3 a.m.: Who & what is real?   

The Muse Goddess. LJ Frank, Artist

by LJ Frank

 

Writing is a continuum. I edit my writing and my life on a regular basis.

Over a month ago I developed some correspondence with an Eastern European individual. They apparently liked my website. We discussed current social and political issues and lifestyles. All seemed to go smoothly though something bothered me in their almost staccato replies.  Upon rereading their messages questions began dancing around in my mind. I discovered something about my Eastern European friend that caused me to question what was real and what was illusion.

Let me go back in history several decades to give some context.

Working as a young reporter, back in the 1960s, I wrote stories about local events and people. I never knew who read them. Or their impact. I was shy. Writing was a strategy for me to combat my innate shyness. I have lived in several different places growing up and to counteract the social stress I got involved. Writing was one of several strategies.

To overcome my shyness, I wrote for newspapers and acted in local stage plays in high school, and later college and community theater. I did things to get outside myself. To act was electric. Applause was affirming, even when the hand clapping lasted only a minute. Affirmation in life is important. Some people need less, others more. I don’t know what the average want or need of affirmation is. I just know it felt emotionally uplifting even if for a minute.

Meanwhile, I typed my stories on a manual Smith Corona typewriter. Local news whether college or community felt mildly significant, though it wasn’t as exciting as national and international news.

 Today, texting is pervasive. Technology has redefined the workplace, and how we perceive and negotiate with each other. It has replaced the local news one could conjecture. Technology has helped us reach around the world and affirmed the need for human connection.

Affirmation in whatever form can also be misleading. The rapidity of emotions and disinformation…can be breath taking. Paradoxically, disinformation is more democratic today as lies can be spread with an ease that seems to travel faster than the truth of any given matter.  Disinformation sells. Money is to be had…it’s big business. It’s an oligarchy and autocracy. How we present ourselves to each other affects us and our trust.

 I communicated my thoughts to my Eastern European friend and they communicated theirs this past month in an almost staccato like fashion as noted…but English was not their primary language growing up. My friend spoke German, Croatian, and English, from my understanding.

False has always existed.  With technology the false can usurp what and who we thought were real. And I am weary of the digital mansions of wealth, power, and rule that feed into that falseness.

And then this: the past week my friend and I exchanged up to date photos. Yet something didn’t feel right. Our conversations were affirming of each other, intellectually and emotionally. … as I reread their messages and conversation. I asked a photographer friend to look at the photos. They said the photos appeared real but suggested they might be fake, perhaps AI generated. Very realistically done, they added. But he and another of his colleagues felt comfortable in saying they were AI generated. And, if they were fake what about the person?

Was this person AI generated or were the photos doctored – a mask?  I asked my Eastern European friend for a photo without makeup. No reply. Cynicism took hold. I asked more questions. Only silence in response. Questions remained unanswered…

How many things or people do we buy into when surrounded by rituals to gain our confidence? What is reality and what is illusion? How much is actual and how much is fake? What do our rituals hide in front of our eyes?

 For me, Martin Buber’s I and Thou remains significant. To take it further, what of the idea of human and machine beingness? That is in terms of approachability, accessibility, controllability. and also, self-disclosure. 

The “persona” I had been communicating with was not human…they sounded real, even their voice sounded human, still, there was the staccato nature to it…I asked an AI expert. He agreed it could easily be AI and even the messages could easily be AI. 

There were no replies until…

I received a note from my Eastern European “persona” a few hours ago, they asked, “what happened?”