Machines are predictable, usually reliable and very consistent. Humans are not.
Despite our best efforts, we are not machines. We live in a society and culture that celebrates, recognizes and rewards machine-like behaviour though. To try and be something we are not is unnatural.
It is not natural for a human to act like a machine, yet we try to do it everyday.
The way we might try to domesticate a dog or cat, we try to domesticate ourselves, our children, our parents, our friends, our coworkers and as much of our society as we can. If you act in a way that is not to my liking, then I will punish you with the power of my word, with my actions or by withholding my attention, respect or even love for you. I make all of this conditional on you acting and behaving in a way that is to my liking and expectation.
I am not a machine, despite having relatively strong discipline and work ethic, and having learned skills that enable me to be highly effective, efficient and focused. It is sad that the more machine-like I am, the more that I am rewarded and recognized in our present society.
There is a fundamental problem with our desire for ourselves and for each other to be more machine-like and less human-like. We are not designed to be as efficient as machines are.
Machines have an energy source called electricity, which is highly efficient, widely available and considered a commodity. Humans also have sources of energy, however they are nowhere close to as efficient.
Sleep. Could you imagine if your phone, laptop or TV needed to sleep for eight hours a day? You may not value it as much as you do.
Food. Think about the amount of collective resources we invest in growing, farming, harvesting, processing, transporting, stocking, shelving, buying, preparing, storing, cleaning, and of course, eating. That meal that you scarfed down in ten minutes yesterday involved hundreds of hours and thousands of people, all playing a small role. Your iPhone battery now looks pretty efficient in comparison.
Learning. Humans spend the better part of fifteen years in a formal education system. As bright as we think we might be as a species, it takes over fifteen years for us to learn the skills to be useful and have a chance in society. And we are not even doing that great of a job educating our children. Compare that to the minutes it takes to download information from one machine to the next.
I could go on. The point is this: we are not machines. And our attempts to act like one, are just that, acting. Some of us are better actors than others, but in the end, it is just acting.
When you feel exhausted after your Zoom filled work day and work week, know that it is your body telling you that it is tired of acting.
Last year, while I was still living in New York, a friend brought me to a talk with a panel of Broadway actors and the topic was biohacking. They were sharing their tips and tricks to cope with the demands of being on stage daily. I was surprised to learn, through their stories, how intense it is to be on stage. The rehearsals, two performances a night, the expectations to be absolutely perfect and the pressure of knowing that there is always someone younger, stronger, more talented than you, ready to step in to replace you the moment that you miss your line just once.
Many shared that to be successful on stage, you need to mentally and emotionally embody your character’s persona.
So much so that you start to believe that you are that character and lose sight of who you really are.
The few that made time to hangout with family and friends shared that it was not always clear to them if they were in character or being themselves. The lines get blurry once you are acting so much.
The digitization of our lives has been accelerated this year, without a doubt. What might have taken five to ten years, and been done with a bit more thought, planning and consideration, is now our present reality. At the workplace. In the classroom. Around the boardroom. And more.
Unsure how to be in this new reality, we all have become actors overnight, on display through those tiny cameras and hidden microphones that are embedded in almost every machine around us.
We are constantly being watched and listened to, and I have to believe this is subtly and perhaps unconsciously influencing how we are. Our environment has nudged us to be a bit more performative in every interaction, and given the thousands of micro interactions we might have in any given week, we all are now full time actors.
What is worse is when we expect those around us to also be performative, and we reward or punish them accordingly. The moment someone acts in a way that is not to our liking, or we notice an inconsistency with our expectations, we let them know directly or indirectly. It might be through words, actions or the lack thereof.
The role that many of us are trying to perform now is one of a machine.
One that is productive, efficient, effective, consistent, predictable, and of course, void of emotion. One that does as expected and does not deviate from the script. One that can be controlled, and in turn, understands how to control others.
The simple awareness that we are not in fact machines is how we step off the stage and step into who we truly are. We do experience emotions, like joy, pleasure, fatigue, pain, suffering and more. To be aware of and accept our own emotions cultivates self-compassion.
The only way to become aware of our emotions is to learn to notice them as they arise, be patient to sit with them when they are there and quietly watch them go away in their own time. Mindfulness and reflective practices help me do this.
From a place of self-compassion, we can begin to radiate kindness and understanding of others, and of their emotions.
To be human is to have emotions. It is part of our design, whether we agree with it or not, it is our reality. Given it is our reality, it is in our best interest to accept it, understand it and enjoy the benefits of it.
Once we see ourselves as humans, not machines, then we begin to treat others as humans, and not as machines. And while humans might be inefficient machines, machines are ineffective humans.
I choose to be more human-like and less machine-like. I feel immense gratitude for the experience of being human, with all of its ups and downs. It is who we truly are.