It was 5 am. I’d woken up because I needed to pee.
But as I awoke, my iPod lit up with a message from my best friend. My half asleep self glanced over the message.
“Someone in the States killed hitchBOT. I almost cried.”
I struggled to go back to sleep as I looked up what had happened, feeling just as upset as my best friend did.
I first heard about hitchBOT last summer. I had spent a couple of months hitchhiking across Canada with next to no money, venturing through the mountains, across the prairies (and more prairies, and then some more prairies), around lakes and trees, past tall cliffs with crashing waves. I was on my way back to the west coast.
hitchBOT, as you may have guessed, was a hitchhiking robot. She (yes, she’s a ladybot) began her travels in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. I was gleeful to hear about her, and eager to find out how her travels would progress. Would my fellow Canadians, those who had been so kind by giving me a lift, a meal, a hot shower, a twenty dollar bill, be as keen to pick up my robot counterpart? Even more intriguing, as we were hitchhiking similar routes, would our paths cross?
I reached Victoria prior to hitchBOT’s arrival, but was pleased to find out that she would be present at a couple of free talks in the city, along with her creators. I headed to the museum to meet her with some friends, and oh what a delight it was! I squeezed my way to the front of the line to have my very own picture taken with this lovely lady, feeling an odd sort of bond with her. Why on earth was I so ecstatic that this robot had managed to hitchhike across Canada? Why was I so passionate about sharing her story? And why the hell did I feel a connection with a ROBOT?!
After hitchhiking across Canada, hitchBOT did a couple of smaller trips to both Germany and the Netherlands. It was announced a few weeks ago that she would be travelling to the United States. I shared the story on Facebook, with a bit of a pessimistic outlook; my own travels in the States, while being filled with joy and wonderful adventures, were rather difficult. It seemed that Americans were positively terrified of hitchhikers, and catching a lift was easier said than done. If it was hard for me, how was a robot going to fare?
What did not for one moment cross my mind was that someone would murder hitchBOT.
She lasted a total of two weeks in the States before she was vandalized beyond repair.
I had commented on the Facebook status that had announced her demise. Although I partook in the outrage felt by all of hitchBOT’s followers, I also saw the silver lining: hitchhiking is not all sunshine and roses. Perhaps it was good for her followers to see the flip side of the coin, albeit a coin that almost always lands happy side up.
Today someone commented on my post:
“A human who hitchhikes is great, but the outrage is about a toy. What an infantile society.”
I couldn’t have disagreed more with this sentiment.
You see, hitchBOT was not “just a toy”, and the anger and sadness I felt was not just about a robot. I am not sad when a toaster breaks, I assure you. It was about everything that hitchBOT meant; she showed the beauty of humans in a world where everyone is afraid of each other – a world in which approaching a stranger on the street just to have a chat is seen as foreign and odd. hitchBOT gave me added faith of the kindness of strangers, and the willingness of people to accept the unknown – to embrace it even.
Her being vandalized showed a blatant disrespect from the few against something that was not theirs to destroy, regardless of whether you consider her a toy, a symbol, an experiment, whatever. What happened to this robot says a lot; most people who knew of hitchBOT loved and followed this social experiment. Those who picked her up were intrigued and excited, embracing the robot and bringing her on adventures. Hell, she even attended a wedding.
And it took only one person to come along and stop her in her tracks. It took but one malicious, thoughtless human being to spoil it all, and perhaps to remove some of that restored faith in humanity that hitchBOT had built up among her followers.
To me, this is not the case. No, I am well aware that for the hundreds of beautiful humans you meet on the road, there will always be one nasty one. The one that steals your iPod. The one that wants something in return for the ride. The one who breaks the pool noodle arms off of a beloved travelling robot.
But the true test ahead is whether she gets rebuilt, and back on the road. More important than anything, in my opinion, is that she continues on in the United States. The States may have a bad reputation, but they also have a lot of good people. hitchBOT needs to keep the faith that she has created alive, and prove to those who aren’t avid hitchhikers like I am that this was merely one bad seed. This was not the masses. This was not Americans. This was not society. This was just one careless, thoughtless, idiot.
Her continuing on, once rebuilt, would reinforce what I learn more and more every day on the road: the good people are the ones that matter, and you’ve just got to shrug the bad ones off.
We all know that a robot can be rebuilt, and she clearly didn’t feel any physical pain from her demise. This is about what the robot meant, and what her destruction meant.
But the most powerful message of all is that a robot – a freakin’ robot! – made it all the way across Canada, and adventured through Germany and the Netherlands without a single problem. And that says a lot more about the kindness of strangers – whether to those of flesh and blood or of mechanics and pool noodles – than one single person destroying her ever can.
For updates on hitchBOT, visit her website at http://hitchbot.me