• Jody Kussin

#81 Family Matters Centuars of 2020

#81 Family Matters

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, August 3, 2020

You’ve probably heard of a centaur, half human, half horse. Have you heard of a KURMA, half human half tortoise? I’m going to now have to coin a term for half human, half chair, as over these months, I’ve melded into my ‘office chair’ which is actually a chair from the den, moved into a spare bedroom, so I have somewhere to sit during the zoom hours. Yes, the chair and I are one.

I have a beloved next-door neighbor whom I had not seen in weeks, possibly months. At the beginning of the pandemic we visited frequently, outdoors, and then it got too hot for us, and I have not seen her. Over the weekend she had a visit from eight of her nine grandkids, in her back yard, so despite the 103 degrees, I walked over, mask on, to sit on the outskirts of the garden patio and visit. It was so nice. To see and hear the chaos of little kids and cousins and to experience something remotely resembling ‘normalcy.’ It was not only a reunion of family, it was a little oasis of an ‘in real life (IRL)’ moment…something that heretofore would have been a regular part of our tapestry in summer time, but in these times, is so unique as to bring tears to my eyes.

Aside from the outbursts of laughter and shared stories, the touching moments of seeing the littles reconnect with one another with giggles and squeals, the outing was very instrumental in that I learned all kinds of new things.

For instance, have you heard that in warehouses and factories and other work sites where people have to be physically close to one another, employees wear PROXIMTY SENSORS? Like from Star Trek, the early tv series, back in the day, not the hipper more current movies that came thereafter. In that series, from the 1960s, such sensors were called ‘tricorders’ and they were general-purpose devices used primarily to scout unfamiliar areas, make detailed examination of living things, and record and review technical data. The medical tricorder was used by doctors to help diagnose diseases and collect bodily information about a patient; the key difference between this and a standard tricorder was a detachable hand-held high-resolution scanner stored in a compartment of the tricorder when not in use. The engineering tricorder was fine-tuned for starship engineering purposes. There are also many other lesser-used varieties of the tricorders. The word "tricorder" is an abbreviation of the device's name, the "TRI-function reCORDER", referring to the device's primary functions: sensing, computing, and recording. I cannot find an episode, however, where the tricorders were used specifically to determine if a human being was within social distancing parameters.

Proximity sensors, it turns out, in 2020, do what their name indicates – they sense when you are within the 6-foot social distance barrier, and they then beep. (In my head, they should sound like trucks backing up, with that insistent sound, although, when I checked them out on, that was not the case. There are many varieties, but mostly, they emit more of a robotic sensor like sound.)

Proximity sensors, notably, are so well known, that they already have their own Wikipedia page:

“A proximity sensor is a sensor able to detect the presence of nearby objects without any physical contact.

A proximity sensor often emits an electromagnetic field or a beam of electromagnetic radiation (infrared, for instance), and looks for changes in the field or return signal. The object being sensed is often referred to as the proximity sensor's target. Different proximity sensor targets demand different sensors. For example, a capacitive proximity sensor or photoelectric sensor might be suitable for a plastic target; an inductive proximity sensor always requires a metal target.

Proximity sensors can have a high reliability and long functional life because of the absence of mechanical parts and lack of physical contact between the sensor and the sensed object.”

These devices were not developed to sense humans. The sensor’s targets were set up to sense dangerous things in the environment, similar to how medical professionals and individuals working near nuclear waste wear radiation badges to track exposure when they are doing X-Rays and such.

However, today, we need gadgets to alert us to the most dangerous things around us, which, it turns out, are other people. What a crazy time.

There is a lid for every pot and a solution for every problem, apparently, and thus, we now have humans walking about wearing devices that will alert them if they are 5 feet within another human being. (One of the next-door grandchildren suggested an alternative - walk around with a hula hoop around your waist to keep people out of range. I like that. Perhaps it will take off.)

Meantime, I think I’ve developed some block envy. No one on our street has pulled a piano onto the yard to play a concert for us yet. There have been no shared moments of honking at 7pm or lighting a candle in honor of those we’ve recently lost due to police brutality. I have not encountered pretty painted rocks on any of my many walks and I have yet to run into anyone with a teddy bear in their window. Clearly, if we are getting graded, we are failing pandemic bonding and have yet to find a spirit squad for these times. I suppose that out here in my neighborhood, proximity sensors are not necessary?

On the other hand, many neighbors do stop by and chat at our fence, some even photographing our sunflower garden, which now boasts stalks well over 15 feet, flowers following the sun every day. Our dog has made more friends than either my husband or I, and she is often invited for more front yard playdates than are possible in one day.

For me, a privileged person working remotely from home, I do not need a proximity sensor any more than I need a fit bit – I know when I’m too close to others and I also know if I’ve walked or not walked.

Mostly, I am only in the proximity of others when on Zoom. And like everyone else I know, I have developed ‘zoom fatigue.’ Yes, that is a thing. Google it – hundreds of articles on the topic, one of my favorites in National Geographic. Turns out that staring at ourselves and others, in tiny Brady Bunch squares, is tiring. Even though we desperately need to connect, and to ‘socialize’, it is hard to differentiate zoom work calls from zoom fun calls. The same is true for our kids – hard to distinguish between online learning and online social calls.

The boundaries between work and home and between school and home are incredibly blurry during these times. I’ve tried tiny tricks for distinction, such as switching out my virtual backgrounds so for ‘work zoom’ I may use stalk photos (google, ‘virtual backgrounds for zoom calls) and for ‘social life zoom’ I use personal photos. This worked for a few weeks, and then I acclimated, and now, it makes no difference if I have UCLA in the background or my happy dog covered in the mud she searched out and conquered on last week’s walk.

If you find yourself becoming one with your chair, or, your couch, or your bed, it’s probably a good idea to get up and separate yourself out from the inanimate object. It could mean necessitating an intervention, like a patio visit with old friends who wear their masks, or maybe a drive up the coast. Unless we want to re-write Greek mythology to include these new hybrid human-furniture entities, we have to make a break for it. Good luck to us!

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