When Will We Be Better To Each Other?

When will we be better to each other?

I breathed a big sigh of relief as my mother picked up the phone in Las Vegas this morning. “This never used to happen here,” she said. My mom has lived in Las Vegas on and off since the mid ‘70s. She knows the city well.

I’d love to say that this is the first time I’ve woken up to the news of a mass shooting in a city in which I’ve lived and had to hold my breath to see if a family member, a friend, a colleague was caught in the crossfire.

It’s not.

I lived in Tucson in 2011. (You’d might have forgotten about that one. Don’t worry, sometimes it retreats into the recesses of my brain too until another one comes up and I remember.)

Men, women, children, students, innocents were gunned down exercising their free rights. At the time, I was a journalist, so instead of shock and mourning, I — along with my colleagues — called someone to let us into the newsroom so we could ask what would happen to the beginning of the school year, get dates for Obama’s speech, verify whether Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was alive or dead on the operating table. This time I at least get to make calls to ensure my parents are safe, old friends aren’t harmed, that the city I learned to drive in, I had my first kiss in, I refer to as “home” when people ask me where I’m going for Thanksgiving, might be OK.

When will we be better to each other?

Even though I was lucky last night, I’ve lost family members to gun violence in the past. So, my mother’s voice had extra knowing in it when she croaked out, “Please stay safe,” between what I know were welling tears.

I’ve been to concerts on the Strip. To Safeways in Tucson. To movie theaters in Colorado.

It’s also a time in the world where violence happens whether you are in the wrong place at the wrong time or not. Where gun violence isn’t always relegated to senseless tragedy, but at times to the reality of daily life. Where we have new #PrayFor____  hashtags seemingly every week.

When will we be better to each other?

I get to rest easy tonight, but hundreds of people aren’t so lucky. I’ve sat in an ICU wondering if a family member is going to die. I wouldn’t wish that on even my worst enemy.

I don‘t know when the right time is to discuss it. I don’t know what the right bill to pass is.

All I know is that there has to be a space between disagreement and mass destruction. There has to be help before it’s too late. There has to be something better than these headlines happening so often that they start to dull our senses.

When will we be better to each other?

I wish I knew.

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Blue Screen of Death

There are few things I dread more than that moment. Click. Click. Click. Then the mouse turns into a spinning wheel and you begin to really worry. Then …

Your computer ran into a problem and needs to restart.

I’ve lost emails to friends and whole pieces of my college thesis to this blue screen. (Luckily I pulled a couple of almost all nighters to salvage a B and my degree from this.) But the nice thing about a roadblock in your way is that it proves to you that you can start again.

My dad hit his own blue screen about a decade ago.

He flew to Tucson from Las Vegas on a Thursday and was fine. He flew back on a Saturday with a scratchy throat and within 48 hours was in the ER.

Blue screen.

But he, like your computer, restarted.

Now he eats healthier, loves harder and my family hits our metaphorical save button a lot more to savor the moments we have with him.

Because really the most important thing about the blue screen is not really the moment, or the screen, but the what comes next.

It’s about the starting over.

“The death of a dream can in fact serve as the vehicle that endows it with new form, with reinvigorated substance, a fresh flow of ideas, and splendidly revitalized color. In short, the power of a certain kind of dream is such that death need not indicate finality at all but rather signify a metaphysical and metaphorical leap forward.” 

Things I Learned Way After I Should Have: Pay Yourself First

Former President Barack Obama got a lot of flack from both sides of the aisle for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street bank. Now I heard his daughter is going to Harvard and that can’t be cheap so I’m guessing he’s got a good reason for taking that check.

But my guess is that the pushback isn’t so much political as it is ideological: money moves the world and can bring the world crashing down. We saw it almost grind life as we know it to a halt in 2008 with the financial crisis. Because of that, the American public’s already looming distrust of big corporations like banks and Wolf of Wall Street characters manifested in Occupy Wall Street, the backlash of “Too Big to Fail” and now this – Wall Street as an easy target for outrage.

What do I have to say about it?

Wall Street Isn’t Evil, If You Do It Right.

They say it takes 10,000 hours or a little less than 14 straight months of sleepless practice to get good at something. Who has that time if it’s not for your biggest passion or hobby?

But money, even though it runs our lives, is something we tend not to take the time to understand.

Nine out of 10 people didn’t know how much those under 55 could contribute to their 401(k) per year? (It’s $18,000, by the way.) Even of 2015 survey takers who were self-described as “financially savvy,” nearly half didn’t even known the APR of their own credit cards. (APR is annualized percentage rate … basically interest.)

