Zombies? Sounds like a B-grade horror movie doesn't it? In Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary (The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World), McGilchrist warns that our culture is moving toward a left-brain view of the world that is disconnected and mechanical. It slices and dices people into abstract categories and ignores the creative and humorous attributes of the right side of the brain. I'm inclined to agree. Before you assign me to the paranoia sector of people over 50, let's look at a few examples of left-brain, robotic communications.
Most of us have called a company on the phone to work out purchasing problems or to seek technical advice. After listening to seven or eight automated instructions that have no bearing on our request, we search desperately for ways to get in touch with a human being. Our attempt to navigate through this hardwired obstacle course often subjects us to small, condescending lectures: “Thank you for your patience”or“Your businesses is important to us.”
One time I asked for a representative –– as the recording instructed –– but kept getting the same response: “Please select a number or say REP-RE-SEN-TA-TIVE.” I decided to mimic my hardwired friend: “REP-RE-SEN-TA-TIVE.” I got through immediately. Perhaps we need courses on robotic speech as a second language, and we’d better start in kindergarten when children's brains are receptive to multiple languages.
In the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a very frustrated widow, played by Judi Dench, tries to get through to someone for help with her financial account. She finally reaches a human, but is told that the company needs to speak to the account holder before information can be released. When she explains that her husband died recently, the response from the live person mimics that of the robotic answering machines. Without a smidgen of empathy or sympathy, the human responds: “According to company policy, access to the account is blocked.”
Speaking of robotic communications, what about phone messages on our answering machines? Here’s one of my favorites. The phone rings and we hear: “CALL FROM UNAVAILABLE.” Unavailable? In a way, this always reminds me of a great Nat King Cole song. “UNAVAILABLE, that's what you are. UNAVAILABLE, though near or far. Oh my darling, it's incredible, that someone so UNAVAILABLE, thinks that I am UNAVAILABLE too!”
I don't usually answer these calls. Because the people calling me are unavailable, we might have difficulty communicating. And, if they are truly unavailable, why would they be calling? Is this someone's secretary or bodyguard calling? Perhaps they want to prepare me for rejection. Maybe they think I'm calling for a job. Why don't they just admit that I’m a victim of their repetitious, computer- scheduled phone calls?
Here's another one. “CALL FROM OUT OF AREA.” I'm not sure what this means. I know my own geographical area. I live in Florida, a Southern state, in the United States, but where are they calling from? Perhaps it's not a geographical designation. Perhaps they are far removed from me socially, intellectually or financially. They could be aliens from a flying saucer who are in need of gas or towing services. How would I know? And if they’re so far out of my “area,” what would I have in common with them? And why should I spend my time trying to communicate with anyone so hard to locate?
How about, ANN-O-NEE-MUS? (Anonymous.) Okay, I understand that in this age of fraud and digital piracy it’s wise to be careful about disclosing one's identity, but why should I disclose my name if they won't disclose theirs? If we are going to negotiate some kind of financial transaction, doesn’t that give them the upper hand? Wouldn't I want to know who's on the other side of the bargaining table from the get-go? Usually the person who discloses the most information early-on is the ultimate loser. And if self-disclosure is a sign of mental health, these anonymous people may have some real problems.
Here's the clincher. This one puts me in my place before I even pick up the phone. It simply broadcasts: “MEEK ER HEEKS, FUD.” (Mack R. Hicks, PhD). Think of it. After all that work. After all that education and training and years of practice as a clinical psychologist, I've been relegated to the same status as ELMER FUDD, right-brain funnyman who also suffers from communication problems: “Watch the woad, wabbit.” Maybe the new left-brain era doesn’t just slice and dice –– maybe it also “reduces.”
McGilchrist believes the left hemisphere is pushing the right brain out of existence. “The left hemisphere, ever optimistic, is like a sleepwalker whistling a happy tune as it ambles towards the abyss.” As McGilchrist points out, the left brain is a wonderful servant but a very poor master. I reflect a similar concern in The Digital Pandemic (Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic Age). I fear that sometime in the future, reliance on technology will speed up the demise of the human spirit as we know it.
Do we have another 10 or 20 years before we surrender our creativity and communication skills to technology and the left brain? HOLD IT WABBIT! Now I'm wondering if we have already reached the abyss. What if people are changing before our eyes –– becoming more machinelike –– unable to respond with a humane, empathetic spirit? What if they are all around us? Zombie talk? Night of the living dead? Yes, dead to humor, dead to empathy, and dead to human communication.
If you think I'm being a little too critical of our left-brained, digital friends, please give me a call. I may be “OUT OF THE AREA,” or “UNAVAILABLE,” but I won't be “ANONYMOUS.” Just dial up “MEEK ER HEEKS, FUD.”