The touch of your hand |

The touch of your hand

The most alarming news I have heard lately was reported in what was intended to be an upbeat feature on the evening newscast. The bright, young anchor woman announced that a group of scientists was working on a plan to employ robots to provide in-home care for the elderly. I immediately experienced tachycardia and the frisson of terror I always feel when confronted with the possibility of yet another complex system designed to simplify life.

The “look what technology can do for us now!” film clips were not reassuring. They showed a kindly old couple who wished to spend their remaining years in the home they loved. They had agreed to have their daily activities monitored while they tried out the electronic gadgetry that science proposed as a means to bypass institutional care.

Accordingly, their every move was followed by equipment probably akin to a fish-finder or some other kind of peeping Tom. Although bathroom activities were not shown on television, one must surely assume that anything of that importance was meticulously recorded and dispassionately evaluated at some distant control center. A helpful device located the man’s misplaced eyeglasses and an image on a computer screen showed him their location. Then a disembodied voice with overtones of faux warmth congratulated him. “You have found your glasses.” (Positive reinforcement, you see, for the person being programmed to respond like a robot.) Then the woman was informed it was time to take her 10 o’clock pill. Later on, the disembodied voice, with a note of faux concern, inquired, “Is the headache you had when we talked to you at 10 o’clock better now?” I am not certain whether the woman responded verbally into the empty air, pressed a yes/no button, or made plans to sue for scientific harassment. The couple had a bewildered, hunted look.

Speaking as an “older person” who has made an uneasy accommodation to computer technology, I can tell you I will fight to the death to avoid being ordered around by it during my declining years, even if it is tricked out as a cute little robotic helper. Anything purporting to be your willing slave is inherently dangerous. As any slave-holder of your acquaintance will tell you, slaves require constant attention and maintenance, meaning that eventually slaves actually enslave their masters.

Pushcart Press has published a book, “Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club,” which is dedicated to “Pulling the plug on the electronic revolution.” The major concern the book expresses is “about the influence of computers and assorted electronic inventions on our lives.” This is precisely what scares me, too.

My computer has a coy little pop-up that asks, “Do you want to stay connected?” Well, goodness, yes, I want to stay connected – humanly connected, that is. But that is exactly the connection our technology is destroying.

Government, professions, businesses and even the so-called “help lines” have electronically walled themselves off from direct human contact. When we call any of them for information or, perish the thought, assistance, we are obliged to listen to more disembodied voices than Joan of Arc ever dreamt of, some with heavy accents and from places as far away as New Delhi, India. I never feel more helpless or isolated than when I am groping my way through a long “menu” that has no item exactly pertinent to my need. I am astonished if I chance to receive a direct answer to a simple question.

We talk about using e-mail “to keep in touch,” ignoring the fact that the operant word is “touch.” For example, much of what we receive as e-mail lacks anything resembling the personal touch, and is, in fact, reprinted lists of jokes or aphorisms the sender is using to tell us he has at least thought about us. He is sharing with us in a way, but he has taken a shortcut by not giving us access to his own thoughts and feelings, thereby excluding us, leaving us somehow disappointed.

Our basic need for the warmth of human contact cannot be met by technology. If, or when, I enter the “assisted living” phase of life, I want a sentient, breathing, possibly eccentric, certainly fallible, but above all, compassionate, human being nearby. I refuse to consider holding hands with a robot. I do not want automated or virtual care. I want the real thing!


Lucille Lovestedt lives in Grass Valley.

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