Hence, the movement toward financial literacy: teach people to do the right things with money via a seminar or class and we won’t be staring down trillions in student loan or credit card debt.

There’s just one problem – financial literacy doesn’t work. A 2014 recent study published in the journal Management Science found that studying financial literacy has a “negligible” impact on future behavior and that within 20 months almost everyone who has taken a financial literacy class has forgotten what they learned.

We don’t trust the banks. We don’t know enough not to need the banks. And the little bit of learning we do have available tends not to work long-term.

No wonder people hate Wall Street.

So what can we do?

Here’s my simple solution: pay yourself first.

There’s even a simple formula to do this: save one hour of your salary a day. For a $50,000 salary, that means saving about $25 every business day.

It won’t make you money fast. But that’s where people lose trust in Wall Street because they follow people like Bernie Madoff.

It won’t necessitate a lot of learning. Take your salary and divide by 52, then by 5, then by 8. (Weeks, then days, then hours.) That should stem the tide of a financial literacy trap that sounds good but doesn’t turn into action.

It doesn’t require you to put all your money into envelopes to change the habit, or start two side businesses to increase revenue to make your wealth grow.

Save an hour of your pay a day. Pay yourself first through retirement savings, emergency savings and investments in a balanced low cost index fund like Vanguard or Betterment’s offerings. It’s not fast, but it will allow you to beat the highs and lows of Wall Street.

Slow and steady wins the race, even the Wall Street rat race.

I make things

I’ve been asked a lot lately how to describe myself and I keep coming back to one important center in my life: I make things.

Professionally, I write. Sometimes, I write lots of fun things. Sometimes, they even let me touch a video.

Or write a fun little quiz.

CheckYourCattitudeBut at home, I like making things too: poorly conceived recipes I have to rescue and then put in Tupperware to bring for lunch, small essays on the things I’ve yet to truly work through that stay logged in my Google Docs, even crochet scarves that I started as holiday gifts in 2014 and have yet to finish.

I love when I look at something that’s a void, a vacuum, a space to which no characteristics can be attributed and in the after it’s a thing that makes people laugh or share or think.

That spark of something you’ve made that does something good for the world, for a moment or a lifetime, is half the reason that I get up in the morning.

Well, that and mini Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Finding my voice through the words of another

I could talk about understanding how lucky I was to have a whole, intact, lovely family as a kid who let me tromp around as an artist as a child and continue to pursue creativity as an adult – and how long it took me to understand and grow more empathy for others who didn’t have that background. To understand that even as a multiple minority, I’m privileged in ways that I still am reckoning with.

Or, I could have said, “Don’t let [your privilege] blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.” (Thanks, Chimamanda.) (Oh, she probably would also add, on the choice to boldly choose your own path, that “we cannot always bend the world into the shapes we want but we can try, we can make a concerted and real and true effort. Always just try. Because you never know.”)

I could pontificate about how life makes you take your bold statements and value judgments and twist them up and spit them out into other versions of thought. That all the things you judged people on you’d be doing in a year, eating all of the humble pie your 22-year-old body could handle because of a chance meeting outside a sub shop. Another subject I’m still reckoning with, I could have said all of this.

Or, this: “Your standardized ideologies will not always fit your life. Because life is messy.” (Another Adichie masterpiece.)

I could lament the different ways being, well different, makes life more challenging. How many times I’ve been told that I have a bold or dominating personality because I tend to project a level of comfort with who I am that some people (including myself) don’t always feel.

But a wiser woman than I would say, “Our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that is what somebody wants us to say, then we are wasting our time on earth.” (You wondering who said this? Yeah, it’s a Chimamanda. She also said: “Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.”)

I could wonder about taking a different path in life, one that led me more directly in pursuit of what I thought I wanted in a career at 20. I could talk through dealing with the looks I’ve gotten based on the choices I’ve made, the rolling eyes and you-poor-dear stares from others when I moved through the world answering to the only person who has to live my life: me.

But an easier way would be to say: “Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way.” (Don’t ask who said it. You know.)

I could talk about the plurality of achievement of success as a woman that I’ve grappled and continue to grapple with. What having it all means – and whether or not I want it. But I could leave discussions of womanhood in the modern age to a few more thoughts by a superhero of a person. (Say it with me now: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.)

“Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.”

“Never ever accept ‘because you are a woman’ as a reason for doing or not doing anything.”

