Friday, April 2, 2021

Autistic devices



Due to a combination of no traveling, Pandemic altered lifestyle, and the government giving us money, I have had an unusual bit of spare cash to spend on gadgets. These electronic devices, some intensely familiar to you (phones), and some probably not (360 cameras) sit at the peculiar intersection of cheap toys and exotic high tech. 

They are autistic devices.

Like so many of my theories and interpretations, this idea of autistic devices came to me unchecked. And because my theories and interpretations (and I'm afraid I have to say this with chagrin) tend to be so wildly appealing to me that they can feel like they have the force of prophecy behind them, they sometimes ever go unchecked. Little things like "What is autism?" and "How are these devices autistic" seem so self evidently answered that I am reluctant to wade into all that... background. 

This can, I suspect, sometimes lead to people I am talking to into thinking "I'm not sure what he's talking about but he seems super excited about it! Unless he's kidding. Is he kidding?"

I'm not kidding!

Well, I mean, unless I'm kidding.

It depends.

For instance, I'm not kidding now.

I mean, except I am a little bit, but mostly not.

I'm sorry. I just realized this is much harder for you out there than I thought.

So I looked up "What is autism?"

Here is the simplest version I could get. It's from an organization called "autism speaks", and it's edited down to just the part relevant to my theory:

Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with autism my require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

So now let us look at these modern devices, smartphones, computer programs, 360 cameras, etc., in the context of this definition.

Challenges with social skills:

At first glance this may appear counter to my point. Don't iPhones and Facebook facilitate social skills?

I was going to dramatically say "NO!". But they sort of do, in the sense that they might connect you with other people. But they do this because their own social skills are so poor. These devices will readily interrupt you at the most inappropriate moments, in inappropriate ways, pinging and buzzing at you in a manner that someone with any social skills would never have the gall to do. They will alert you to the most banal trivialities and the most relevant communications in the exact same way. And though they can be instructed to interact with you according to your needs they rarely learn these social lessons fully and require constant reinstruction to the point where we sometimes adapt to their social limitations because it is more feasible than adapting them to normal manners.

Repetitive behaviors:

I mentioned my inclination to see my theories as self evident to the harm of my communication, and nowhere in this analysis is anything more self evident seeming than in the issue of repetitive behaviors of autistic devices. These devices can almost be defined by their repetitive behaviors; asking the same questions over and over, making noise after noise, insisting on constant replays of sequences, glitching into loops, and running through the same actions endlessly.

Each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges:

Exactly! I hardly mean this appellation of autistic to be damning. There are strengths and challenges that are distinct! My autistic photo software might be able to rebalance the focus and clarity of my image with an amazing skill and immediacy, yet struggle wildly to do something apparently simple like save an image to my hard drive.

Some people with autism may require significant support in their daily lives...

It's true. Already I can see how much my new phone needs. All the plugging in and recharging and turning off and on, the data and the wireless networks, the updates and permissions; tending to the phone's autism is a notable part of having the phone.

Others may need less support:

My camera is pretty self sufficient. I have to check in, sure, and charge it, and reboot it, and reprogram it a little occasionally, but I think it can mostly live independently.

And so there you have it; my brief off the cuff definition fully explained. I hope you are fully convinced now. I am, but I can't begin to tell you how inevitable that was.



  1. "we sometimes adapt to their social limitations because it is more feasible than adapting them to normal manners." I took away my stupid (autistic?) smartphone's ability to use the internet. Now it functions like a ... phone. Which is all I want it to be, and all I can deal with. Except for once in a long while, I'd rather have a land line.

    1. Understood. We used our phones like that, replacements for landlines. But now I have a fancier smartphone, so... there's some caregiving...


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