Why I still think like a baby boomer…
As a person who falls somewhere in the middle of the continuum between fogey and creative innovator, I find myself at the threshold of the past and the future — again. As a baby boomer born in 1950, I was a late adopter to technology — though I’ve embraced many of its tools, often following some initial resistance — I’m now dependent on devices and software that enables communication, commercial and bureaucratic transactions, media access, intellectual content, navigation, and social networking. On the flip side, most days I still enjoy direct person-to-person interaction. I’m not as fond of autonomously-powered tools or systems which rely on AI (artificial intelligence). I’m not sure how many robots I’d like for roommates. Did you hear that Cortana, Siri, and Alexa?
I guess to keep it simple, I prefer people over machines. Not to sound overly dramatic, but to quote Stephen Hawking, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” We’ll be in trouble when the AI we create is smarter than we are.
I’m grateful that I have a lot friends, family members, work colleagues, and neighbors who all have opinions and are willing to freely share them with me, whether invited to or not. Hell, I live in Madison, Wisconsin where people always have a point of view and are eager to express it. In this Age of Trump, Twitter, and social media, unsolicited advice, feedback, and often criticism is freely given like gifts you can’t return. Still, it’s a fair exchange, because I know the source of the message and I’m able to respond in private, or publicly. In most cases it’s a give-and-take proposition.
Now, in addition to the latter, Facebook friends who “like” or “share” updates and posts, and rate them with special emoji-like icons, can now download an app called Sarahah. The Sarahah app is designed to send and receive feedback from others, anonymously. The creators describe it by saying: “Sarahah helps people self-develop by receiving constructive anonymous feedback.” Yeah, sure.
Sarahah joins a handful of anonymous messaging apps such as Secret, Confide, and Whisper, that have become popular — and in some cases, notorious in recent months — by offering users a mechanism to provide feedback, gossip, and share secrets, while cloaking their identities. Add these to Snapchat, an image messaging app, and apps where you can ask questions and invite responses like Curious Cat and the now defunct Yik Yak and Formspring.
I ask, why would anyone want to invite trolls, mean girls, and a community of anonymous social media users to critique how I look, what I have to say, how I do my job, how I spend my time (and with whom), and lastly, judge my core beliefs and values? Often, their main objective is to hear their own voice in a kind of dysfunctional echo chamber, while making others less than, to become more than? I don’t need, or want, to be cyberbullied. Oh my, get me out of here!
Perhaps because I’m a baby boomer and still prefer face-to-face communication to texting, while sitting across the table from you, I won’t be downloading Sarahah. I’m glad friends on Facebook are talking about this too and not jumping on the anonymous messaging bandwagon. Unless I’m posting something on social media, or my blog — and yes, I still use email — I prefer feedback in person. Body language often conveys more than the words we choose, especially in 140-character Tweets. Are you listening Mr. President?
Self-Checkout & Check-In Kiosks
First, before I proceed with my rant — in the spirit of full disclosure — I enjoy shopping online and I use ATM’s and self-serve, pay-at-the-pumps gas stations, which for many us was the first exposure to commercial transactions not requiring a human being. Both ATM’s and online shopping are convenient and accessible, located where you need them, open all hours, and you can use them in your pajamas with bed hair if you choose to.
Most of my career has involved working with people. I’ve been a sales rep, account manager, I’ve worked in business development, public relations, publishing, purchasing and production management. I’ve designed best practices for customer service, and managed customer care teams. I could always measure my success by how satisfied the end user was with our business transaction.
Things have changed. From grocery stores with self-checkout aisles to check-in kiosks at airports and health clinics and hospitals. When I was about to turn 65 years old, I scheduled an appointment to meet with a Social Security representative in person, because I had a lot of questions and this was a one-time and critically important application that would affect my future. When I logged online to gather information, I was encouraged instead to apply online by simply following the prompts. Instead, I waited in a queue for a very long time waiting to talk with someone first, and schedule an appointment at the local office.
When I arrived at the local Social Security Administration office, instead of being greeted by a person, I stood in front of a kiosk. It asked me to enter personal information to identify myself before I could proceed to my appointment. It was a reminder that my future as an older person would be more impersonal and less hospitable.
