I strove for perfection all my life.
I was still just half my (tiny) mom’s height when she was already telling me it didn’t have to be perfect, and it was okay the way it was, and I argued and insisted that it absolutely had to be perfect and she just didn’t understand.
Why are moms always annoyingly right?
But if I didn’t learn the lesson from her, recently, an unlikely teacher appeared to drive the point home after all: the technology in my life.
It’ not just because of the fuckups that technology makes all the time, which do remind me that even machines and programs are not perfect (so how could humans be?) Whether it’s a projector that stops working, or a calendar item that shows the wrong timezone, when an imperfect human creates something, the result is often as imperfect.
There’s another more profound explanation.
Last week at the House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon, designed as a stark contrast to the Websummit happening in town, we were greeted by the text: “If technology is eating up the world, we might as well have a glass of wine with it.” In such context, I gave two workshops: How Artists Will Save Business (And Humanity) — with my co-founders at Artists Are Among Us — where we started with the announcement that this was an experiment and we were prepared to fail, and were likely to be completely imperfect; and Preparing for Superhumanity, in which I introduced much more simple yet meaningful ways of connecting to ourselves and each other. The response was overwhelmingly positive and filled with surprised personal insights from entrepreneurs and executives alike.
But the real gem of insight was waiting for me in the days ahead, in the physical and emotional spaces that started to form between us all.
As the week went on, the House became a home to a group of 75 odd residents from a variety of walks of life and business.
As I hung out with this big bunch of beautiful humans talking about AI and robots and technology, and its impact on business and society, I started to wonder if the biggest win of all from the appearance of robots in our society might just be that they might free us up from the self-imposed burden and pressure of performing at top speed and efficiency, of constantly trying to outdo ourselves and each other, of trying to be perfect.
Because let’s face it, our generation is obsessed with trying to be perfect, the best at everything. There is no room for mediocrity or stupidity, unless you have the excuse of being sick or intoxicated.
As we talked about the way we humanise everything, how we find our empathy for robots or even just a machine with a voice, how we feel sad at the idea of shutting a robot down forever, even of how we can’t lose our identities to digitalisation, or how digitalisation might risk us becoming too comfortable to actually have good reason to go on living, it became clear that a lot of people are worried about the challenges we might face in a world driven by technology and artificial intelligence.
Yet the opportunity within this world for us to actually investigate what it really means to be human (and not machine) is wide open.
In my workshop about preparing for superhumanity, I explored how we might evolve to our higher — highest — selves when we actually had the time and energy to spend on flexing our internal muscles, and redeveloping our internal connection to our own hearts, minds, souls and bodies. If human is to chimpanzee, perhaps superhuman is to human, on the evolutionary scale.
I talked about how our weakness or greatest struggle is often the source of our superpower, the thing in which we can make the biggest contribution to others. We become experts in the thing we seek the most, and we become experienced in dealing with the thing that we battle the most.
Yet, amidst all of the activity, discussion, workshops, conversations that I participated in this past week, there was an undercurrent of self-awareness that was collecting data but could not process it fully until now, that I am home and alone again and can hear my own thoughts and develop my internal negatives in the darkroom of my house.
And that was: in the comfort and safety of being amongst kind and loving strangers that turned into friends, then family, talking about technology from every angle possible, (something I am no expert in apart from basically engaging with it 90% of my waking time) I noticed that I was a different me than I ever have been in a group of strangers before.
I was not perfect. I was not even trying to be perfect. Or even being noticed. I was just me.
I was comfortable, relaxed, in my body, ranging from quiet to engaged, intellectual to goofy, sometimes solo in a room by myself, sometimes dancing with everyone until 4am. I dressed to be comfortable, and for my own mood. I spoke to express myself, or to contribute, not to be recognised. I shared without expectation, of myself or others, humbly and joyfully. And effortlessly.
In fact, I made no effort at all. I simply was.
And it’s possibly the first time in my life that I was not even thinking of trying to be perfect. Of holding my stomach in or walking around on heels or if my makeup was still okay. Or if I had said the right thing, or made a fool of myself.
And I felt loved, admired, held, respected, even desired. In a way that made me feel like a joyful little girl again, at play with her friends in the park, giggling and sharing stories and not wanting to go home even when its dark.
I felt free of my own stories and the responsibility to make sure I was being convincing with them still.
Maybe robots can remind us of our own empathy with their potentially childlike innocence (at least at first when their programs are simple and yet underdeveloped).
But maybe even more importantly,
they can take away the pressure for us to be perfect machines, and realise that being human
means just that: beautiful in our imperfection.
When we don’t have to act like machines, because machines are readily available, maybe we can finally teach each other to be kinder to ourselves, to be more loving and gentle, to demand less and to play more. Maybe our ideals can fall, at least in all the superficial ways, and we can let our souls run the show, letting our inner child emerge, safely and confidently.
Maybe when a machine is rigid, uncompromising, disciplined and consistent, it can free us up from having to be all those things. And we can enjoy doing all the things it could never do.
Like sleeping in until noon. Laughing at dorky jokes until you double over. Eating junk food and drinking alcohol with your buddies. Being quiet together and just enjoying the sun on your face. Feeling scared one day and enthralled the next. And talking about all the things you still want to do in your life. And not doing what you should to get there, but just enjoying what you end up doing instead. Even if it’s sleeping in until noon.
I am just starting to be human. Because I’ve been trying to be a machine for most of my life.
Turns out, the more natural beauty I see in life, the more natural beauty it creates in little human me.
Have an experience that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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