April 2021, readathon

The Battle of the Grid: Humanity’s Real Power Struggle

By Melissa Roe 

Greetings Readers, 

I hope everyone is safe and healthy, and preparing those stacks for the next Dewy’s Readathon on the 24th. I’ve almost completed mine, and looking forward to seeing you guys there!

How do you usually read these days? Do you plug into the Audible app on your commute to work, the gym or to run errands? Do you read them with a Kindle or any other electronic reading device? Or, do you actually pick up a physical paper or hard-cover book? Say it isn’t so! 

Well, no matter how you read, you’re hopefully enjoying the hours of scrolling and page turning for the readathon and beyond. For me, I used to read my books in Braille since I’m totally blind, but all of my books are in audio or E-text, so I can’t exactly go off the grid when I read. In almost every area of my apartment there is a computer, phone or tablet available for me to read or jot down notes. I’m thankful for the technology that has granted me an independent and fulfilling life, but it’s my only way of staying informed. This can become frustrating at times when we go on vacation and people can’t seem to understand why I can’t fully disconnect like they can. I’m also spreading my wings as a creative writer, and when I turn to writers for advice, I sometimes get, “Disconnect, and take time to reflect. Go off the grid for a while. Take a journal to a park or into the woods and just write.” No matter how much walking or self-reflecting I do, I’ll eventually find that this journaling thing requires me to be tethered to an outlet. 

The corona virus has had a deeper impact, more than just the tragic loss of countless lives. Quarantined inside our homes, we turned to our beloved devices as our only link to the outside world. While the video calls to loved ones were precious and needed more than we could say, the internet also bombarded us with news about rising case numbers and political chaos. This made me increasingly depressed. Here I was just trying to keep up with friends and family, and I get a story that pops up on my screen about people refusing to wear a mask and causing a riot at a store. I know I wasn’t alone in that sentiment however. I imagine you probably were feeling the same way, overwhelmed, frustrated, maybe even crazy at times. Imagine what this pandemic would be like if we were in the 50’s. We wouldn’t be able to attend work meetings from our couch, the television would only have a few channels, and the only reading material available was the Bible along with a few dogeared books from the attic. A quarantine under those circumstances would have driven me insane, which brings up the question, are we relying on our machines too much? 

The struggle to maintain a balanced lifestyle has become increasingly difficult, so who really has the power now? I know of two people in my life who lie on either end of the spectrum, and both of them drive me crazy. One friend is who I call the conspiracy theorist, insisting that the government is using machines to control our minds, and that there could even be microchips in the covid vaccines. On the other hand, another friend responds to her phones notifications the minute they come in, and doesn’t think to put down her phone and join the rest of human civilization. It’s important to remember that no matter how much we love or hate our machines, they all are a reminder of the genius of the incredible human mind. Humans invented these machines, and it is our individual choice to use them or not. 

What about the tasks these machines are allowed to perform? As someone with a disability, I can benefit from new technology, but when do we draw the line? I’m perfectly content with a computer reading the latest best seller to me, but how about a sighted guide robot? Basically, sighted guide refers to a technique in which a blind person holds the elbow of a sighted person, and walks beside them, or behind them sometimes in congested environments. For decades, this usually only required a human with a working pair of eyeballs who also could make the blind person aware of approaching steps or other obstacles. Malls and stores, for example, are more crowded than ever, and severely understaffed. On one hand, I’m trying to keep an open mind and view these robots as just another invention designed to help those who want to be more independent. Going shopping usually requires me to ask for assistance, and when there is none available, I become frustrated because I can’t complete a rather simple task. Having a robot handy would certainly alleviate this problem, but I also don’t feel comfortable putting my life in the hands of a robot. If more jobs keep getting allotted to machines, however, I may not have a choice in the near future. If they’re safe and effective, then I’ll give it a go. Let’s just hope he or she has the decency to learn human conversation. 🙂 

If you’re curious to read more because you know someone who is blind, or you like reading about cool tech, then 

this paper

Details a collaborative university effort to design and study the efficacy of building service robots for blind people. I love the concept and think it could be extremely helpful, but at what price? 

Let’s talk about one of the most basic, but beautiful tasks performed by human beings, raising children. Do you think robots are capable of this? I know when I was a little girl, I thought it would be cool to have robotic parents. Of course, as a child I didn’t understand the concepts of honesty, charity and love, but I know them now thanks to the loving guidance of human parents. If we could code computers to solve insurmountable equations, then can we teach robots to perform such a vital, thankless task? 

We wouldn’t be getting ready for the readathon if I didn’t give you a couple of book recommendations. The first is a collection of short stories written by Ray Bradbury, one of them entitled “I Sing The Body Electric”. You can find this collection 

(https://www.amazon.com/Sing-Body-Electric-Other-Stories/dp/0380789620)here on Amazon.

This is also a title of a poem written by Walt Whitman, and an episode of The Twilight Zone, which also happens to be written by Ray Bradbury. His stories are great reads, but it is the Twilight Zone episode I’m currently interested in. In the episode, a busy single father struggles to raise his children after the death of his wife. In order to provide a maternal role model in his children’s lives, he. Gets a robotic grandmother to help look after the children, but not all of them accept her so readily. His daughter Anne does everything she can to avoid this new robotic grandmother, yet behind her blatant rejection is a hidden source of pain that gets resolved in an unusual way. I’m not going to spoil the episode for you. You simply must watch it. I’m the same way about books. I don’t like to give book spoilers away, and I don’t like receiving them. I’d rather read and be pleasantly surprised. 

Recently, I came across another book, “The Mother Code” written by Carole Stivers. 

(https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Code-Carole-Stivers/dp/1984806920)Here it is on Amazon.

When a biohazzard agent is released into the atmosphere, the human race slowly begins to die off. A group of scientists, in a desperate effort to save humanity, create robots that will not only raise children, but actually give birth to them. The embryos would be housed in an egg-like incubation system inside the robot, and they would be genetically engineered to be immune to the deadly virus. This book is an excellent read, and I love watching the impossible become possible through the power of fiction. 

As you read, I encourage you to enjoy the suspension of disbelief, but to also think about where you believe the boundaries of possibility should lie. Do you believe robots should be allowed to do anything we program them to do, or should some tasks be left to those with a loving soul? Should we put ourselves in the trust of machines to save us, or remind our future generations of the real reason for survival, a love and dependence on one another, and the flame of hope that guides us to our fullest potential? Where should the power of machines be harnessed, and where should we cut back? 

Finally, I want to wish you a happy Spring, and thank you for taking the time to read this. Happy reading, and be blessed. 

From Melissa Roe and Guide Dog Zappa