As we descend deeper and deeper into The Uncanny Valley, we are left to wonder if we want those built to be like us, to be like us, or if we prefer them to look mechanical so we can more immediately identify not just what, but who, we are interacting with in our intimate lives.
I am fascinated by The Uncanny Valley, because I am a child of The Paper Mountain generation and currently serve as a bridge between the two unnavigable crevasses — as I revealed in this discussion of our newest Marshall Jamison poem published ten years after his death — quite an uncanny feat from a Paper Mountain Godhead if there ever was one:
I’m a “bridge generation” from paper and pen and typewriter into the electronic world of nefarious bits and bytes.
Today, there is no paper trail. Only multiple “e-drafts” that indicate nothing of the revision and thinking process. We’ve long-lost the beauty of handwritten script, too — or, the ugliness of it, if you’re talking about trying to decipher what I’ve written out by hand.
Today, it is fascinating there are children in the world who have not been born into an analog world. The world they know is purely digital. They have never known life without the internet. Email and SMS are ordinary, ubiquitous, totems of daily living.
For my Paper Generation elders, the idea that something can be written and “time machined” forward to another person in a faraway land is still an amusement — if you don’t allow yourself to become chastened and contemptuous in a world where everything is now and nothing is made, or meant to, last.
My role as a generational bridge can be a challenging one. I see the value in both bales of paper and bytes of nothingness and they each have a separate, but essential, commoditization. Leaving a paper trail was always an important, prosecutorial pathway to the truth; but today, the trail of what actually happened is harder to divine, and easier to fake, and oftentimes it is impossible to fully recover what was done and so, one much have much more faith in a transient world that no longer exists, but may still exist somewhere out there in the cloud or on a local backup server.
The Uncanny Valley values faith much more than the Paper Mountain. We allegedly don’t need physical libraries any longer to store our memories because we’ve decided to believe that mortal mind space is safe and secure in infinite storage.
Is it possible for another generation to experience the loss of human provocation and genius thought that befell an entire people in the Alexandria Library fire? Have we protected our immortal self-interests with backup upon backup? Or is it that we really don’t care much any longer for what other people before us thought? Is the vagabond meme, and not actual memory, the only thing that matters going forward as we reinvent the wheel over and over again while bragging about it online?
As The Uncanny Valley becomes canny and ordinary and the newborn reality — where will the mechanists among us thrive? Is there the same thrill of creating a virtual life as there is in creating a mechanical one made of plastic, metal, and gears? If The Paper Mountain is dead, can The Uncanny Valley ever really be alive? Will we have to invent a second indicator of life other than breathing?