“Girls are often raised to see love only as giving. Women are praised for their love when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given. If you are only giving and not taking, you’ll know. You’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.”

Take a minute (or 20) of your life to watch this advice from an honorary big sister.

Misadventures of a (Former) Megacommuter

When I first moved back to Phoenix as an “adult” (and I put that in quotes because the other day I definitely ate Hot Cheetos for dinner without remorse), I moved to Mesa. Now I learned to love some things about Mesa. I lived next to the orange groves and seeing things that aren’t cacti growing out of the ground is a welcome respite. There’s an amazing Latin American restaurant that sells empanadas that are to die for.

But there was one thing that became the tipping point for Mesa: the commute.

I had originally moved to Mesa because I had a tech writing and communications gig in Chandler. It was less than 10 miles between my apartment and my job. No sweat. I resigned my lease in Mesa at the beginning of April 2014. I interviewed for the job I have now two weeks later.

And thus, the commute began.

On a good day, an hour and forty-five minutes, on a bad day (or a 100-year flood day), two and a half hours driving 75 miles roundtrip from Mesa to North Phoenix. This is not my idea of a good time. In fact, most of the time I’d rather walk or bike than drive.

That’s how I became one of the 8% of Americans that commute at least an hour each way a day. That percentage is more like 10 when you move into big metro areas like Phoenix, as reported by USA Today. I just counted myself lucky that it was only a couples days a month where I’d join 600,000 fellow megacommuters and spend 90 minutes one way in the car. There are only so many segments of NPR Morning Edition to learn from, only so many songs on the soft rock station you can get nostalgic about, and only so many audiobooks you can really afford (I mean come on Audible, really!) to fill up the time.

But when did people start to, as the Atlantic reported in 2013, waste an average of 38 hours and $818 of gas stuck in traffic each year?

Before you all go blaming Henry Ford first, the term commuting traces its roots back to the early days of traveling by rail, where suburban workers would travel by train and then pay a reduced or “commuted” fare to get into the city, according to a 2009 New Yorker article on commuting. Before the mid-1800s, people usually lived walking distance from jobs, but the advent of railways allowed for these “commuted” tickets, which functioned like a modern train or bus pass, allowing workers to repeat certain journeys over and over during their period of validity. Henry Ford’s revolutionary ideas that made cars accessible to the average family then fueled the suburban flames, flames which spread like wildfire with the expansion of the Federal Housing Administration’s insurance of mortgages in the 1930s and the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.

So maybe you can blame Henry Ford for the scourge of the modern commuter.

But the interesting part of today is that the tides are turning on the impulse to hop in the car and drive an hour each way to work.

The Census found that American commutes, after a sharp uptick in the 1990s, aren’t getting any worse. Part of that is because people are flocking toward urban life in droves. (In fact, I moved into downtown Phoenix, where my 20-25 minute commute matches the national average of 25.4 minutes almost spot on.) Part of that is also because, like we do here, more people have the opportunity to telecommute into work, whether that be all the time or some of the time.

Now my waistline would love if I hopped on the latest trend in commuting with 800,000 other workers: biking. But until the distance to work is less 20 miles and more 2, I’ll stick with the car.

Because if I’m being honest, when I think of my commute time in the morning now, the name of my current audiobook favorite and my mood about the journey converge brilliantly: Yes, Please.

The Layover

One of the most dreaded parts of any last minute trip to me is getting through the unpleasantness of airport travel. Of taking off shoes and walking through detectors and standing in lines. But my least favorite part is the dreaded plane change.

Yes, I had a layover on this trip to Philadelphia on the way back. I made sure I knew the airport (Dallas-Fort Worth) and that I had two hours (enough time to account for a delay) in between flights. Things were going pretty well, I had time to eat dinner and we were even boarding the plane early when the line stops cold in its track.

The murmurs of people who are stuck in an airport at nearly 9 p.m. on a Sunday begin. “What’s happening?” “Why’d we stop boarding?” Then, over the intercom: “The crew on the plane has told us to hold the boarding. We should start again in about 10 minutes.” Then, without missing a beat, blue lights start flashing and an alarm like a middle school fire drill goes off. Bomp. Bomp. Bomp.

In my head I immediately thought, “This is why I plan ahead so I don’t have layovers.”

I’m a miraculously non-spontaneous person. Here’s an example. I took what I would call an incredibly last minute three day trip to Philadelphia earlier in April.

