Robots have been driving me nuts recently. Two specific kinds of robots, actually.
First, there’s the kind all journalists know about: the human PR robot who refuses to answer the question you just asked them. Sometimes this is fine. Even if their language is painfully robotic, you really just need them to say something, and you can fill in the narrative around their quotes. Other times, particularly when you’re trying to report on something in depth that asks “how” or “why” something happened, it ruins the entire interview. If you ask a question that should be answered beginning something like, “Well, this one day, Tom said to Mary, ‘I’ve got a great idea!’ And the first thing they did was…” and instead the answer begins, “As a company Big Brand has always been committed to supporting great ideas…” that is not anything. It’s robot sludge. It’s definitely not a story.
I was working on a story recently during which I received a slew of these responses, to the point that it nearly killed the assignment. It’s frustrating, particularly when you’re speaking with someone over the phone and they’re a person and you’re a person, and you CANNOT BELIEVE THEY’RE NOT BEING A HUMAN.
It’s annoying. Another thing was nagging on me around the same time. A story of mine published with an error in it that needed to be fixed after it had hit the public. And it was totally my fault. This is thing that happens. There seems, in fact, to be a mysterious and evil part of one’s brain that can read a draft 10 times without seeing an error, until someone hits “publish” and then, like magic, the error is so clear. Honestly, half the time I don’t even proofread blogs until I publish them. It’s a waste of time. The typos are invisible to me in draft form.
So, it happened. And the error was called on the interwebz and I was really sick to my stomach over it. It was fixed quickly, and life continued, but I really beat myself up over it. I don’t ask much of myself as writer except to be accurate, on time and exemplary 100 percent of the time. That’s all. And when I don’t live up to my standards, I get super bummed at myself.
As I was stewing over both of these things, it occurred to me that I was upset at the PR people for being robots and at myself for not being enough of a robot. If I don’t like robots, I really shouldn’t punish myself for not being one. I’m a human who screws things up sometimes. It’s not something to pat oneself on the back for, but it’s not the end of the world either. The end of the world would be if everyone turned into robots who make no mistakes and have nothing interesting to say. Then there wouldn’t be any stories to write, no matter how accurate, on time or exemplary they could have been.