Mariner was sitting in his living room chair the other day taking a break from working outside in Iowa’s mid ninety temperatures and its supercharged humidity. He absentmindedly was looking about the room and noticed the dark television. He began to think about the fact that many of the people he knows as casually as he knows his family aren’t real.
Those people on television are not flesh and bone; they are electronic pulses flashed on a piece of glass. Nothing more than millions of sparks. Is Katy Tur of MSNBC real? It is quite possible today to manufacture human images from scratch. Is Katy nothing more than a script typed into a box that generates a talking Katy on the other side? Mariner is quite sure Larry King is not real. Many of the pundits on news shows are eerily similar to Statler and Waldorf and Sam the Eagle. Many decades ago mariner read a book about a newscaster who traveled the world following news but never sat for a broadcast; he was cut and pasted from old newsreels by a computer. He looked like he was in the studio but he wasn’t.
Being retired and not much engaged in small town activities, mariner has gone more than a week without speaking or listening to actual humans other than his wife and his neighbors. Taking a broad view of human interaction reveals that US society at large has more electronic acquaintances than real ones – especially if you count social media, Skype and smartphone conversations. How many people walking down the street can you count on to be real humans and not a Mr. Smith robot from the movie Matrix? Is that woman looking at you a real human or a hologram? Both these technologies are available today.
How important is it to address reality by talking to actual people? There was a time when the only way to solve an issue was to visit another human being and talk together. Today, one can shop for anything under the Sun including a spouse and not have to talk to a salesperson; one does not necessarily need to go to a movie theater and ask a bona fide human for a ticket – wait for Netflix. Grocery shopping is next in line for humanless resolution; banks long ago put banking online; does anyone miss chatting with tellers?
Mariner has no deep speculations about having electronic friends; at least they take the place of talking to human friends. Don’t they?