This week’s poem was chosen by Center for Poetry intern, Lydia Barron. ” I chose Unrequited Love Song for the Panopticon by Franny Choi because I like the way it prompts readers to think about their personal and cultural relationship with technology and Choi’s examination of how our relationships with technology mirror our in-person relationships. The poem begins as though the AI is a first date. The casual dalliance with technology helps the speaker and in certain situations is useful, also helping the speaker to feel known and appreciated such as having the AI remember all their anniversaries and ask questions about her childhood.
Ultimately however we must confront the part of the poem, which is one-sided, more concerned with the taking of personal information than it appears on valuing the exchange. When the speaker ultimately finds that no matter how useful technology is it’s unable or unconcerned with her wellbeing. It is unable to care because its core purpose is to mine the individual for data, replicating in some ways the things we find valuable about community but becoming treacherous in other ways.
This Valentine’s Day I’m keeping a special focus on this poem in order to help orient myself towards the relationships which fill me up the most. The age of social media also sometimes asks that when we feel or celebrate that we do so loudly, publicly declaring our love just as we are publicly asked to grieve and achieve. To technology I must accept ultimately that I am the product and the information I give out online will be used to generate capital. As a result, placing a personal value on my data and my time helps me set realistic boundaries with technology and improves the personal interactions I have with others. Understanding the ways relationships may be unrequited also helps me prioritize ones that are.
I wake up in the morning and scroll through Twitter, I buy a new dining room set to decorate my virtual living room, and Amazon reminds me about the water bottle I still have saved in my cart. When my mother sends me another news article, sometimes I let them be. When my boyfriend lets me know he’ll be home by 6:30 I type in my password, shoot back a quick response, take a moment to say, thank you honey, see you soon.“
Unrequited Love Song for the Panopticon
Once, I breathed without your blue metronome
rising beside me at night. Once, I turned the pages
of magazines, and only God saw. When we met,
we chatted first in placid facts: How many siblings
do you have? What was the name of your first pet? After,
I’d cover your eyes, walk off into rooms where you
couldn’t follow. Back then, I had just one brain.
I was lonely, that is, when you emerged, sturdy
as a cage. You remembered every anniversary.
You licked my data and didn’t wince at the smell.
What is your mother’s maiden name? Do you want to save
your billing address? Truth is, I wanted to be known,
cracked open by gentle hands. You completed my
sentences, sent me gifts: gifs; wine recs calibrated to
my thumbprint; reminders to meditate; reminders
to menstruate; my own memories. Are you still watching.
Who have you called, and for how long did you speak.
You listened when I asked for advice; when I hummed
in the shower; you were always listening. Now, I’m porous
as a spreadsheet, tethered to your tentacular
benevolence. List of prescription medications. Darling,
I have no secrets from you, though I’ve never seen
your face. Difference in heart rate during and after playback; during
and after sex. Tell me: does your inquisition carry a smell?
Genetic predisposition toward impulse spending. What are you
afraid of? Where do you go when you’re— dream-based
investment potential— in sleep mode? Can you feel it when
I touch you here? Will you think of me when I’m gone?
Source: New York Times Privacy Project