Rubber Pets

As Halwaz, you walk across the Harvard campus from Digby Duke's office to that of Tarla Meyer, in the psychology department. As you go, you scan the students and staff who are passing back and forth or sitting between classes, and count under your breath how many of them are accompanied by some form of Gupet. The count tops 20 on a relatively short walk. They include a raven on a student's shoulder, a number of dogs of various sizes (and at least one wolf), several small dragons on shoulders or dog-sized ones following at people's heels, a wallaby, six cats, a couple of alien creatures and a monkey.

Meyer has graying dark hair which she evidently disdains to dye, a vivid red and gold scarf, and expressive hands. She leans forward in her chair.

"The Gupet," she says, "has become ubiquitous. Live pet ownership is falling, but the number of people who own Gupets is growing every day. And I find it an interesting commentary on the direction of our society." She holds up one finger and wags it slightly in time with her words.

"How so?"

"Well, over the past, what, three hundred years, we've become an increasingly urban society. A lot of children - a lot of adults, for that matter - have never seen a farm animal that wasn't in a storybook or on a plate, let alone a wild creature that wasn't in a zoo. We've systematically disconnected ourselves from the natural world, from other creatures, and increasingly romanticized it as a result. The Disneyfication of nature. Our domestic pets, and the domesticated vegetation and occasional squirrel or pigeon in our parks, have been the sole remaining direct links we have with the rest of the living world. And now we've found a way to distance ourselves further, through the Gupet." Her hands distance themselves from each other illustratively.

"Because a Gupet is artificial?"

"Exactly. It doesn't eat, it doesn't excrete, it doesn't mate, it doesn't give birth." She pokes the arm of her chair emphatically with each item. "We're now only faced with those messy aspects of life in ourselves, and we do all we can to make them hygienic and safe and tidy and as far removed as possible from nature. What's more, a Gupet can be anthropomorphized in a way far beyond what's possible with a cat or a dog, simply because a Gupet can be programmed with language and human-style interaction - of a basic sort, of course, but the state of the art continues to advance. And so Disneyfication becomes complete." She spreads her hands.

"You see this as a loss," you observe.

"I see it as a loss, yes. I was brought up on a farm, and although I chose not to make that my life, I learned valuable life lessons there. Lessons about pain and death and birth and dirt and sex. I got soil under my fingernails planting a vegetable garden and helped a cow to calve. It was formative." Palm down on the chair arm.

Joe Dillon is Meyer's colleague and opponent. He is youthful-looking, with straight brown hair and the air of an athlete. His gupet, a lemur, observes from his shoulder as you interview him.

"Well, you see, the thing with Tarla is, on the one hand she rants about romanticizing nature, and on the other hand that's exactly what she's doing. She's making direct contact with the natural world into some kind of... moral good. But we have to ask ourselves, do we orient ourselves to our past or our future?

"I mean, we are an urban society. Though now that telepresence technology is becoming so high-fidelity, a lot of places are seeing a net migration from urban to rural areas for the first time in, I think, recorded history. And the skills that are needed in our society as it is and as it is becoming are much better learned, I believe, through exposure to Gupets than through exposure to raw nature."

"For example?" you ask.

"Socialization. Communication. Pickup of emotional cues. Interaction with AIs and giving them instructions - that's going to be an increasingly important skill. All these are things that kids are learning from Gupets. Plus, a Gupet can monitor a child's behavior when there are no adults around, and attempt to modify it or at worst report it. You can see problems arising early and correct them."

"Isn't that socializing them into acceptance of a surveillance society, though, Joe?"

"Well, Susan, but isn't that what we have?"

You are talking to bearded, tanned, ponytailed, wrestler-stocky Henry Matherson, a fellow documentary director. He is the creator of Catseye, the story of the last 10 years of actress Irene Dalgleish's life as recorded through her Gupet, Miggsy.

"So, Hen, do you think this is the first of a genre?"

"Oh, I'd like to think so, Susan. Yes, the biopic has a new direction and a new lease of life thanks to liferecorders in general and Gupets in particular."

"What do you think the difference will be between a first-person liferecord from grayware and what you might call an intimate third-person liferecord coming from a Gupet?"

"Much the same as first-person and third-person narration in text, Susan. The right tool for the right job. I can see competing biopics made from the two perspectives, I can see biopics mixing the two perspectives. On the one hand, the story from the subject's own viewpoint, with their own feelings - though not their thoughts, unless they subvocalize. On the other, a more objective, but still, as you say, intimate, treatment."

"Irene gave you permission, in fact willed you access to Miggsy's recordings, is that right?"

"Yes, she said, 'Hen, I trust you to do it in good taste, darling. Don't spare my blushes, since by then I won't have any. But do it in good taste.'" He imitates Dalgleish's smoky voice.

"So when you're in front of your Gupet - do you ever act? Do you ever think, One day this could be part of my biopic?"

"Well, of course I do, Susan. Don't you?"

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This entry was posted in gupets, Henry Matherson, Irene Dalgleish, Joe Dillon, Tarla Meyer. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rubber Pets

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    A short post this time. I do have an extension to it involving kids playing in the park with their Gupets. The problem is, I know how it starts but I’ve got a complete block about the middle and the end. You’ll have to wait until the published version for it.(I plan on expanding from this, which is effectively a draft, when I publish.)

  2. (I never did figure out the middle and the end, so I just dropped it, in the event.)

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