As a result of the Internet of Things (IoT), human beings are becoming increasingly connected to the different devices that surround them in modern technological society. In the process of creating more connections between these devices, humans themselves are becoming more connected to all of them. And through all these connections being created, these devices can more easily complement one another and more effortlessly and more frictionlessly serve the humans for whom they are working. Humans and their devices become one harmonious system.
One of the main ways that humans have become connected to these devices is through Alexa, Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence entity. Tell Alexa what you need to get done and she takes care of it for you through the connectivity of the Internet of Things. The connectivity seems to have been perfectly ongoing for Alexa’s users with the exception of one small area of human experience: taking a shower. Like with most electronic devices, up until now, if you were to splash on the traditional Alexa speaker, it would create problems. So a person would have to go through temporary withdrawal symptoms while cleaning up his body, exiling his Alexa speaker to some place outside of the bathroom. But not anymore. Now there is a new splash immune device called the Aqua Dew that can be used while taking a shower or, for that matter, while taking a swim in a swimming pool. You don’t put the device in the water, but you can leave the device near the water. If the device gets splashed on, there is no problem. Alexa will continue to be the reliable companion that it is supposed to be.
This is actually quite significant, because it means that a person never has to disconnect himself from the system that comprises the Internet of Things. No longer does a person have the need or, for that matter, the opportunity to be an organic human being with strong connections to the natural world. And this means that the person gets sucked into a system that diminishes his capacity to make, preserve and receive organic imprints, have rich vibrant life experiences, create meaningful life narratives, and develop a personal surrogate immortality through the unique imprints that he preserves that allow him to prepare for death. Maintaining a sustained interconnection with the Internet of Things, how is a person supposed to have a meaningful effect on the world, feel fully alive, maintain a sense of purpose and prepare for death in such a way that he leaves something of himself on the planet where he is going to die? In other words, telling Alexa what to do and having Alexa manipulate everything for him puts a person into an experiential vacuum, a bubble where he loses his immediate connection to the external world. With Alexa, a person’s connection to the external world is perpetually mediated.
There has been a lot of discussion in this column about the effects of all the mediating experience that has been created by the screen reality of movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones and tablets. Recently the up and coming field of virtual reality has been added to the modern mix of human experience. But Artificial Intelligence entities like Alexa don’t influence human beings simply by creating separate new compartments of experience that stand apart from external world reality. Instead, by taking over the daily human tasks that are a part of the human participation in external world reality, they transform what should be a direct connection with external world reality into a mediated experience. They take away the opportunity for the direct primary experience that is the foundation for strong life narrative, for strong organic imprints and for secure surrogate immortalities.
And the ultimate experience that is left to us by the utilization of an increasing amount of Artificial Intelligence in our lives is the living death of numbness. And this in turn leads to an attempt to fight off numbness by activating ourselves to a different kind of life. We become more receptive to mechanical and digital stimulation and model ourselves after the complex behavioral entities in these arenas by becoming more like robots and avatars respectively. And this means the shrinking of our organic coherent sense of self. Losing more of our humanity.
Perhaps this seems to be a lot to attribute to a splash-proof Alexa speaker. And although this article is about Aqua Dew, the critique here is, on one level, directed against the Internet of Things as a whole. Do we really want to pay the price of a diminishing primary connection to the external world in order to have easier more frictionless lives?
Yet, on another level, a small change like that provided by Aqua Dew can be seen to have an enormous effect just by itself. Taking a shower has been one of the few areas of life up until now where we have been able to temporarily separate ourselves from the Internet of Things and its mechanizing effects. Now that big hole in our fields of experience is closed. And so many people will embrace the closing of the loophole. They love the notion of detaching themselves from their perishable organic senses of self in order to more easily connect up with the seemingly more eternal mechanistic system represented by the Internet of Things. Now, the only time from which we will be separated from the Internet of Things is when we are asleep. Although maybe the next advance in interacting with Alexa will be to find a way to have Alexa speak to us while we are dreaming, as it lovingly sits by our bed. One can never anticipate what is going to happen in today’s world of perpetual innovation.
(c) 2018 Laurence Mesirow