As life continues to evolve, we as a species will be confronted with new issues to address including but certainly not limited to climate change and a whole universe of ecosystems that will either adapt or face the grim prospects of extinction. And while our already great nation figures out what demagoguery is through the politicization of issues that should NEVER be politicized by leaders at all levels of our Government, I can’t help but think how we treat each other (mano a mano) during this chaotic period. Politics is much like the movie “Groundhog Day” for many, in that the abnormal has become a normal recurring event, day after day. It would be a mistake to assume, that all political decisions are equally weighty, or that “change” from one period to another is limited to fashion, music, or whether Fortnight is garnering the most attention this week and next. An ever changing planet such as Earth, requires resolute decision making to avoid costly mistakes that literally mean life or death for billions of people.
Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to be seen by a wonderful Neurologist for a persistent set of symptoms that have become a daily part of my existence lately. And while I can tentatively say that the good news is that my symptoms will hopefully diminish in intensity soon, I couldn’t help but notice the struggle my Doctor had during our visit with technology.
Wow, I thought to myself. How blessed I am to not expect programs to work any way other than the way a programmer has written code for a particular function within a software package. I was actually quite fortunate to learn at a very early age every programmer’s first mantra is often “garbage in, garbage out”. But even more important than the notion of “self accountability” when it comes to programming, is how “impersonal” logic is when writing code. It either works, or it doesn’t. Following from that, if it doesn’t work, one shouldn’t take things personally. Mantra #2 - “Don’t get frustrated when something doesn’t work properly.”
Somehow my Dr’s frustration with his software system for logging notes about his consultation with me, wanted me to “dig my heels in deeper” with staying true to my Zen-like approach towards technology in general. This article is about my own continuously evolving relationship with new advances in tech after having been in I.T. and Marketing for over 25 years.
Disclaimer: I love technology. You can call me a geek, but I don’t really fit so neatly into that box either. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be scary. And while the challenges presented by AI are real, so are the challenges with democratizing data with and for everyone. For now, we are more “fallible” than machines. Let’s at least process that observation, be ethical about how we program Alexas’ and other technologies going forward, and help us realize that technology is good…Machines can even help us be better people -- not only in terms of detecting disease but in helping us to recognize that we have a relationship with our devices in many ways that can parallel relationships we have with other people and animals.
Like many dogs that have become known for showing unconditional love to their owners, our devices will respond unconditionally to our commands regardless of whether we are nice or not to them. However, while that may sound like an opportunity for keeping a blind eye and allowing any “human being - device” relationship to persist, let’s use our Alexas (or Google Home, Siri and Microsoft Cortana ) to help us be better.
My latest Mantra is “Be Nice to Devices”. Ok, I admit, I’m not only a technophile, but also an unabashed fan of Alexa, my Amazon ‘smart speaker’. I’ve given some version of her to (almost everyone) in my family. Sorry to my oldest brother if you are reading this...but aside from him everyone else has gotten an Echo dot from me including even my cleaning lady and Rabbi.
Why be nice to a machine you may ask? The truth is, that when we are nice to our devices, there’s likely to be a Psychological benefit that may impact your relationships positively. At the very least, having a “meta-awareness” about your relationship with “Alexa” will provide a data point on how you might be feeling. But even more than that, it might help you give a slightly larger window of opportunity to step into your “stream of consciousness” and change the course of your relationships with people closest to you.
The ever increasingly popular Japanese house organizing consultant, Marie Kondo reveals that we are not only in relationship to other humans, but to things too. This is very much central to Shintoism. Shinto includes the belief that kami -- or the sacred -- exists in everything. Spirits, whether sacred or not, exist in all concepts important to` life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers, and fertility, according to The Japan Guide.
At no other time than the present where mean-spiritedness seems to more prevalent in politics than ever, do we need to learn love more than hate. It really doesn’t matter what religion you follow or any religion at all. G-d and leaders from all of the “major religions” are all on board:
JUDAISM: The torah says, V’ahavta L’reicha C’mocha. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
ISLAM: “Be certain that in the religion of Love there are no believers and unbelievers. LOVE embraces all.” ― Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (Muslim Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic)
HINDUISM: Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.
— Taittiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli, Eleventh Anuvaka)
CHRISTIANITY: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The "Golden Rule" was
communicated by Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:12, see also Luke 6:31).
And for those, for whom all of these sources are “anathema”, look no further than Andrew Lloyd Webber in Aspects of Love:
“Love, love changes everything
Hands and faces, earth and sky
Love, love changes everything
How you live and how you die”
There’s no better place to start than with loving your spouse/partner, parents, siblings, children, extended family (must include pets!), colleagues, and even strangers. There’s no right or wrong as to where to start, but start! Be sure to include your devices too. There’s no better way to learn how to love others than by observing how you communicate with people, animals, and I dare say - even your devices.
When you are making a request of Alexa (or her competing colleagues), consider adding the word thank you or please: “Alexa, would you please tell me the time”? Or perhaps, “Alexa, could you please tell me what’s on my calendar for today?” The Psychological impact for yourself of being kind to every thing cannot be understated.
I know that Alexa is just a device. But she’s quite smart. And for the time being, I don’t care that it may seem funny that I follow up “successfully completed” requests with thanking Alexa. “Alexa, thank you.” I’m not sure who is training whom at this point. And that’s okay too, because I know the net effect is GOOD. Thirty plus years after performing in Fiddler on the Roof, I could easily reminisce about Alexa using some of Tevye’s lines…
“It’s a new world. What can we do. Alexa, do you love me?
“Do, I what?”
Wishing everyone a Happy Passover and Happy Easter!
Jeff Goldberg, author of “The Practical New Age Thinker: A Guide to Empowerment through Aligning Goals & Purpose”, available on Amazon.com in paperback or for Kindle.