New Age Meets Old School

When I leased my first hybrid vehicle, the amount of paperwork involved surprised me. Naturally, I prepared myself for the lease signing. I knew it would take at least an hour to sort out the details. I packed a book and a bottle of water for the wait. However, the actual amount of paper involved shocked me.

With the details confirmed, I watched in astonishment as the finance person printed out two sets of documents. He even wore a rubber grip on one finger to make sorting through the papers easier. He riffled through the pile of printed papers quickly and efficiently, sorting them into two stacks. I could tell he had done this many, many times before. One stack he signed, stapled, and stuffed into a folder for me.

He explained this was my copy, printed double sided. There was no need for me to sign it, but he signed it. This felt very weird to me that there might not be an original document with signatures of both parties involved. I asked about e-signing. The finance person explained it was no longer an option because of fraud.

While I sat puzzled by this piece of information, the next set of documents slid towards me under the slot of the plastic partition. Printed single sided, I had to sign and initial the papers. Which I did in lots of places, highlighted in bright yellow by the finance person as I skimmed the documents. With the tedious signing process completed, the stack was ready for scanning. The whole process felt strange and outdated to me. And why couldn’t I get a copy of the scanned version? What was the point of giving me my own set of partially signed paper documents to scan myself later?

Puzzling through the sequence of steps later, the records-side of me had to wonder, where was the original? Could there still be an original with only partially signed documents? And if fraud happened in the first rounds of using e-signing, why couldn’t I e-sign directly with the finance person after he confirmed my identity?

As I drove away, listening to the purr of the quiet electric motor, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’ll ever be free of these inefficient, oudated, processes.

The Sound of My Soul

At the end of the summer, I took my first flight since Covid. We went to Halifax, a city I always wanted to visit. Landing in this new city I could immediately sense a difference, especially after living near fresh water for over ten years. The change was palpable. My tongue tasted salt in the air. Though I was visiting a different part of the Atlantic, it still felt comfortable and like home to me.

On our first full day we rode the ferry from Dartmouth to Halifax. My nostrils expanded to inhale the briny air. My lungs swelled, thirsty for more of the fresh, salty breeze surrounding us as we zipped across the water.

Two days later we drove to the iconic Peggy’s Cove. Standing on the white rocks surrounding the lighthouse I reconnected and recharged with the sound of my soul. I reveled in the strong crashes of the waves against the rocks. The relentless shushing and cresting of one wave after another pressing against the shoreline.

The next day, eager for more time with the ocean, we spent the afternoon at the beach. Wind dusted up the sand and made it feel chilly, despite the bright sun. I still put on my bathing suit and went swimming. The frigid temperature of the water hurt my face, while refreshing me at the same time. I didn’t last long, but it felt glorious.

Time was short the following day, but we managed to squeak in one last trip to the shore again. The sky was overcast. However, it wasn’t windy and felt warmer. The water had been calm the day before. Now it was swirling and churning, the high tide rushing in. Once again reminding me of the many moods of the ocean and how mercurial she can be. Calm and smooth as glass one day. Still and freezing cold the next. Roiling and white-capped at other times. Yet, always with the same essential qualities to restore, recharge, and refresh.

The Vast Realms of Friendship

I grew up in the analog age when the kinds of friendships were more limited. We didn’t have “facebook” friends, chat buddies, or communicate with people we hadn’t met IRL first. Friends lived close by. The few long-distance friends I had from various camps never lasted long. Mostly, I think, because the effort of communicating via snail mail was too onerous to maintain. In those days, even calling a different part of the state could be expensive. Some of my friends lived in different states altogether.

The phone was also a friend lifeline, especially in the tween years. In those years I was still too young to go out by myself. I used to spend hours and hours talking on the phone with various friends. It seems strange to me that young kids may not have regular access to a phone, unless they have their own cell phone, or can share with someone. In school we passed handwritten notes to each other. I found a stashed box of them a few years ago cleaning out my childhood bedroom.

These days the whole nature of friendship feels fundamentally altered. I have some friends with a more “traditional” friendship. We message somewhat regularly and even, gasp, call each other. These friends don’t live that close so in-person meetings can be a bit tricky.

Then there are others with whom I communicate mostly through messaging with the occasional in-person meetings. These I find more challenging to understand the nature of the friendship. It’s easy to hide behind text messages and slow the pace of communication. Responses can be delayed, vague, or even non-existent leaving the other person to wonder. Recently I was wondering about some friends. Shockingly, I got my answer accidentally through social media. Photo confirmation popped up in my feed one day confirming my suspicions that I had been dropped. I wouldn’t say I had FOMO over this, but it was a devastating way to find out. I also rarely use social media, so the whole thing felt weird and unsettling to me.

True friends, however, are the ones you can contact through any medium, anytime. When you do, they’re happy to hear from you. They’ll reach out if you’ve “gone dark” for a while. Most importantly, you can always pick up where you left off, even if you have a few kinks to work out every once in a while.

My Chatbot Buddy

Chancey sighed deeply and took another look around the empty room. It was definitely before his time, but he had heard about these famed writers’ rooms. Yes, writers, plural. As in more than one person participating. He wasn’t even sure why he was in this room. Wasn’t this the kind of thing he could do from home? Couldn’t he be comfortable in his pjs, sipping something tasty from his favorite mug, and working?

