Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Recently I went to Dubai and had four days of rest time in the middle of the tour. Terry Pratchett has a wonderful series of books about tiny gnomes, and in this book he explains that "the faster you live the more time stretches out, it's all a sort of relativity."*
I am smaller than most adult humans, and I firmly believe that my attention span runs in accordance with Pratchett's laws concerning time. I need approximately one day of rest time every three weeks. Less than that and I loathe myself and the world, more than that I begin to climb the walls.
Four days off in a hotel without my people and my comforts and a strong idea of something I could pop out and do was too much for this gnome.
I decided to take myself on an adventure; a terrible, tacky, touristy adventure to a Nature Reserve in the UAE where I could sample the delights of Emirate culture along with 150 other people and neatly packaged into a 3 hour window. Pretty perfect.
On the drive out I was the only one in our pick-up car travelling alone so I got the front seat next to our driver Salim, who, as a born and bred Dubai native, began to happily tell me all about the sights and sounds of Dubai and the suburbs as we left civilisation and drove into the desert.**
Salim pointed out all the sights: "Those are flamingos, that's the tallest hotel in the world, that's modern slavery dressed up like progress." All the sights of Dubai.
Then we passed the camel race track and my mind boggled at the amount a good camel will go for. Turns out I would even be underachieving were I a camel rather than a human. I listen avidly to all facts about the camels and the races and the culture and then Salim slips in this little nugget of information...
"Of course, they don't have human jockeys any more - they have robots to ride the camels."
There is a short pause while I process this information and I flare up slightly... "No way? I call bullshit. Just because I'm a naive woman, travelling alone you think you can feed me this bull and I'll just sit there nodding and lapping it up? No."
He's still going, "The humans drive around in an inner track controlling the robots from the cars."
No, no they don't. Yes, obviously I’m stupid enough to have paid you for this trip to see “the real Arabia”™ circa a white person watching Aladdin in 1992 but I’m not going to believe everything you say.
The rest of the evening progresses beautifully... I lose a shoe in some sand, make friends with a Chinese couple who both sell lifts. Yep. I try and pose for a sunset selfie alone while all the men take photos of their girlfriends leaning back on the tops of the dunes. I do worry for this generation that entire relationships are going by without a single photo of the male portion of the relationship being recorded. But that's not my worry; I don't think my husband has ever stopped in his tracks to record my moments of grace and beauty. He is normally looking for a wet wipe to help me get the ice cream out of my hair.
I return to the hotel that evening and graze around on the internet for a bit before my mind returns to camel jockeys and I type it out and hit search. To be confronted by picture upon picture of tiny robots in jockey outfits sitting confidently betwixt two humps and awaiting their day in the perpetual sun.
I firmly believe we are all about 10 years away from losing our jobs to some kind of robot, I just don't think jockeys ever suspected they'd be first in line.
What an awful meeting that must have been... to be called into the Race Manager's office.
"We've got to move with the times... I'm afraid, from now on we're going to be racing with robots."
"Oh hey, no, that's ok... I can ride a robot... I'm sure once I get used to it..."
"No, sorry - you've misunderstood... the camel is keeping it's job - it's you that's got to go."
To be less employable than a camel?
To belong to a species that has written itself out of something it invented for its own pleasure and exhilaration?
To be such a lazy species that we've written ourselves out of a sport where WE WEREN'T EVEN THE ONES RUNNING?
Makes you proud to be a human, doesn't it?
First they came for the jockeys and I didn't speak out for I am over 5'5"***
I like to believe the dole queue that week was just check out assistants and jockeys looking dismayed... a sea of older woman who loved a natter and a bag pack sitting looking forlorn amongst the feline men and women of previous racing fame.
"One day I just came in to work and there was... an unexpected item in the bagging area. A fucking robot. Between my humps. My humps! My humps! My humps! Replaced just because we're heavier than aluminium."
"We were replaced just because Tesco are a sack of shits and Sue often stole from the till. It's awful."
"We can't believe robots took our jobs."
A lonely cigarette raises its head in the corner, "Me neither doll face. We thought we were invincible."
Robots have snuck into every area of our lives, replacing jobs - yes. Also, freeing up people and time and energy to invent new things, new jobs and new ideas for the future as technology has always allowed.
Not all these robots, however, are doing a better job. I certainly don't remember in days gone by handing a load of £10 notes to a human cashier and having her accept 6 of them only to look at me, baffled, and hand 4 back saying,
"I'm sorry, I don't know what these are."
"They're £10 notes, just like the other ones."
"Are they though? Maybe you could just smooth down the corners?"
"Yeah, sure ok, here you go."
"Ok, I'll take these two but I still don't know about these two. Have them back."
"What if I give them to you the other way up?"
"Dunno try it."
"Here you go."
"Yeah, ok. I'll take one of them now but what the hell is this other one?"
"Oh look a £10 note! Great, I'll bank that for you."
* Do read The Bromeliad Trilogy if you haven't already and my apologies if I'm teaching you to suck those quail nuggets Grandma.
** We'll discuss at a later date to what extent I truly believe Dubai to be civilised.
*** Obviously I am not and was therefore at the picket line speaking out.