It’s no secret that Sage and I enjoy spending time together a lot. Since 1995, when I go on business trips we spend most of the time connected via chat. When I got my first cell phone in 1997, I would play along with the Jeopardy episode she was watching as I drove home. (This was before most of us realized that driving and using our phones was a seriously bad idea – and to be fair the Philadelphia traffic barely moved)
Now with the pandemic, I’m pretty much the only person going out in the world and seeing other humans, picking up groceries, take out or pet food. It occurred to us last night that thanks to technology I didn’t have to go shopping alone. And so I biked to the grocery store, put my headset on, turned on my video and while I walked through the aisles of the store, Sage saw the store through my eyes and by voice command operated my hands to pick up whatever things she saw that she wanted.
We had great fun and it actually worked better than a normal trip with my having someone at home to check on demand to see if we needed something or for Sage to be able to send me to get something she just remembered. As I am going through the store, Sage said she felt like she was able to shop with robotic arms that responded to her voice commands.
Using my phone for her eyes did have some odd side effects. Sometimes it would cause seasickness as I walked quickly through an aisle. Sometimes while I standing looking at pasta and holding my phone at my side, I’d hear Sage say things like “I now know way more about that man’s bottom than I wanted to.” And sometimes holding the phone at a strange angle as I walked I’d learn strange things about the store like the fact that high above the frozen food cases is the word “Succulent” just written in script, completely out of context.
At one point Sage laughed and as I held the phone at my side said “This is almost the view I have when I’m at the store.” And so I put the camera at my eye level and walked through the store giving her, for the first time, the perspective of a person almost a foot taller than her. “If I’d seen that before I might’ve had more interest in high heels – and have more back problems today as well.”
When I got home, Daegan took the grocery trailer from me and as he started unloading it said “Wow, I really enjoyed that ‘grocery store simulation’ Sage was running on her computer.
As I rode home I thought about this technology-enabled experience, giving someone a 100% safe outing to the store in the middle of a pandemic and wondered what this all would’ve been like had it happened in the 1980’s. How much are we all benefitting from technology to work from home, to order necessities to be delivered, to give us news or to keep us connected to one another? Without the ability to put library books on hold or download them to an e-reader would I be limited to only those books I have and whatever happened to be on TV? Would I miss out on important information, the ability to connect with and help vulnerable people or to find someone to make a bunch of cloth masks for my family? There is no good time for a pandemic but this might be one of the best times in history for us to have run in to it.