Are We Endangered by The Virtual


When I was four years old I received a lovely basset hound pull toy from Santa for Christmas. I was thrilled of course, named it Joe (because before I was born my dad had a real basset hound named Calypso Joe) and dragged that poor abused toy all over the house, all the time. Luckily for my parents, Santa had removed the clacker in his rear legs – a little mechanical neutering to keep sanity in the home. It was a great little toy and I loved ‘Joe’ but never, even at four, did I think it was better than the real McCoy; it was a definite substitute as I awaited the real thing- which would take a few more years to come to pass.


Technology has come a long way in fifty-four years. Robotic pets are making inroads into the toy market, becoming the new-world stuffed animal we all nursed as children and I do not object to that.


I do have a great objection when the robotics are presumed to be the same as a living creature and nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of our seniors confined to nursing homes.


Hasbro™ has developed ‘Joy For All’, a robotic kitty with, admittedly life-like qualities. A Japanese firm, the Intelligent System Research Institute, has created ‘Paro’ a baby harp seal with the same amazing technological qualities. They are currently being used in various nursing homes to help incite interaction among its clients and being touted as ‘a real breakthrough in getting our residence to come out of their shell.’


Is this the wave of the future?


Maybe I’m not embracing change, maybe I’m a ‘stick in the mud’ mired in the  soil of Mother Earth; but does anyone out there reading this blog actually think a shell of computer chips and batteries is better than a wet nose or a pair of kneading paws?


 It becomes a sterile world void of touch when we begin to consider virtual to be the norm, imitation to be as good as the true original and consciously construct the replacement of the living world and the beings who inhabit it. It is just a bad path to walk in my opinion.


There is an argument to be had that therapy animals are no always available; but I think if we are concerned our elders are not receiving enough ‘love’, enough physical contact or enough interaction we could make more efforts to get therapy animals into these places by working with TDI (Therapy Dogs International) and like establishments. If I were to walk into an elder residence with ‘Joe’ (my drag around buddy from years ago) and the real Calypso Joe, would it even be a contest?


The idea of replacing living, loving Beings with robotic look–a-likes is dangerous territory to my thinking. A mechanical companion is more convenient and predictable, agreed. But are these not the very qualities that are synonymous with boredom, the very emotion that sucks the life from our elders and occasionally us?  People with limited social networks need someone to tell them they have worth, that they are loved for who they are now. Nothing virtual or robotic can love. Nothing mechanical can replace the warmth of a heart. Toys are wonderful diversions in everyday life, but to convince ourselves that they are substitutes for living touch is preposterous.


That is where the scale tips between the living and the virtual. Are we in danger of not needing wild places to walk because we have created them in virtual worlds? Of having virtual animal companions because the real ones are messy, time consuming and demand we be accountable?


Maybe at some point in the future these robotics will be the norm- in which case you can just drop me off at the next planet…but until then I will happily pick up pooh, be totally inconvenienced by their whims and desires…and love and be loved in my totally unpredictable natural world.


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