The question of whether robots and computers can love is at least as complex as defining love itself; poets and greeting card writers have been grappling with that one for ages. The question of digital love hinges on the effectiveness of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and the ability of A.I. to give rise to emotions. In the course of predicting true A.I. in the early 1950s, computer scientist Alan Turing developed the Turing Test, a tool to assess whether a machine’s intelligence is indistinguishable from a human being’s. A.I.s have come a long way since, making Turing’s test a blunt instrument, but not settling issues of whether they can feel. But if Hollywood is any indication, we can be sure of this at least: humans can love machines—sometimes tragically. In the Sci-Fi classic Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) falls for the Replicant femme fatale Rachel (Sean Young), challenging his sworn duty to “retire” Replicants who try to pass for human. More recently, Her has Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) becoming enamored of his sophisticated new OS, Samantha (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johanssen). Their affair is all the more surreal for the fact that “Samantha” is a disembodied A.I. with no physical form. Hollywood continues to be infatuated with the question of A.I. love, offering dark cautionary tales like Ex Machina (2015). We may be fated to fall in love with the computers that we interact with every day, but can they love us back? I tried this simple experiment: I asked Siri on my iPhone “do you love me?” With analytic coolness and a dash of irony, she replied, “you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.”
Indeed, she does! In fair Verona where we lay our scene, the volunteer Secretaries of il Club di Giulietta (the Juliet Club) receive, read, and respond to more than 6,000 letters from the lovelorn each year. Think of it as “Dear Abby” with a Shakespearean inspiration. Believe it or not, you can pen your desires, romantic dreams, and tragic tales of unrequited love, address them simply to “Juliet / Verona,” and they’ll be delivered to the Club’s team of concerned cupids. The Secretaries read every one, save them in an archive, and send a handwritten response to the author with encouragement and advice for how to mend a broken heart. If you’re not into the pen-and-paper approach, you can pour your heart out digitally in a note via the Club’s website. Whatever form it takes, your letter will play a role in a centuries-old romantic tradition inspired by the Bard’s timeless tale of star-crossed lovers.
Juliet Capulet Print | $110-180
On April 25, 1947 in British Columbia, a group of kids walked down to Wigwam Café, their local candy shop, and were shocked and dismayed to find that the nickel they’d typically saved from their allowance would no longer buy them the chocolate they craved. Literally overnight, the shopkeepers had raised the price by 60%, making it a whopping 8 cents for a three-ounce candy bar.
Rather than take this injustice lying down, the kids ran home and scrawled signs professing the injustice. The strike had begun. Singing a catchy protest song (“We want a 5-cent chocolate bar/8 cents is going too darn far”) and carrying pithy signs (“Candy is dandy, but 8 cents isn’t handy!”), the little protesters marched up and down the street until almost all of the town’s kids had joined the “Chocolate Bar Strike.” The local paper snapped a picture and soon kids across Canada began picketing their own corner stores.
On April 30, 200 kids marched on the British Colombia capitol building, effectively shutting down government business for the day. All in all, 3,000 kids were said to have signed pledge cards stating that they’d boycott candy until the price went down. And their threats weren’t empty—candy sales went down 80%.
They almost won, too, but critics began to suggest that the National Federation of Youth, an organization with members affiliated with the Communist Party, had orchestrated the strike. There was no validity to these claims, but boycott had now been painted Red and parents forbade their kids from taking part. The price remained as it was, and to this day, the remaining kiddos (now grown) maintain that they’d only protested to let their voices be heard.
People Feeder | $38.00
Quite the opposite, actually. Plants are extremely considerate of their siblings—other plants grown from the seeds of the same mother plant—and won’t compete with their brethren the way they would with non-related plants.
A study of more than 3,000 mustard seedlings found that chemical cues given off during root growth will alert the plant to their nearby family and will change the way the plants grow. Instead of rapidly growing their roots to take up as many nutrients as possible, plants that were growing near siblings developed a shallower root system and intertwined leaves so they’d all have an equal chance at survival. The jury’s still out on how plant siblings feel about each other during long car rides, when one is using the bathroom for too long, or after their parents tell them to share the last piece of cake.
