h a r r i e t m a y

Tag: personal development

With more tech comes more responsibility

00003XTR_00003_BURST20170408100147-01“Do you think I could be an actor?” I cut a glance at Sam in such a way to ensure that he knows this is a test. It’s a game we play, usually when we’re at the theatre, like we are now. I am old enough to know how much work goes into becoming an actor, how highly skilled they are, but young enough to still think I could do anything, and why not this? I also think people who assume they can do anything are perhaps also the sort who don’t need endless reassurance, but I do. Sam is an actor, so I trust his opinion on this one, and also my fiancé, so I rely on him to always see the potential in me that I hope is really there.

“Well, you’d need to learn to project, for one,” he says, matter-of-factly, “and you’d need to overcome your mannerisms.” I pull back in mock-horror. My mannerisms! Sam proceeds to mime, bending his arms at the elbows and sharply punctuating the air with his hands, in which I find a nuanced sense of both beauty and humour, but not myself. “I do not do that!,” I object, and quickly cover myself: “And even if I did, that would mean I couldn’t be an actor?” I would hate to think my obstacles are things I cannot even see.

“No, you would just have to learn these things about yourself, and then how not to do them.” His response is reasonable, and after all, I am interested in finding out how swaths of people behave, and why. I should at the very least be able to do this for myself. And from what I can see, actors possess all the speaking, performance, communication, empathetic and analytical skills that are becoming increasingly necessary in the age of digital connection and virtual reality.

We have just installed Google Home, and now I can demand the lights go on and off, the temperature go up and down, media begin and end, on a whim like a spoiled child, and without moving a muscle. It’s a funny thing to grow up with a parent who remembers having to walk to the TV to change the channel, and now I don’t even have to hunt through the sofa cushions to find a remote. I think, this will help me learn to project.

Google Home is a smart assistant, but what I really need is a smart coach. There is economic value is outsourcing or automating mundane tasks– the reason why robots are replacing jobs at alarming rates— but what about personal value? The people who are losing jobs to machines do not have better lives because of it. They are being removed from the workplace altogether, so as we become more accepting of robots we have a responsibility to understand how that will effect the world around us.

So I understand that Google Home could quite possibly pick up on my mannerisms too. And when it does, will it use that knowledge just to sell me better things, removing the need for companies other than Google? My hope for technology is that it doesn’t just make my life more convenient, but that it can also help me become a better version of myself. My hope is that technology offers me more opportunities rather than just taking some away.

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On greed

IMG_20170312_121600We’re young and urban and busy, so not much about our lives is about ritual, and when it is, it’s the ritual of morning coffee from Pret or of cramming ourselves into a Victoria line train before someone with greater mass pushes us back out (“Pull in your bags and jackets from the closing doors!” the train drivers bellow across the PA and then a beat later, predictably dismayed, “Somebody didn’t listen!”). We were raised with various half-hearted religions, or none at all, and whatever spirituality our parents hoped we’d gain has now been replaced with YouTube videos. “I think running is your spirituality,” Sam tells me, when I declare I’m not at all spiritual. “It occupies a lot of your mind and your time.” Does this mind-space and time-taken equate to spirituality, or distract from it? “It’s spiritual,” Sam assures me, “the way you use running to focus, to connect with yourself.” I’m not certain. All I know is I’m glad I have no obligation at all to pretend I believe in anything beyond stardust and electricity and sure even dark matter.

We meet Amy at a workers caff for eggs and toast before making our way over to Conway Hall, a beautiful art deco building that houses the oldest freethought organisation in the world. On the surface it’s church-like, but rather than bible verses the walls remind its congregation TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. It’s the kind of place where I can forget I’m hungover, rather than be made more aware of it. We are here for Sunday Sermon, another reminder of what we owe to those who normalised weekly meetings around the world to share ideas which is not, by itself, a terrible idea. The theme is greed and the first order of the day is to belt out the hymn, ABBA’s ‘Money Money Money’, before Jack Monroe, fresh from legal victory, takes the stage. I’m a little greedy, for success, for Karen Millen dresses, certainly for sourdough bread. I’m also a marketer whose work is based somewhat on manipulating the greed of others. I need this.

“I apologise for the general state of me,” she says, smirking beneath a flash of orange hair. Even suffering from a cold and not, like me, the consequences of the previous night, Jack is vibrant and rebellious and it’s easy to see how she has made a career out of appealing to the public, pushing back against modern pressures to be anything other than herself. The pressures to be aspirational, as she says. We can be successful without taking up all the space, all the resources, we can want things without damaging ourselves and our communities and each other. And this is the difference, as she tells it: following on from the success of her first book, A Girl Called Jack, her publisher had plans to grow Jack from “the face of modern poverty” into an aspirational success story, with a high-gloss, hardback book retailing for £26.99, more than double the £10 maximum selling price she had demanded for her first book. “The only way you can take every one of my readers on this journey with me,” she recalls saying, “is to give every one of them a book deal. Can you do that?” Yet at the time, Jack was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, in a flat with five other people, a stark contrast to the space the publisher had arranged in which to take the highly stylised photography for the book. And in the end it didn’t become Jack’s book, it was something else entirely, not made for Jack’s audience but in spite of them: “and it flopped.”

Jack doesn’t manipulate greed but questions it. I resolve to question my greed, turn it into creativity and curiosity–focus is called for, and connection, and suddenly spirituality doesn’t seem so outlandish– and maybe then it’s even ok to want more.