Spot-on or too scary? This New Yorker magazine cover could be a nod to futuristic Seattle

The New Yorker cover
(R. Kikuo Johnson / The New Yorker)

I went to the dentist this morning, which is the place where I like to go every six months so I can catch up on my print magazine reading. In the waiting area, the Oct. 23 issue of The New Yorker jumped out at me immediately because it felt like a spot-on representation of what Seattle could look like in the future.

If you’re of the belief that the machines are coming for our jobs, artist R. Kikuo Johnson’s illustration called “Tech Support” plays into that paranoia. Upright robots on smartphones, drinking coffee and walking their robot dogs breeze past a stereotypical Northwest-looking dude on the sidewalk with his real dog.

One of the robots throws washers and gears into a cup the guy is holding out. Whatever this guy used to do in whatever city he lives in, he’s surely been replaced by robotics and automation and artificial intelligence and so on.

Maybe it’s not even the future? Maybe it’s simply a commentary on the robotic nature of today’s tech workforce and its connection to homelessness in cities like Seattle and elsewhere. A friend on social media, where I posted the cover, simply said, “Those robots need lanyards” in a nod to the ID badges worn by workers at Amazon and Microsoft and everywhere else.

Johnson explained a bit in a blurb from the magazine’s website:

“I’m not too worried about machines replacing cartoonists,” the artist R. Kikuo Johnson says, about his cover for the Money Issue. Johnson may have switched from drawing with ink, brushes, and paper to using a stylus and a digital tablet, but he isn’t worried that computers will take over the rest of his cartooning process. “When robots are advanced enough to be neurotic, then maybe I’ll be concerned,” he said, “though I don’t think too many of us choose this field for job security, anyway.”

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