Micro-Green Kits | $48.00
Odes to love are almost as old as language and love itself. For many years, the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) from the Old Testament of the Bible was widely considered to be the earliest poetic tribute to matters of the heart. But in 1951, Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer found an older ode on a cuneiform tablet from the excavation of the Mesopotamian city of Nineveh. It had been unearthed in the mid-nineteenth century but put in a drawer until Kramer rediscovered it. When he translated it, Kramer found the tablet contains the Love Song for Shu-Sin (c. 2,000 BCE), part of an annual rite known as the “sacred marriage.” Sounds pretty tame and ceremonial, right? Guess again—it’s actually pretty steamy stuff, offering lines like You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you. Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber…Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber. So, before Solomon’s lover likened his lady to “a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses”—and a couple of millennia before slow jams—the Neo-Assyrians were heating things up with a love song for the ages.
The short answer is Robert Probst (1921 – 2000). But Bob was quick to point out that the cubicle and cubicle “farm” as we know them are a far cry from his original intent. Probst, a designer, inventor, and former college art professor, developed the Action Office system in 1960 as head of R&D for Herman Miller. The system was influenced by the German concept of Bürolandschaft or “office landscape,” a way of making open office plans more organic and hospitable through various desk configurations, partitions, and potted plants. Probst’s Action Office was a modular system that could be configured in various ways to suit different corporate environments, but its open angles (not 90 degrees) didn’t box workers in, and its mix of private and common spaces encouraged employees to move around throughout the day. And lest you think that the “standing desk” craze is a recent development, Probst incorporated the concept into his system as a way to improve blood flow. It was only decades later when office floor space costs soared that Probst’s office system was corrupted into the dreaded cubicle farm by large corporations looking to squeeze in as many people per square foot as possible. But however boxy and generic your workspace might be, remember: things could be worse…
Personality Desk Signs | $28
Some of them sure do. Take, for example, Boston’s Berkeley Building (also known as the Old John Hancock Building). Back in 1950, the Back Bay-area building was outfitted with a weather beacon so Bostonians could simply look up for a quick forecast. The beacon flashed both blue and red and was kept lit until 1973 when it was shut off to set an example during the energy crisis of that year. It was re-lit in 1983 and continues to display the weather for all who can crack the code. An easy way to remember the flashing signals: “Steady blue, clear view/Flashing blue, clouds due/Steady red, rain ahead/Flashing red, snow instead.” However, during the baseball season, flashing red spells something much more serious: The Red Sox game has been called off on account of weather. Oh, the horror!
The Northwestern Bank building in downtown Minneapolis was equally weather-savvy in its day. For 33 years – from 1949 until a fire destroyed the building in 1982 – the iconic Weather Ball perched atop it signaled the forecast to Minneapolitans up to 15 miles away, who decoded it via its own jingle. In 2013, a new, admittedly much less spectacular, rooftop “Weather Watcher” debuted not far from the original’s location.
Superstar | $80.00 – 170.00
In what could have been an excellent prequel to the tiny town in Footloose, around 400 people fell victim to a dancing outbreak in Strasbourg, Alsace (now part of France). It all began sometime in mid-July 1518 with just one woman. She stepped out onto the street and—like Baby once she got out of that corner—she danced. And danced. Aaaaand danced. Within a week, the same force consumed about 100 more people.
In what could have been a plot device for a 1940s movie musical, town officials figured the best way to deal with this madness was to just go with it—and so they set up musicians in reserved guildhalls, pipers and all. By the end of August 1518, almost 400 people had experienced the madness and it didn’t recede until early September. Some even died from weak hearts.
So what happened? Compulsive dancing had been seen before, but nothing quite at this Studio 54-level scope. The most popular theory attributes the dance fever to a trance-like state. Things in Strasbourg weren’t too great at the time—the city’s poor were suffering from severe famine and disease—and they also believed in St. Vitus, a saint who was thought to have the power to take over minds and inflict compulsive dance. This belief, along with an ever-unraveling daily life could have led to a trance-like state that made them act out the part of the accursed.
This is all speculation, of course. We don’t know exactly what caused or ended this nonstop dance party, but we do know that a dance craze of this magnitude hasn’t been seen since—unless, of course, you count the Macarena craze of the 1990s, which can still be observed at your cousin’s wedding, your nephew’s bar mitzvah, and on late, late nights at the karaoke bar.
First Dance Personalized Art | $300.00 – 500.00