The Horror of Jury Duty, Part 2: Rise of the Cyborg Court Reporters

On top of everything else last week, I got called for jury duty and went up to the Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, where they actually do a very good job of keeping it professional and not creating a debasing atmosphere for the jury pool. I was called into a courtroom for the jury selection process…from 90 people down to a jury of 12 and two subs. I am deeply grateful to have been spared being on the jury this particular week.

Besides hearing a scary list of criminal charges read to the court, and seeing the seemingly normal defendant stand to face the jury pool with a massive cast on his leg (“accident” in the holding pen? but the alleged crimes were 2.5 years ago), there was an extra surreal touch in the courtroom, designed to appall my sci-fi-modulated eye. The court reporter was using a combined transcription microphone plus silencing mask feeding into voice recognition software that apparently is the new thing in reporting…Voice Writing, they call it.

Now, I’m someone who routinely thinks about how my “soft skills” and skillful turns of phrase will help me and my family survive in a post-apocalyptic America–while nonetheless failing to prepare my Ready Kit, even during September Is Preparedness Month (the very concept of which, by the way, makes me give a big FU to both the Bush Administration and terrorists). But you don’t have to be as far gone as I am into post-geek fantasy life to look at this person keeping her eyes on the judge and others in the court, while speaking continuously but imperceptibly into this device clamped on her mouth, and get some serious cyborg willies.

I’m sure I stand to be corrected here, but for some retro reason the classic Dune movie of

"Usul, who is this woman?" "We shall call her Al-Missy, after the bright-eyed squirrel who teaches the other animals."

about 30 years ago stands out as one of the great examples of creepy human-machine visuals. To really hit on the dystopic vision of the court reporter WHO CANNOT SPEAK, something more along the lines of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil might make more sense. But as I look back on it, the movie doesn’t have anything to quite conjure up the silenced, gasping courtroom reporter, trying in vain to call out to the jury pool that the Clerk of Court of Middlesex County is a demon in human form, but prevented from doing so by the very implement of her craft!


In fact, we don’t need to go so far afield to find apt comparisons for our faithful reporter.

Why yes, I would like fries with that

This recent artistic intervention actually straps something kind of like a Teletubbies screen onto a massive facemask to, in the artists’ words,

replace the hesitations and fearful silent of an immigrant’s personal voice with a fully formed version of the immmigrant’s story. It function both as a conduit of ones’ voice and image as well as a gag that blocks the mouth and prevents from speaking.

Porte-Parole transforms its user into a virtual subject, literally, a cyborg communicating through a high-tech device rather than your own bodily apparatus for speech. The small size screen drives viewers to come closer to the user face in order to see the image of the moving lips and hear the voice.

I think if these artists could somehow be put in charge of, say, the Dutch Immigration and Cultural Absorption Authority, we’d avoid some of the unpleasant cultural clashes now occurring between North African immigrants and natural-born very tall potsmoking multilingual Dutch volk.The little screen is playing “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now” on continuous loop.

But the image of a big scary device obscuring a man’s natural speech that may seem most prevalent to you these days–indeed, haunting the sidebar of your browser on many websites–is the sleep apnea mask. Happily my snoring issues are mild enough to be relieved by always sleeping on my side, avoiding strong drink, and having Amy periodically slug me throughout the night, so no need for this oppressive mask with an Alien-like tentacle snaking down your throat. Probably right now there is a court reporter Voice Writing the trial of a man who rose from troubled sleep with his bloody CPAP mask on and scared to death a sensitive nearby poet walking his bunny rabbit…and that court reporter is BLIND to the irony. Or should I say mute to the irony. Or deaf!

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