Last year, when I stopped by my neighborhood credit union and walked into the lobby like I had many times before, instead of being greeted by friendly tellers, many who I recognized from past visits and who recognized me, I was directed to a kiosk. There were no longer tellers visible, instead a bank of machines. After providing identification and entering personal, and yes, confidential information, a teller from a remote location appeared on the screen and assisted me with my transaction.
There are pros and cons to using self-checkout and check-in kiosks. Click on the link to learn more. For me, I enjoy talking with people, I’m that person chatting up the grocery store clerk, or asking questions, relying on the expertise or recommendations of the retail clerk at the department store, or Best Buy, and any brick and mortar local retailer.
Personally, I don’t like to see customer service jobs disappear. I like to be greeted, welcomed, and assisted by people, in the flesh. Soon job titles like receptionist, teller, retail clerk, and customer service representative will be anachronisms. Instead we’ll be saying hello to newer versions of artificial intelligence like our friends Cortana, Siri, and Alexa.
First, I like automobiles and driving, though there is some irony that the root of the word automobile is derived from automatic mobility, which essentially is now evolving into autonomous vehicles. Yes, we’re removing the human element again.
I’ve told this story many times but as a child, I would sit on the concrete front stoop of my home on the corner of both a quiet and busy residential street. I would watch the cars pass my house and guess the make, model, and year of each vehicle. In the 1950’s and 60’s it was an exciting time for car design: tail fins, two-tone colors, station wagons called Vista-Cruisers with third row seats turned to look out the back, wood-paneled Jeeps, and vehicles that resembled boats as much as they did cars.
For the past 10 years I’ve worked for an auto dealership, first as a Business Development Center Manager, overseeing our customer care staff, and now I work part-time as a Sales Support and Administrative Assistant. Each day when I report to work, I’m surrounded by luxury European vehicles. It’s a car-lover’s dream environment.
As part of my job and because of my own passion, I read automotive news daily. Other than the proliferation of articles about airbag recalls, the diesel emissions cheating scandal, the biggest news is the development and future of autonomous vehicles. Let me first drive this stake (so to speak), I like to drive.
I’m not always too practical about my car buying, or leasing decisions. Of course, I buy what I can afford, yet I’m willing to sacrifice in other areas of discretionary income, to own a car that’s fun to drive, aesthetically pleasing, safe and reliable, and relatively frugal on fossil fuels. Some of the cars I’ve owned, more than one Toyota Celica, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class (an affordable work lease benefit), and now my second Mazda, a CX-3 subcompact crossover. Yes, “Zoom-Zoom.”
Perhaps because I’m a baby boomer and I like to drive, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around autonomous vehicles. There are many players involved, investing millions of dollars, in research and development of prototypes and the software and artificial intelligence required to navigate the roads. It will require billions of dollars in infrastructure updates to roads and traffic management. Everyone from Google to the government, automotive manufacturers, and insurance industries are stakeholders.
Some of the questions I ask — and I own my bias — is why do people want autonomous vehicles? Is it simply so you’re able to text while the vehicle drives itself, work online during your commute, or be safer on the road because you lack the driving skills or attention span? Studies have shown as new vehicles offer more autonomous safety features, people are depending on them more and their driving skills are diminishing. Oh my, more distracted drivers.
The Future’s So Bright — I Gotta Wear Shades
To sum up, I only need to look to my friends Pat and Barbara MacDonald performing as Timbuk3 and their 1986 hit song by that title that has turned out to be more prophetic than they may have originally imagined. Here’s a snippet from the lyrics:
“Well I’m heavenly blessed and worldly wise
I’m a peeping-tom techie with x-ray eyes
Things are going great, and they’re only getting better
I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades
I gotta wear shades”
Like the generations that preceded me, I will be required to either embrace the changes in the future, or become “set in my ways.” I’ve always enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy and exploring dystopian societies.
The question that I now need to answer is “How will I choose to live in a dystopian future?”
“An artificial intelligence program just annihilated its human competition at a world championship video game contest.” Click here for the full story and see a video from Open AI, a nonprofit artificial intelligence research firm known mainly for its entrepreneur Elon Musk, of Tesla ( ) and SpaceX fame. He cautions the public about the potential dangers in AI development. Yes, you read that correctly.
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