I am a daily player of Words with Friends, an online Scrabble-like game that I play with pals from across the country. Some are excellent and regularly outsmart me (that’s you, Jerry Price). Others I have to work less hard to beat!
Between each play, a brief ad pops up. It still is creepy when it is something that I was looking at on Amazon the day before. But one that has been showing up a lot lately is an advertisement for a phone app that lets you tell the difference between a weed and a plant. Really? What is a weed and what is a plant? Who gets to decide?
I have hung around enough environmental science majors to know a bit about invasive species, plants that are not indigenous to an area. When introduced to a new environment, some species take off, crowding out native plants and disrupting the habitat, sometimes with disastrous consequences. And who wasn’t touched seeing President Biden plucking a dandelion from the White House lawn and presenting it to the First Lady. Was he thinking “weed” when he did that? I think not.
I think about people, too, when I see this ad. Too many people go around in this world as if they are holding up a phone app and sizing others up. What are the criteria and who gets to decide? What I want us to be teaching and modeling at Chapman is that we need to look beneath the surface, beneath skin color and clothing labels and tattoos and gender expression and weight to see the real humanity of the people around us.
There is no app for this—only the daily work of seeing others, really seeing them as we pass on sidewalks or check out our grocery cart or sit on a zoom call. And when we see, may we not be trying to sort people into the good and the bad, but looking with interest to find the unique person with a specific history, including horror and heroism.
There is no app for that.