Being scared of spiders makes perfect sense, but robots?

My son is scared of dobots. It started when he saw a robot on noted horror-fest Hey Duggee, and started quaking with dread. This was the full, Scooby-Doo-style scaredy-cat reaction; all quivering lip and staring eyes, rendered even more tragicomic by his inability to say the word robot, preferring ‘dobot’ instead.

I don’t mean to impugn his nerves – he’s two, so that would be mildly unfair – but it wasn’t even a particularly scary robot, so I’m not sure why its effect was so pronounced. For whatever reason, it’s left him paralysed with fear any time a robot is mentioned on TV or pictured in one of his books. This fear has even ventured into his sleep, so that most mornings this week he’s woken up with a start, crying, ‘Dobot! Dobot!’

I’m not immune to fear myself. I am even scared of some robots, like the ones you see gambolling through assault courses in YouTube videos, improving every six months or so until it’s hard to believe they’re actually a research project, and not a gruesome army of robo-dogs about five years away from ripping the flesh from all our bones, pulping our spewing guts into the battery chambers that will power their beeping, pulsing digital empire. But your everyday, common-or-garden robot, all bleep bloop and mechanical pincers for hands? Fine.

At some level, of course, this is the lie of all fears. Yours make sense and those of others are irrational. I have never had any fear of wasps or bees, and like to think this makes me a cold, logical man. This would be easier to believe were it not for my intense dislike of spiders. As if to prove the point, my son has no fear of spiders and cheerfully chases them around the living room while I say supportive things like, ‘Ha, ha, that’s very good, now please place it outside for me, thanks.’

My wife doesn’t think her fear of mice is irrational, even though this phobia generated an entire column in these pages when a rodent sighting led to us – and our then four-month-old boy – leaving home in the middle of the night to stay with friends for two days. This is, after all, a woman who has stated on many occasions that she does not believe in an afterlife, but still believes in ghosts. She will not be drawn on how these two notions intersect.

In a wider sense, almost all fears are unnatural. We’re born with only two – falling and loud noises. It’s counterintuitive to think that this is all we get on startup and all the others have to be added like iPhone updates over the course of our lives. It seems unfair that people raised in places which actually have dangerous spiders are not born scared of them and have to learn the hard way. Perhaps an early grounding in fears, irrational or not, is a good thing overall, handing us the tools to judge risk and avoid harm, one dobot at a time. If nothing else, when the coming robopocalypse finally arrives, my son will have an advantage over all of us.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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