The point was to have a free, fun, relaxing vacation. That means I oooooonly: looked up the restaurants within walking distance, made sure there was a used bookstore nearby, packed in one small carry-on to make traveling through the airport easier, and researched the highest-ranking free four hour walking tour of the city.

There are all these sayings about the thrill of impulse, that spontaneity breeds authenticity and that organization just sets you up for disappointment. Sheryl Crow wants me to Soak Up The Sun. Tim McGraw wants me to Live Like I Was Dying. In the words of the philosopher Jon Bon Jovi, “it’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t gonna live forever, I just want to live while I’m alive.”

But as Oscar Wilde puts briefly “spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art” and as Malcolm Gladwell further explains, “Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone first engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice–perfecting their shooting, dribbling, and passing and running plays over and over again … spontaneity isn’t random.”

That’s the feeling I subscribe to: that planning allows for impulse.

This is of course the rationale of a crazy person – me – but I do all this planning to avoid unpleasantness. And this is what I’m thinking during the Bomp. Bomp. Bomp. that tells us all we’re getting delayed. Now we eventually board another plane and take off for Phoenix but in that time we’re all refugees of that U.S. Airways Flight 468, talking about all the other times we’ve had disastrous layovers. And I realize that each story I’m telling is a slight bit of unplanned chaos before a transformative experience. I once had a delay that had me running through Dallas-Fort Worth with five minutes between the moment my plane landed and the next one took off. But that flight got me to a two-week fellowship in New Orleans that gave me some of my great friends, one of which I saw for the first time in four years on this trip to Philadelphia.

So, like the good word nerd I am, I looked up layover, and this definition will make me rethink my overplanning ways. A layover can be seen as an inconvenience, but really all it is, is a period of rest or waiting before a further stage in a journey.

Or at the very least, it’s a fun story to tell your friends.

What am I doing for others?

In life, I feel like there are moments that smack you in the face and give you the opportunity to be the person you actually want to be.

Ten years ago I had one of those moments.

In the summer of 2005, both my family and my cousin’s family both moved to Las Vegas.

For us, my father had taken a new job in the company and that meant moving to Las Vegas. I was of course against it. I had spent five years fooling a handful of people that I was worth being friends with. I had just tried out for a dance company. Instead of the life I thought I’d have, I was shoved headfirst into starting high school in a new state with zero friends. I was resentful, angry, didn’t understand why we had to go?

The same summer, 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans on August 29. 140 mile per hour winds stretched across 400 miles. The storm was horrifically damaging – and then levees broke.  It was catastrophic, causing more than $100 billion in damage. That was the reason my cousins had to move to Las Vegas. It wasn’t just moving schools that they were worried about. It was everything they’d held dear ripped away in a second. That’s why they had to go.

When I thought about charity, I think about this duality. I think about how charity helped my cousins begin to make a new life and come out the other side. I also think about how easy it is to become ungrateful, involved in the things you need and want and can’t have and do have but they are already two gens out of date and you want a new one.

Do I want to be here to collect things for myself or to do things for others?

So when I think about what I do for others, or try to, I really think about the lucky happenstance that brought me to this job. How did I get here? It’s pretty simple – and luckily it begins with family.

  1. My father taught me the value of changing a pet’s life

The first time I met a beautiful black lab named Georgie, she didn’t have a name, and I didn’t have a clue. I was frightened, frankly. My family moved so much that we hadn’t gotten another pet since my father’s Doberman Friday died, so when Georgie stood up on her hind legs, she grew to match my diminutive seventh grade height easily.

I ran up the stairs, hearing her run behind. I figured under the bed would be the best place to hide. Then, I saw her eyes. I heard her panting. I felt her lick the side of my face and kiss me. I petted her and she nuzzled me, and I knew I was in love.

So when I saw the opportunity to work in animal welfare, I knew I identified with it.

  1. My sister taught me that work in nonprofits was attainable

My sister is about three and a half years older than me, and since I’m the baby of the family, I made it my life’s mission to annoy her. But it was mostly because I wanted to be cool like her so badly when I was a kid – and I can’t say that that want has changed as an adult.

She sold me on going to the University of Arizona with her own pursuit of a degree there and by working at the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts, she showed me a path toward companies that do things for their communities.

My sister taught me that at any age, you can dedicate your time and efforts to helping, even if you are young and green and probably still need some help yourself.

  1. My mother taught me the rewards of helping others.

My mom has always been an incredible artist. She’s had some exhibitions in local Phoenix galleries, even in a couple bookstores, and was really making a name for herself in Arizona when we made the aforementioned move to Vegas.