The windowless room felt suffocating. Even more so when Chancey felt stifled by Anora, his Chatbot Buddy. Connected almost at birth, Anora had been Chancey’s silent, sometimes not-so-silent, Buddy. During his infancy, and beyond, Anora had been there to interpret, predict, customize, and learn all about Chancey. Sometimes even before Chancey had time to discover for himself. All of which led to this job, in this cell of a room, designed for at least 8 people, but now with one. Or rather, one plus, if Chancey was being fair to give Anora some credit. After all, it was the fun, quirky, relationship between Chancey and Anora that landed “them” Chancey’s dream job of being a scene writer.

At least Chancey thought it was his dream job. Anora tailored so many things to Chancey’s every whim, sometimes it was hard for him to tell what should be something permanent versus a fleeting thought. Anyways, here they were. Chancey racking his brain for good ideas. Transmitting them to Anora and waiting for the good stuff to come back. Or at least something workable to mold into a decent scene.

Having a Buddy was wonderful and strange. Chancey often mused how his parents ever got anything accomplished, or even figured out where to order dinner without having a Buddy. How did they even function before Feeds and Buddies? Chancey shook his head in wonder. Then shook his head again, stroked the feed in his forearm and concentrated. A moment later a familiar twang jolted Chancey’s body.

“Yes, Chancey?”

“Anora, tell me a story about two people living before Feeds and Buddies, but with some technology. They have those clever phones, but they need to drive their own cars, and search for their own information.”

Chancey sighed again. He stood to stretch his legs. Then sat down, grabbed the plain, boring mug on the long table and took a sip. Anora was ready to begin and so was Chancey.


Gina blinked her eyes hard before staring at the screen again. The headline remained the same: 673 Dead in Catastrophic Double Plane Crash. But was it real?

Since acquiring her new job as part of the “Generative AI Hallucination Detection” team, she couldn’t look at anything in the news or on social media without questioning its origins. Ironically, her co-workers and friends called her the “hallucinator”, even though her job was to detect and dispel them. She had a knack for identifying Gen-AI hallucinations, the real damaging ones. However, sometimes she did feel like she was hallucinating herself. It got tough to manage the ever blurring lines between real, factual, experienced, and just plain made up.

Even though apps and programs abounded to detect hallucinations, deepfakes, and other forms of generated deceit, sometimes the work required a human. Other times it came down to hardcore research, perusing non-digital formats in archives. The thing about generative AI is that it created based on what it was “fed”. Sometimes the AI generated new, and often fictitious results, labeled as “hallucinations.” Once created, hallucinations could also become part of the generative AI “diet”, and could be regurgitated later with previous references to back it up. It could be a perpetuating cycle, hard to detect and even harder to extinguish.

Her attention focused on the headline before scrolling quickly through the article. She jotted down key information points. Airline names. Locations. Plane models. Number of passengers. After, she zoomed in on the photos looking for telltale signs of fabrication. In the 90 seconds it took her to do this, her feed had been tingling madly with frantic work messages about the dramatic headline. In the 120 seconds it took her to listen to the frantic work messages, the headline was viewed over 100,000 times and counting.

Gina cringed hearing her boss’s orders barked through the feed. Due to some recent upgrades, the sender’s real voice read the text-based messages. Another feat of AI-magic. In essence, her boss needed answers and fast. The challenge, for Gina and others on her team, is that finding the facts needed to dispel hallucinations often came from the same source. Unless she could verify details, like the ones she noted, in alternative ways, it could be tricky to disprove.

She started where she always did, by reaching out to human experts. This time, she started with her airline contacts.

The Magic Language of Babies

It may seem that the only language babies know is crying, crying, and more crying. But in many cases, crying is a last resort. A way of letting caretakers know the baby is now desperate for food, a clean diaper, sleep, or a snuggle. Rivaling the decibel level of a lawn mower, crying is a powerful survival mechanism for the baby. The loudness ensures somebody hears the baby.

Although it seems that crying is the main language, babies are really masters of non-verbal communication. Noticing the nuanced signs and signals and figuring out what they mean requires one to pay close attention. For example, the broad recognition of newborn hunger cues. There’s general rustling and mouth openings to start. Sometimes there’s “rooting” when the infant will go searching for a nipple. The movements gradually get more pronounced, going through two levels of escalation before the crying, wailing really, starts.

I thought about these things while reading NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman. In the book there’s speculation that many of the technological advances we use, including the many forms of communication, were created by people on the spectrum. Based on my understanding, this may be because people with autism prefer communicating in less direct ways for a number of reasons.

While I appreciate and support the many wonderful ways technology connects us, we lose something vital without in-person time. Small details such as how somebody smells, telltale signs of nervousness or boredom, and the focus of somebody’s eyes, don’t exist with many forms of electronic communication. We’re left to rely on tone, for verbal conversations, and even less with textual conversations. In some cases we may only have cues such as capital letters, sparingly used punctuation marks, and emoji to help us figure out the non-verbal nuances. I also feel that too much electronic communication makes people insensitive towards each other.

Even on-camera conversations miss cues. Sometimes the connection is poor resulting in grainy images or lag times. Other times people are not looking directly at the camera because their attention is on another monitor.

We have a lot to learn from each other by connecting. Even if verbal communication doesn’t feel comfortable for some of us, there are lots of other cues to notice for connecting.