Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Human Kindness

A tweenbot

"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
-Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire, written by Tennessee Williams

A few days ago, someone linked me to http://tweenbots.com. If you don't feel like clicking the link--you really should click it, there's a delightful video on the site--here's a synopsis:
From http://tweenbots.com

In New York, we are very occupied with getting from one place to another. I wondered: could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it?
...
Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination.
...
The results were unexpected. Over the course of the following months, throughout numerous missions, the Tweenbots were successful in rolling from their start point to their far-away destination assisted only by strangers. Every time the robot got caught under a park bench, ground futilely against a curb, or became trapped in a pothole, some passerby would always rescue it and send it toward its goal. Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged.
There's something very endearing about that. Especially since the tweenbots themselves are so adorable. But still, it gives rise to something interesting about the human condition. Strangers were willing to take a brief moment and help the little robots out. They were made of cardboard and of cheap parts; they were vulnerable and completely in need of help. And they got it.

Perhaps it was their cuteness, perhaps it was that people had nothing to gain from taking or destroying them, perhaps it was that people assumed they were being watched: I don't know, but I like to think it's because people actually are, at their core, good. They chose to avoid hurting the tweenbot and opted to take a brief moment to help it get to it's destination.

There's something heartwarming about watching a little robot truck alone his merry way,

Happily rolling along

completely ignorant of what's going on around him, simply wanting to get to a destination. Maybe Wall-E opened people up to the idea of happy little robots instead of the machinistic Heralds of the Apocalypse from iRobot or the Terminator series.

Or maybe people just want to be helpful, and when presented with a situation that is wholly non-threatening, they respond with kindness to help one another out.

I think it's the latter. And that makes me smile.

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