A Transhumanist’s Essays: Reconnecting

Technology for the lonely

During a night of concerts at the AVA Amphitheater in Tucson, Arizona, the third act reminded me that I was there alone.

It wasn’t the singer’s intention to make anyone in the crowd feel bad. He invoked the love and companionship of fans gathered by the hundreds before him, built on their goodwill and used it to propel him into his next song. The crowd’s loud response indicated they were there with him. But while he talked about hugging the family or friend you came with, about new love and old love, about the love he and his bandmates were feeling, and while the people around me responded to each other with quick hugs, knowing nods, and declarations of their love, I was reminded that I was attending the concert alone. I was surrounded by people who had arrived in couples or in groups. The stark divide between me and them went right to the core of my terminal loneliness.

So I left before the singer’s set was complete.

It’s never a good sign when my emotions dictate my actions so abruptly. My mood deteriorated further on the drive home. I collected the facts about my current life while I drove: almost always attend events alone; most of my friends and family live in other states; don’t travel often; haven’t been in a relationship in many years; in a demographic more likely than others to be single and live alone, especially at my age; etc.[1] A rare Friday night out had only emphasized how most of my rare nights out were solitary pursuits.

It was very dark and the drive was very long.

When I arrived at my empty studio apartment, I turned on the lights, sat down in my office chair, and checked my email. I discovered in my email yet another reason to feel alone: old friends from the transhumanist club we had started together at the University of Arizona in 2006 had tried to contact me by video chat. There had apparently been a reunion of club members that evening in the San Francisco Bay Area, so far from Tucson. I had missed their attempt to contact me. I replied with a quick regret and prepared to shut down my laptop and go to bed in a studio apartment looming larger than I needed it to be.

A few seconds later, however, a video chat request popped up on my screen. I accepted the invitation and was surprised to see not just a few but most of the original club members of h+ Tucson together again. Most of them lived in the Bay Area, so they had arranged a happy reunion. They passed my visage around on someone’s smartphone and I was reunited via the internet with some of the most brilliant and wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Technology, of course, helped reunite us. Video chat not only allows one-on-one audiovisual conversations but also engages group dynamics. As I was passed from person to person they each told me about what they were currently working on. I participated in three-way conversations. We laughed together as a group. They included me in a group photo, my tiny medium closeup on the smartphone screen held above someone’s head. They admonished me about not being there in person and asked when I would be moving to the area. I saw it all: their smiles and happiness, the food they were eating, the beautiful home of the host, people I hadn’t met yet, even more club members arriving, and even fireworks on the skyline (and what event was that timed so perfectly with the reunion!?)

That Friday transformed into a wonderful and emotional night. I no longer felt alone. When I finally went to sleep it was with excited exhaustion and a grateful sense of having been included. I felt reconnected to them and to the very reason why we had started our club in the first place: technology.

We are transhumanists because we appreciate how technology can be used to improve the human condition, our condition and that of our friends and family. In fact, most former h+ Tucson members and our circle of transhumanist friends do more than appreciate technology: they actively work on accelerating technological progress and making sure all people globally have access to the higher quality of life we believe progress will bring. They are the Makers of the 21st Century. Their particular efforts relate to radical life extension, artificial intelligence, laboratory automation, and space exploration. They work hard. They get their hands dirty. They tinker and they build. They keep learning. They constantly apply new knowledge. They network. They come together in the Bay Area to celebrate their passion for technology and then they get back to the work they love.

These are my friends. They are transforming the philosophical and social movement labeled “transhumanism” into a thoughtful, proactive, compassionate hands-on platform for technological progress and human transformation. They reached out to me using technology right when I needed them most.

This is modern transhumanism. This is the transhumanism they helped create. It’s people using technology to confirm and elevate the best parts of what it means to be human, like connection, compassion, and companionship.

Reconnecting reminded me I’m not alone.

[1] Petrow, Steven. “A Gay Man at Midlife Ponders Being Lonely and ‘Invisible.’The New York Times. 19 March, 2013. Web. 14 June 2014.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).