I have started out so many new years with written declarations and goals for the coming months, but for some reason known only to The Shadow, this year was different. (If you know who The Shadow was congratulations, you’ve passed the age requirement test for reading this blog entry.) I wrote down nothing for 2018 Resolutions. Nada. But I do believe in having them. And I believe in having all my bills paid by January first and writing those last minute donation checks to charity when I can afford it. Both of those are checked and off the list in my head. I do believe in declaring that I’m going to lose all that weight I gained between Halloween and the last day of the year. Checked and we’ll see how long that promise to myself will last. My track record predicts I’ll make it to my bi-annual doctor’s appointment in April before that goal falls by the wayside. I do believe in setting goals for self-improvement and that we need that January first reset button to kick us in the butt because we humans are slackers when we’re doing stuff for ourselves. At least this human is.
For the past eight or nine days I thought I’d die of boredom. If I talked to anyone it was one of those foreign scammers trying to get me to go to my computer and give them remote access so they can gobble up all the passwords to my bank accounts while pretending to save me from hackers. I do enjoy acting like Dolly Dumbbell that has them thinking they’ve hooked their fish before I press the button on my phone that cuts them off mid-sentence and blocks their number from calling again. But I’m not sure if those blood suckers count as human contract.
I did have human contact last week by text, e-mail, Facebook and blog comments. While that’s very nice it’s not the same has hearing a voice or exchanging hugs in person. And I worry. It’s what I do best. I worry that someday I’ll think all the human contact that come through computers and devices aren’t real, with real people sending them. I mean already we find ourselves trying to have two-way conversations with our “intelligent personal assistants"---Siri and Alexa. That tells me we’re getting closer to someone creating a nanny app that keeps old people from getting lonely. (Remember the Saturday Night Live spoof “commercial” for the Echo Silver for the Greatest Generation?) It could/would be so easy to believe “friends” that are Wi-Fi enabled are real or that actual friends who use devices and computers to communicate are not real.
Have you ever gotten annoyed with Alexa? I do it on a daily basis when she says, “Sorry, I don’t know that one.” Her tone of voice is so dismissive and I have to remind myself that Alexa is not a real person. It’s probably some software engineer with a peach-fuzzy chin that I need to direct my annoyance at when Alexa does something like recommend spinach and salmon sandwiches when I asked her how to fry fish. By the way, I didn’t really want to know how to fry fish; I like testing Alexa’s knowledge base and two times out of three when I asked if the world is round, she knew the correct answer but the last time she said she wasn’t sure. Yup, I managed to badger and bully Alexa into doubting her language processing algorithms. I told you I was bored. But it's kind of scary human-like that you can trick a computer into processing the very same information differently just by repeating it. Moms do that all the time, “Did you break that window?” “No!” “Look at me! Did you break that window?” No, Mom! “Jimmy, don’t lie to me! Did you break that window?” “It was an accident!” I guess that's not exactly the same thing, but humor me anyway.
Back to New Year’s traditions: One of my favorite movies to watch on the last night of the year is a 2011 comedy romance titled New Year’s Eve and it centers around the ball dropping at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It gets stuck and the woman in charge of the drop steps forward and makes a touching speech and I’ll finish this blog entry by quoting it here. They're words we’d all do well to take into our hearts and try to live by: “…As you all can see, the ball has stopped half way to its perch. it's suspended there to remind us before we pop the champagne and celebrate the new year, to stop and reflect on the year that has gone by, to remember both our triumphs and our missteps, our promises made and broken, the times we opened ourselves up to great adventures... or closed ourselves down for fear of getting hurt, because that's what new year's all about, getting another chance, a chance to forgive. To do better, to do more, to give more, to love more, and to stop worrying about what if... and start embracing what will be. So when that ball drops at midnight, and it will drop, let's remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other, and not just tonight but all year long.”
With the New Year, we each get a fresh start, a second chance. Are you listening, Alexa? Maybe I’ll start by being nicer to you. ©
* Above photo: Orson Wells, the radio voice for The Shadow in 1937-38. The video below is the spoof commercial for an Amazon Echo Silver for old people.