AI has brought a lot of great things to our lives. It helps us look back on the good times through Facebook memories algorithms. It helps us find new opportunities off of our Google search history. It helps us remember to wish our friends and loved one’s happy birthday or anniversary.
Today I got a stunning reminder of how that kind of sharing and helpful AI is a double edge sword. Sitting in my inbox this morning was an innocuous reminder that a dear friend’s birthday is coming up in 10 days. Unfortunately, this beloved friend passed away last November. I felt like someone had slapped me. Hard.
The thing is, I have yet to delete her from the contacts on my phone. As such, her birthday is on my calendar, thanks to Apple’s Birthday calendar. I’d seen it coming in brief glances at my month view. Even though Apple tells me she will be 44 in 9 days, I hadn’t really allowed myself to process that she will be forever 43.
A harmless email forced the issue
I won’t lie. I broke into tears reading that email. Real snot-filled sobs. I text-cried to my husband. I DM’d a colleague who had a similar interaction with AI algorithms not being omnipotent enough to understand that “now is really not the time for that Google Ad”. The tears are still bubbling up as I write this post.
Then, I got angry. How dare the interweb data bots force to me face this day before I needed to or wanted to? For a few minutes, I contemplated deleting everything. That’s the solution, right? The AI isn’t going to know that this isn’t someone to remind me of unless I tell it. If I delete her from my digital life, I won’t have to remember that she’s still 43 even though her beautiful kids are now a year older.
The problem is, she’s everywhere in my digital life.
She shows up in my Skype contacts. And, for some creepy reason Skype shows her as logged in but shows her as “last seen days ago”. We’ve tried to figure out if someone is using her account, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some device somewhere thinks she’s still logged in and no one has gotten rid of it. It’s a digital ghost.
Next to her name in Skype is the day of our last skype call: 10/25/18. It lasted 43m and 50s. As usual, we spent more time talking about life and our kids, and the call ran longer than the scheduled 30 minutes. This was 6 days before she passed away. It has the content of our last message: her “are you there?”, me “y”. Pretty mundane stuff. But if I delete her contact in Skype, all of this will go away.
Side note: In the early days when I noticed that she was still logged in, I was very tempted to send her messages. Like notes. Now, it’s just that she’s present like when our offices used to be next door to each other, working quietly, keeping each other company.
Her being everywhere helped me through the grief
Over a year ago, her new job placed her on the other side of the country and we easily slipped into the role of being “too busy” to talk. When a random interaction reminded us of how much we were missing, we set up a weekly 30 minute Skype call. The premise was to use it to find ways to collaborate together. But, it was really just a way to keep in touch with each other. We started our weekly meetings about 4 months before she passed away. I am forever grateful to the randomness that got it started and that we tried to honor it, regardless of how busy we were.
That “Weekly Meeting” appointment, because that’s how she named the invite, still sits on my work calendar. Every Thursday at noon. I do not have the strength (or desire) to delete it.
A month after she passed, I realized I was stuck in a loop of grief. Despite my own words in her eulogy, I was not moving forward. The grief counselor that my insurance covered had a weekly slot available: Thursdays at noon. It was too much of a coincidence to pass up. Now they sit side-by-side on my calendar. Not as a conflict, but a joint investment in myself. If I cancel too many “Therapist” appointments because I am busy, that “Weekly Meeting” appointment just stares at me, missing its twin. It keeps me accountable to myself.
A harmless email made me (ultimately) send a card
After crying and stewing about the harmless email that derailed my morning productivity, I came to a decision. All of my logic and sarcasm told me that in a year some other AI/bot/algorithm would show me that I missed something. If I could use the Weekly Meeting on my calendar as an investment in myself, why not use this harmless email from the app to invest in her family? So I sent the card it was reminding me to send. Not a birthday card or a sympathy card, just a card with a picture I took from the lake. I told her family I was thinking of them and that they were loved.
After I sent the card, I wondered if I had just done the same thing to her family that the AI had done to me: forced them into thinking about what day was coming up before they were ready.
But I will blame the AI.