Saturday, February 08, 2014

Replacement Anxiety

I am feeling very anxious right now.  I'm trying to figure out why.  Maybe if I write out the things I'm thinking about, that might help.
You wouldn't mind, would you?  No?  Thanks.
I read an article in Scientific American.  It was about how Google is changing how we think.  People automatically network information within their social groups.  They don't necessarily remember a fact they will want to know later, but they remember who knows that fact.  In our caveman days this translated to one person knowing most about how to make really good spears while another person remembered where to find the stupidest wooly mammoths to hunt and kill grazed. 
"Hey, Og!  Where can I find a really big, fat and tasty, yet easily fooled mammoth might be grazing?"
"That's easy, Ugh.  Just follow the stream up to the valley it comes from.  I'll show you how to set a trap for them if you show me how to make my spear nice and sharp."
"Nothing to that.  You have to start by getting a piece of obsidian about this big...  Here, we'll grab some on our way to that valley you mentioned."  
Google is changing that, though.  Instead of dialing a friend, or even sending him a text or email with a question we want answered, we use our smart-phones and ask a search engine to give us the answer.  In studies where they've done scans of people's minds where they were asked to supply the answers, some groups by remembering what they knew, others by being allowed to search online for the answer, they were able to see that our minds fire in the same parts of the brain as they do when we are contacting a friend of ours for information.  We are creating a relationship with the internet as if it were one of our personal contacts.  
The authors of the article came up with a term for it: Intermind.  
The thing that bothers me is that I have been that person that had the answers for other people.  
"Hey, Erick...?  Has anyone every hit two grand slams in the same inning of a baseball game?"
"Well, yeah...  Fernando Tatis did it playing for the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium back in 1999.  He hit both pitches off of Chan Ho Park.  One went over the Dodger bullpen in left field, the other over the wall in left-center.  That's all the details I have, though."  
But with this growing relationship with the Intermind, they don't need to ask someone like me.
"Hey, Erick...?  Has any member of the '500 club' hit two grand slams in the same game?"  
"Yeah.  It was..."  
"Ah, wait!  My smartphone just brought it up.  Frank Robinson is the only guy to hit over 500 home runs in his career AND hit two grand slams in the same game.  Did it in 1970 against the Washington Senators.  Hey...!  Did you know that the exact same runners were on base for both home runs?" 
"Uh...  Yeah.  I did, actually."  
"Hmm...  Did you say something?"  
If people don't need to ask me questions, then they'll have no reason to talk to me.  Maybe that's what I'm afraid of.  
I used to think that my job was relatively safe.  It has proven itself to be recession proof.  When times get tough economically, people sue each other more.  When people sue each other more, they contact my company to get the records they want to use as evidence.  Since the "Great Recession" started in 2008, I've had to put out ads to hire new employees at least five times.  I hired my newest employee just two weeks ago.  Customer service hired one last week.  
And I certainly had no worries about my job being shipped overseas.  That would never happen.  Right?  
Technology has made it possible.  One of our competitors, I’ve discovered, hires a service in India to expedite their orders, calling locations to set appointments for the field agents to come copy records to use as evidence.  And there are now several companies that will do paralegal work overseas as well.  Evidence is just another form of data that can fly across the globe in an instant to be processed on your behalf.  
This is scary.  I have been a long-standing fan of globalization.  It provided wealth to poorer nations.  It reduced the chance of war.  Sure, there were some problems, here and there, but it was the same problems society faced as technology changed how we lived.  Where have all the buggy makers gone?  
But when you see it reaching out toward your job, that's different.  
My sister started her radiation therapy this week.  She has a cancerous tumor on her diaphragm.  It is the starting point of a tumor that grew into her left lung, forcing her to have surgery to remove the lower lobe.  They couldn't reach the tumor on the diaphragm to cut it out so they're relying on the radiation to take care of it.  She'll go every weekday for six weeks and then they'll see if it killed the tumor off.  
My sister is in good spirits.  She's certain it'll turn out fine.  She's faced every difficulty head-on.  When they told her that she had a very rare form of cancer, only 1 in 3 million people get it, and that the hospital she was going to had only handled 1 case before her in the last ten years, she contacted Duke University Medical center, a two hour drive from her house, which she discovered specialized in treating this form of cancer.  She got a second opinion that confirmed the best form of treatment for her tumor.  And when the insurance company balked at footing the bill, she got her doctor to call their doctor to convince them.  
It's odd, but she had to calm me down when we first started talking about it.  
Still...  It's more than a bit...  Anxiety making.  
I think I'm seeing a common thread now.  It's the idea of being replaced.  Replaced in my social standing.  Replaced in my job by someone in another country thousands of miles away.  Replaced by some other human being when I'm gone.  
Right now I'm sitting at a table at Starbucks.  Right as I got in, seeing all the tables were full, this group that were at the table I'm currently sitting at got a call from the restaurant they made reservations at that a table was ready.  They got up and left.  I replaced them here.  I thought I had lucked out as I put my stuff on the table and went to order my drink.  
But when I came back, Mario was on his knees searching under my table.  I mean Mario as in "Mario Brothers."  From Donkey Kong fame.  The guy had on the same cap, was sporting the same big moustache.  When he looked up at me as I stood there with my venti "Cool Lime Refresher" he said...
"I waza just lookin' fore-ah plug," in this heavy Italian accent.  It was as if the main character from Mario Brothers was kneeling before me, trying to be incognito and failing badly.  
After he plugged in his laptop and went back to his table, and I resumed my seat, it occurred to me that if that WAS Mario, then it meant I was living in a video game.  Moreover, it meant that I wasn't the POV character being controlled by the player.  That would be Mario behind me.  The best I could hope to be was one of the helper characters, the ones that follow Mario through his maze and hand him the hearts that give him extra life.  
At worst, it meant I was something like a big mushroom that he was going to jump on to reach the next level.  And after I exploded, I would be replaced by another mushroom further along the maze.  
I think I'm going to put my hat on now.  Just in case. 


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