But instead of letting it fall by the wayside, instead she began to volunteer, doing art therapy with the seniors at a care center down the street from our new home.

The center was so impressed by how these people with dementia and Alzheimer’s came to life when she was there that they begged her to work there full-time, a job she’s had for a decade and loves with all of her heart.

When I started volunteering and working beside her in high school, having people pull me aside to tell me how much my mother meant to them, well that let me know that doing something for others pays you back dividends, even if they aren’t monetary.

So when I ruminate on the topic of doing things for others: I think of my father, my sister, my mother; I think of my cousins coming to Las Vegas; I think of all the great stories I get to tell every day, and I think, what I am doing to help pets and the people who care for them is important.

But I also think, man, I’m so lucky that Ralph Waldo Emerson was right: “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

I’m lucky I get to do that every day.

Sister Citizen is changing my life

I am an unabashed Melissa Harris-Perry fan. I think she’s smart, unafraid to wear braids on television, and an objectively “cool” kind of public intellectual in the tradition of a long line of black feminism, but also just good writers pondering worthwhile topics to move public discourse forward.

(Side note: How does one get the job of public intellectual? It sounds so invigorating and also like even though I would assume it would be all chats with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Perry over espressos at indie coffee shops that it would be a lot more getting doctoral degrees and struggling in the ever-present pulling of yourself in many different directions of interest).

As an unabashed fan, I have watched her speeches, I have nodded along to her show, I have kicked myself for not somehow going to Tulane University. But while in Portland on a business trip, I stumbled across her book in Powell’s and decided to really solidify my fandom.

And boy am I not disappointed.

Sister Citizen makes the case that the inner life of a black woman and her struggles grappling with, succeeding in, and feeling undermined by her community is in and of itself a political act. That sociology, literature, cognitive psychology, and of course, political science, can all be blended into a master work of what it means to be someone like Perry or myself in modern America.

This is hinged on the idea of a crooked room, where although there are some people who independently can find their orientation, in the face of a room set crooked by 10, 20, or 30 degrees, people will tilt themselves to meet what their senses are perceiving as correct. She applies this cognitive research to the onslaught of messaging from literature, television, friends, colleagues, ill-advised New York Times pieces, etc., and how that can both change the perceptions of how others see you but also of how you see yourself and your truth. She legitimizes and strings along this point in one seminal exploration of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the political implications of Hurricane Katrina, media coverage of the black bodies involved in his national tragedy often treated like refugees, and the cognitive crooked room research to posit that all of these disparate pieces come out to make a whole in which existence in a certain type of body is a struggle that has vast implications politically. It’s a fascinating deconstruction that happens to hit on so many different subject areas that I like to explore: minority literature, gender politics, anthropological and sociological overtones to current debates, media criticism, language choices and their implications on perception, and the list goes on.

What thrills me most of all about this, however, is that it opens up a dialogue for every single type of person to consider that maybe they aren’t crooked, but the room is – and muse on what they can do to change it.

A friend and I were talking about our exasperation with certain things in our chosen career fields and when I said, “What can you do about it though?” she thoughtfully replied, “Want for change and try to become it?”

I won’t end this too cliché-ly on a “Be the change you wish to see in the world” kind of note, but it does dovetail with a different quote that keeps popping up in my mind and really made me feel quite differently as soon as I heard it: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

You can notice the crooked room, analyze and lament it, and even try to change it, but never forget that everyone’s life is composed of struggle, and a great way to grapple with that is realizing that the only person you are in competition with is yourself. Be better than you yesterday and hope tomorrow you are better than you are today.

What the Robocop reboot taught me about utopia

George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Bill Gates, and Robocop have forever changed my view of utopia.

The irony of this is that the discussion of what utopia is strangely both apolitical and completely partisan and Orwell and Huxley juggle this dichotomy in both 1984 and Brave New World respectively. But other than expanding my 15-year-old mind to explore the idea of a utopian society, I’m not sure if I ever wrestled with what a real applicable utopia would look like – and if it would even be a good thing to have.

This train of thought started with a benign discussion of robots.

Mashable talked about how tiny robots can build big things, noting “SRI International, a non-profit research firm serving government and industry, has found a novel way to control tiny, low cost magnets via electromagnetic pulses delivered to them through contact with printed circuit boards,” and went on to say that SRI is expanding this so that these robots can manipulate tools and the research firms aims to “enable an assembly head containing thousands of micro-robots to manufacture high-quality macro-scale products while providing millimeter-scale structural control.”

