this book, too.
(If you want to go deeper on the humanity (or not) of what is not exactly human but human-like and created by humans, I’m sending you down a Blade Runner rabbit hole. Go watch both movies, and then we can really talk about the complex topic of what it means to be more human than human.)
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, may be the best of them all, because everyone in this book is truly human. And everyone is glorious, if not also a little bit (or a lot) awful. In it, a family is deliberately bred as sideshow oddities with the aid of drugs and toxins known to cause anatomical anomalies. They mesmerize (repulse?) and know it, so that’s how they make their living. The kick is that they see ‘normies’ as less-than in many ways.
People typically feel comfortable gawking in the sideshow setting. But our characters are otherwise shunned outside of this context (grocery stores, Main Street, etc.): “It is fine for you to entertain me when I want it, but do not cross the threshold into MY World.” Bias against people because they don’t look like us is a rather human trait. It makes it easy to dehumanize. Exclude. Hurt. Kill.
I once described Geek Love as the most beautiful, f*cked up book I’ve ever read. I stand by this.
What does all this have to do with anything?
The whole point of this post was to prove that I’m here, that I’m alive (for the algorithm, too). And, yeah, sure, you can reach out if you want to talk about how we can work together.
But I’m human, and the truth is I just don’t know when I will feel inspired to post again. I promise, I’ll try to be better about it. And if you really really want to hear from me more often, including my meandering takes on what it means to be alive in this world, keep in mind I do a reasonable job of issuing a monthly e-newsletter. (You can get on that list by scrolling all the way to the footer at the bottom of this page.)
Some days I feel like having a small business and life in general is one big Frankenstein monster lurching around and making a mess. Then I remember: I created it. If I learned anything from Mary Shelley, it’s that our creations rely on us. It won’t rampage if I show it some love. And isn’t that the truth about all of us?