I realize that this is a strange time in the world we live. And Ernie is a strange name. I know this because I’ve now lived with it for four decades.
I’ve spent various times in my life dealing with people singing “Rubber Duckie” to me. I’ve endured references to my unseen friend Vern. And once, folks began referring to me as Erni, no e, because someone else at the office was named Erni and email autocorrect software stinks. I thought I had seen everything possible involving the name Ernie. I share my full name—first and last—with a onetime Green Bay Packer, a well-known Jamaican musician, and a well-known South African musician. I know a lot about Ernie.
But never did I think that I would meet an Ernie quite like you. You are a tote delivery mechanism at an Amazon factory. You exist to help workers in that factory avoid unnecessary bending and stretching as they work to do their jobs. You help with ergonomics, according to Amazon.
Kevin Keck, the worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon, described your capabilities like this: “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
You make things safer for people who work really difficult jobs to help people get their doodads as quickly as possible, with minimal human interaction.
When I was in school, someone once told me that if I ever had a kid, I should never name them Ernie. “Given how much kids pick on you, how could you do that to them?” they posited.
I do not yet have a child, though I’ve suggested unsuccessfully to my wife that, if and when the time does come, we should name our theoretical firstborn child Elliott. But if a next-generation Ernie is not in the cards, perhaps it would make sense to adopt you, Ernie, so you can feel like your life has some sort of purpose beyond simply improving the ergonomics of some low-paid factory workers who likely will never even know your name.
You won’t be the only robot to work in Amazon factories—your colleagues Bert, Scooter, and Kermit will exist to manage the efficiency and safety of the human workers who work in those factories, who have struggled to unionize, and whose work is thankless despite the fact that a huge chunk of the modern economy relies on their ability to do that work. Jim Henson must be proud.
There was a movie that came out recently named Nomadland that highlighted the kinds of workers who work for Amazon. It wasn’t perfect, perhaps more positive than working for Amazon actually is, but it tried, and it nonetheless highlights a good point worth heeding: More people will know who you and your Muppet-named friends are than the workers who packed laptops and toaster ovens into containers to be shipped to homes and offices anywhere in the world.
In a way, it’s not your fault, Ernie. You help solve a small element of a problem that your ancestors did imperfectly and your replacements will do a little bit better. Perhaps in a decade, you’ll be replaced with a robot named Fozzie. But let’s face it—for today, maybe this week, you’re the best-known Ernie in the world.
But soon, you’ll be forgotten, just like the workers whose ergonomics you help to improve.
Anyway, let me know if you’d like to chat sometime. I’ve never talked to a robot before. Alexa doesn’t count.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 2 minutes, 45 seconds