In the Uber home the driver tells us that he can’t speak English. We tell him no worries. Then he activates a translate app on his phone.
He presses record and speaks in Mandarin. The phone waits, then beeps and an electronic voice reads the English translation. Then he presses record again and waits for us to reply. The app gets a little confused because there are two of us but we mostly get our point across. We share a little information about ourselves and our lives. He tells us about his life in Australia and recommends places to visit in China. It is slow and stilted, but it works.
Earlier in the day I’d been listening to a podcast about transhumanism, which is the belief in human evolution beyond our current mental and physical constraints. It’s sort of a philosophical movement and it runs the gamut from pacemakers to smart watches to genetic engineering. And as we speak in two languages with realtime electronic translation, I start to feel like this Uber ride is kismet.
I remember catching the bus home in London on my last night before moving to New Zealand. I felt sad and just wanted to sit and think. A man sat down next to me, told me he was new in the country and asked if he could practice his English on me. I didn’t know how to say no and it was a long journey. When my stop finally came he asked for my email address and I wrote a fake one down on a piece of paper.
But that was ten years ago. Things have changed.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 7th April 2019 as part of Internet Care Package – a weekly memoir project in the form of a newsletter. It also includes links to the best things I’ve found on the internet each week and occasional updates on my theatremaking. This blog is a select archive of those emails. Subscribe to get them right in your inbox.
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