it’s a normal friday and i’ve been greeted with all kinds of kindnesses. mostly via email and mostly by businesses i’ve frequented of late. an airline thoughtfully asked if there was anything i needed (that they could provide) for the trip i just booked. a cosmetic store kindly inquired about the mud mask i recently purchased as a gift for a friend. my favorite shoe brand informed me that i could order the new fall line, in my size, with a simple click of my trackpad. the company that hosts my web domain sent me important reminders regarding storage, demographics i’m missing, and how to expand my audience. ticketmaster sent a list of shows i might enjoy based on those i’ve purchased tickets for of late and itunes suggested i might love a particular new bosa nova recording.
i feel so known. i feel so loved. by my computer and every corporation who accesses me through it.
for years i worked as an executive assistant. in those days my official title was “secretary” and i really did make coffee, file actual sheets of paper, and call each financial planner in the practice by their title and surname. i hand wrote phone messages and delivered them on little pink slips of paper to individual offices. i had a very good teacher and excelled at my work which was, essentially, to study each planner’s habits, norms, and preferences and cater to them. in so doing it was thought that i would increase their efficiency and, therefore, their productivity. after a few short weeks i was able to deliver the perfectly creamed and sugared cup of coffee at exactly the right time without ever being asked. i knew where to book lunch reservations and what types of thank you gifts to send to whom. i could anticipate which clients would want to chat with me before their appointments and which wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. i finessed my relationships with local florists and entertainment venders and could capitalize on those connections when needed. a job well done meant that my employers rarely had to ask for anything. it seemingly just appeared.
this was how the world worked when i was a secretary. back then, the more you anticipated and successfully responded to the needs of your employer, the more dependent upon you they were for their success. there was a downside to this, however, and executives with bang-up assistants began to expect the same kind of mind reading at home that they received at the office. coffee (or cocktails) should be delivered without being asked for. breakfast should be served, not made. items should simply appear and, somehow, all necessities magically anticipated and dealt with.
which brings me back to today. i have trained my computer, and the cyber universe it brings to me, to be an excellent assistant. all the companies i do business with have done the same. my preferences are catered to and i’m presented with offers that are so highly informed by my habits and behaviors that they truly are hard to pass up. it sort of makes the people in my life pale in comparison. if i weren’t so aware of the whole process it might feel as though my mind were being read.
i come from a species that loves having its mind read.
one of the most common relational complaints i hear has to do with the lack of mind reading that happens in relationships and, instead, the terrible task of asking for what one wants. it is seemingly no fun to try to engage in the messy dynamics of tending to more than one set of needs and capabilities. “if i have to ask for x,y, or z, it won’t mean as much when i receive it.” “he’s known me for 25 years and i still have to remind him it’s my birthday.” “she’s eaten with me for 14 years and she can’t get it through her head that i don’t like tomatoes.” “we’ve been best friends for forever and she still forgets that i need some alone time.” “he doesn’t remember that i prefer...” “how could she be so clueless as to not know...” the list goes on and on.
it’s so inconvenient to have to ask for what we need and want. it’s so much easier to have it delivered without our having to think about it. when this happens we don’t have to risk disappointment. we don’t have to open ourselves to the possibility of being let down or told no. the trouble is we also don’t put ourselves in places where we can encounter situations or things that are new or different. we don’t provide ourselves with opportunities to learn flexibility, communication skills, and character.
my computer knows exactly when, each month, to make “offers.” businesses know when i am most likely to buy something on impulse and stumbleupon provides pages to pull me in when they’ve “missed me.” if all i ever purchase is music suggested to me because of my prior purchases i’ll never hear music that is different from that which i already like. in so doing i might begin to believe that “my kind” of music is really the “only” (or superior) kind of music. if i don’t ask you to remember my birthday with a token, i leave open the ability to resent you when you don’t give me a gift. if i rely on mind reading i will learn to rely only on things and people i teach to read my mind rather than being grown by the spontaneity of real live relating.
the truth is that, in the real world, we can’t have everything we want. if our partners, friends, parents, teachers, and the like all responded to our wishes and wants like our computers do our worlds would be reduced to as many narcissistic microcosms as there are people. we would all be catered to, “spoiled,” and incredibly one dimensional. we’d be isolated and self sufficient or, worse, entitled beings who see others as existing only to meet our needs. we would never be required to slog through the process of having to articulate our needs and let others respond honestly. we might never be let down but we would be so lonely. and so alone. fully satiated and fully alone.
so why not lean less on the “personal assistants” in our pockets and on our desks and embrace the excitement of living in a world where our minds aren’t read? where we taste food before we read 85 reviews on urban spoon. where we experience a city looking up rather than down at the gps in our hand. where we go to lectures and concerts as often as we watch entire television series’ back to back. where we try things that are unknown and new and ripe for exploration. where we are given opportunities to do the hard task of asking for what we’d like and the even harder job of letting others respond as they can. where we develop character and perseverance and resilience and connection...