Mashable said this was both “amazing, and a little bit creepy,” and I tend to agree.

I pondered the thought of the disappearance of jobs by bots, a thought that Bill Gates talked about at length and one that the Economist ran a big story on in June.

“Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. …  Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. …  20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model,” Gates said, noting that maybe the elimination of the income and payroll taxes and tax incentives for businesses to keep on humans might be a good thing. It’s all technological unemployment.

But I can’t lie: Whenever I order takeout online, my order is always right – not always the case when a human jots it down. It’s not their fault, it’s just human error. And to be fair, the Economist did say there’s an almost 90 percent chance that what I do 9-to-5 right now will be done by robots in two decades. I am sure no matter how many grammar rules I memorize, the amount of times I’ll put in a typo is greater than that of a robot because of human error.

And this “lower end of skill set” is close to a fifth of the American population, as most of the 10 most common jobs in America are low wage work, including retail salespeople and cashiers, office and administrative support, laborers, and janitorial workers. Registered nurses were the only ones with average salaries above the national average of $22.33 an hour – and were also one of the jobs that Gates said might get phased out by bots.

It’s scary to think the way that my father and many people found their way into the middle class would be gone in favor of bots.

This reminded me of the recent reboot of Robocop that I saw in theaters. (Who can say no to Samuel L. Jackson in a wig and car chases?) Being a cop is one of those jobs that you could be a blue collar guy and have and feed a family on. So when I thought about the different forces at play in Robocop, typified by Raymond Sellars who said “Forget the machines. They want a product with a conscience. Something that knows what it feels like to be human. We’re gonna put a man inside a machine,” and Dr. Dennett Norton who said, “The human element will always be present! Compassion, fear, instinct, they will always interfere with the system,” it made me think – 1) where do we draw the line as to what we will and won’t let robots do? And 2) What’s the greater impact of the blend of man and machine?

Now how does this all relate to utopia? Well the 2014 Robocop stars with this vision of saving our brave men and women by putting robots on the street to deal with crime and creating a society where the crime rate can become zero – one of the facets of utopia that people crave. In talking about what these already invented magnet robots Mashable raved about could do, a friend said “The real life applications for things like these robots, 3D printing, and linking the brain to technology is like… woah. What if you had these tiny little robots with 3D ink and have them build a bridge. In my naive view, technology is the key to a more utopian society. If we can get technology to cover our basic needs, then maybe we’ll have more time for art, music, literature, etc.” (I have smart friends, and I don’t think the view is naïve at all.)

Maybe this could work. Have robots worry about fixing our plumbing when it spring a leak, have the state save human lives and send machines into the risky situations on the streets.

But then my thoughts flick to George and Aldous and how they grappled with the use of technology to control society, the control of information and history, and the dangers of an all-powerful state that can exert psychological and physical control of us through doublethink, through controlling the purse strings, through exerting power over heaps of metal that roam the streets assessing if we are a threat without the knowledge of what it feels like to be a man, a woman, a child, to express compassion, to react to fear, to work on instinct.

So what is utopia? Is it robots covering the basics and letting us create the high level cultural assets that will exist long after we turn to dust? Is it a libertarian view of limited government that allows us more freedom to live our lives the way we choose? Is it a progressive view of government that provides fiscal reform and regulation over private entities to prevent corruption? And are we OK with allowing machines control the little things in our lives? When do the little things turn into the big things, and the big things turn into everything?

I surely don’t know exactly how the Internet works, but I use it to pay bills, order food, talk with friends, even post this screed. So maybe the question isn’t are we OK with the thought, or where the line is, but how to grapple with the fact that we already sleep with our phones and freak out when our Internet connections stop. Maybe we aren’t talking about a future we ponder, but a present we already have.

Updated 4/21: Mashable once again teaches me something I don’t know, this time in op-ed form, which bashes the end of this blog post … and in delightful fashion.
The tl;dr version can be summed up with this:
“The varieties of ways in which drones are improving our lives is a great example of how the unintended consequences of technology can often be positive ones — no matter what Hollywood would have us believe for the sake of a story. Hubris was not the only lesson of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; it was also written to show how men fear and destroy what they don’t understand.
So understand how slowly and tentatively the new robot race is coming into being. Reserve your fears for more clear and present nightmares — such as the political candidates that will emerge from a campaign finance system that allows for unrestricted funding. And when your ASIMO finally arrives at your home, many decades from now, and pauses to look and smile at you when it pours the tea, remember to smile back.”