Warehouse B
Nobody Talking
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Growing Threat Of Human Disconnect

By James Donahue

I recently flew from California to my home in Michigan. The trip involved an eight-hour layover in Chicago O’Hare International Airport, so the trip involved a lengthy exposure to a lot of people over a long day.

As a retired news reporter and trained sociologist, I am naturally an outgoing person who takes a keen interest in the people around me. What struck me during this trip was that very few of the people I came in contact with were interested in personal communication with those around them.

Everybody appeared preoccupied with those new I-Pads, Kindle reading and game devices, portable telephones and text message devices, portable laptop computers and music and telephone devices that plug into their ears.

My own laptop was carefully packed away in the luggage compartment over my head and I have never chosen to own a cell phone or texting device so my time was mostly spent watching the behavior of the other travelers and airport personnel.

I succeeded on two occasions to get people to open up in conversation.  Most of my time was spent watching a crowd of spaced-out people caught up in conversations with people they probably didn’t even know at the other end of an electronic device.

Because I am a writer and because I spent a good deal of my time researching information and writing on my laptop, my wife has complained for years about having to live alone. I don’t think I really understood what she meant until making that flight. I fear that our society has, indeed, fallen into a strange electronic communication jungle that is tearing them away from reality.

Has the reality of our lives become so unbearable that we find some degree of solace texting with total strangers posing as friends? And if this trend continues, what can we expect to become of us?

A recent story in National Geographic about advancement in robotics that may soon lead to humanoid robots, or androids that look, act and react just like humans, suggests what may be a total disconnect lying just around the corner.

The story by Chris Carroll said the robots already being produced in places like China and Japan “not only possess human-like physical characteristics, but also eerily realistic attitudes and social mannerisms.”

The story quotes Reid Simmons, professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, as predicting that within “five or ten years robots will routinely be functioning in human environments.”

So how shall we use this new crop of humanoid appearing machines? Will they be household servants, slaves in the workplace, soldiers on the battlefield and sexual partners in our bedrooms?

These were some of the disturbing questions raised by Carroll’s article. And he is quite right. If so many people can be so caught-up in simple texting devices that they are affecting the way they live, operate their vehicles and even lose their need to learn handwriting, how will a crop of android servant machines impact the world?

As a long-time science fiction buff, I can personally imagine a wide range of scenarios. None of them are something to look forward to.