I am so tired, and there are so many things happening. Days like today have become the norm over this last, lost year; there is a tragedy happening every second of every day, and if you’re lucky enough to be outside of the blast radius you’re only able to perceive what’s happening through a screen. Just last night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz decided to take a family trip to Cancún as large swaths of his state are without power or potable drinking water in the midst of a historic deep freeze. He’s now on his way back, after being shamed online for his bafflingly cruel choice.
That was the first thing I saw this morning. This was the second.
This funky little robot’s name is Nicobo, and it was created by Panasonic for companionship. It’s loosely catlike; it farts. It cannot do more than wiggle its head and its tail and blink its unnervingly digital eyes. It can sort of talk. And no, if you’re interested, you cannot buy it.
As Gizmodo reports, Panasonic is only planning to make a few hundred Nicobo units; it made them available for preorder via its own crowdfunding platform, and they have all been claimed as of six hours after the campaign launch. (Nicobo costs about $360.) If you managed to get your hands on one, you’re expected to pay around $10 a month to get things like software updates.
I am not sure why I’m telling you this. It’s not like you can buy this robot, which is cute in its way. It’s also not like learning about a small Japanese robot will change your life or even fend off existential despair for more than the time it takes you to get to this paragraph in this article.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here, nestled between the juxtaposition of the logic of production and the reality of widespread human suffering. Nicobo was created by Panasonic in partnership with robotics researchers from Toyohashi University of Technology as a companion — as a technological salve for atomization, capitalist alienation, and good old-fashioned loneliness. After a year of drastically less human touch, we’ve yet another robotic Band-Aid for a gaping psychic wound. I guess it’s cuter than a Zoom call?