• Bernadette Bowen

The Relationship Map of Our Love for Food Robots Isn’t That Complicated

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

Abstract: University's have begun investing and normalizing the introduction of food robots on their campuses to deliver food and drinks to anyone with access to an app. This probe discusses some human implications of the introduction of these bots on college campuses, through the exploration of combined experiences of my media ecological research interests in connection with a physical and social phenomenological account of digitally and physically mapped constraints of the contemporary human graduate student experience. The question as the heart of this em-bot-ied probe is "how did we come to this?" followed by an attempt to experientially illuminate a durably mapped path towards understanding an irrationally modern answer.

I am a second year PhD student in the year 2020, and (at the time of my writing this) just a few days ago my campus officially launched thirty ($5000 a pop) food robots into our atmosphere to deliver food and drinks to us. Although it would be very important to consider, I am not here to discuss how this all means something different depending on what program I would be in, and where I am located on or of the world. Instead, I am here to treat how the introduction of food robots on my campus within our world implicates humans. To do so, I need look no further than my university’s recruitment advertising and marketing, which valorized the presence of these food robots as spectacle; rationalizing their [redacted: bulk purchase of] innovation! (Steigerwald, 2020). Students need to visually consume these food bots to lube the idea that a human walking to obtain their food is a burden (for only a $2 delivery charge!)! As one of my clever peers joked, “Walking is so two days ago!”

Now that I’ve briefly treated these robots present on our campus-phere, where do I phenomenologically reside? Lately, my research interests focus around concepts of humanness, phenomena, and gender & media ecology. You probably have heard of the Internet of Things. Admittedly, I am still unsure of what exactly that means, but for sake of being properly informed enough to write end of semester papers I will have to do my research.

The paper ideas I’ve committed to as of right now are: 1) Love Box (a product where loved ones send each other love notes in digital format to an exact location [their product]), 2) “bot written” scripting (a social media trend where humans, pretending to be algorithms, make a mockery of how “inhuman” bots still are when, “forced to hypothetically watch 1000 hours of [some programming]”), and 3) requirement politics (a term I’m developing, which plays off of Higginbotham’s (1994) term respectability politics, to describe the current phenomena in institutions where faculty and staff are socialized into taking part in diversity/inclusion/Title IX sessions. The incentive being, witnessing faculty ask to perform the bare minimum [“what am I required to do?” “Am I required to report my student’s disclosure of being raped to campus?”].

What do all of these papers have in common? Oddly enough, I think I may have realized while watching these food bots wheeling around on campus. This probe initially probed my brain lobes while I walked wearing sound canceling headphones. Sound cancelling is very important in today’s day and age, you see, because it’s very important we cancel out the noise on the outside since there’s so So much of it. Therefore, we must be separated from it. We created the industrial and social noise, to do our human Stuff and Things. But now, to our dismay, there is too much noise! So, we must cancel it. So, there [redacted: we are] I was, doing just that; watching a robot, watching(?) it’s mapped surroundings (think: Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus) via sensors. Then, I asked myself: “How did we come to this?” And, that’s when it dawned on me.

I don’t know about you but, I’ve never been a big fan of cement walking paths. Beyond their supposed stress on our joints and other bodily components over time, I just don’t respect their authority. Perhaps, that’s a personal problem, or so I am told. However, I, a human, am still expected to use them because, we, humans created them to map our own surroundings. So here I was, going about my day to day business at around 10:15 am (time, a concept created to map human’s surroundings in modernity); knowing I have my Media Ecology night class at 6 pm tonight, which I want to refresh up on my McLuhan beforehand), also making a mental note of a need to start writing my midterm proposal on the Love Box. This research began by screenshotting the Love Box website’s rhetorical promises and marketing, alongside perusing Google via key words results for: “where does love exist?” alongside “Summon” the campus library’s search engine of mapped databases, on which I ordered a book. This morning, I received an email alert; notifying me that my order had been hand selected by a human and was awaiting my pickup at the library front desk. After receiving the notification, I was ironically annoyed: “Why couldn’t it just be delivered by a robot to elevate my human burden?”

Since that wasn’t a reality yet, instead, there I was this morning, walking away from the overpriced, daily chosen, and perfectly mapped and located campus parking spot, towards the library to pick up Michelle Janning’s (2018) book Love letters: Saving Romance in the Digital Age. A funny aside, contrary to the Internet of Things, Janning described her book as part of a series on the Anthropology of Stuff. Our reality can be divided neatly between Things and Stuff.

Anyway, what did I, a human being, desiring to save time, do? I walked through the soggy late-winter grass instead of on the cement walking path. I did this, because, as a human being, I have the ability to semi-gracefully transgress beyond a cement or otherwise beaten path (both figuratively, and in that case, literally). “Nothing really unique about this,” I didn’t even think to myself at first. But, since every other person around me didn’t do the same, it dawned on me; walking off a cement path isn’t something a bot could or would do. Wait a minute, why is that?

Well, to briefly trace out modernity in an insufficiently simplistic way, humans created these bots to tread only on a distinct set of maps. Further back still, humans created the durably mapped paths, which they themselves were then normalized into trending upon. Now, anyone who sparsely doesn’t follow the paths, are perceived as some kind of strange weirdo, walking outside of our civilized humanly mapped lines. In most cases, it wouldn’t even dawn on students or faculty to not use the walking paths because, Duh, they are paths NAMED explicitly for walking. We know because we look at them there, laid down by peoples, delegated by other peoples, for explicitly this purpose of walking. One would simply have to be a human FOOL not to use the designed path for walking, laid by those who have decided them to be used as such.

So, there I was: A FOOL, not walking on the designed path as a modern human now does, as our walking maps have been designed for us. And then it occurred to me how rigid and awkwardly human these food robot’s movements really are. Not because they are inhuman, but because they are as normally awkward as our modern human lives have become. All three of my semester paper topics speak to this environmental phenomenon of awkwardness. Paths are designed much like any concept has been, like, love. “We know ‘love’ when we see it,” we tell ourselves. Love needs to be categorically describable to then be physically containable by us.

We like “love” to be in a form that we can see and recognize, in our required little boxes, which we, too, by mediated proxy are then required to love. This was of course a deliberate, unhuman, innovated process. And once normalized, our human and bot programming becomes easy to identify and replicate. All we had to do was define what love is, decide what/who we do and do not love, and map our cement paths to ensure easy reference to contents of our love boxes to know their realness. Our modern consumptive bot-integrated humanness is manifest.*


Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (1993). Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black

Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Liao, S. (2017, December 12). This Harry Potter AI-generated fanfiction is remarkably good. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/12/16768582/harry-potter-ai-fanfiction

LoveBox.love. (n.d.). Home - Lovebox - A modern day love note messenger. Retrieved from https://en.lovebox.love/?gclid=CjwKCAiAnfjyBRBxEiwA-EECLCWRl6YXk_mj0ISusEcq-wkj3GMcPkwLvYGCN0WEVmiPuQidvLaPrxoCeGIQAvD_BwE

Steigerwald, A. (2020, March 2). BGSU lauches robot delivery services. Retrieved from https://www.wtol.com/article/news/local/bgsu-lauches-robot-delivery-services/512-2ffb12ef-dc8f-401f-802a-bbbe0f126944