In these times of pandemic we are seeing our close people almost exclusively through screens. Laptop, phone, tablet or TV screen. The pandemic brought us a cyberpunk reality that I did not imagine living. I always thought it would be science fiction but here we are, and our reality has all the ingredients for a cyberpunk novel. We live in a dystopian society in an oppressive environment of isolation, unable to physically interact with other human beings unless we use technology.
We have aspects of 1984 of George Orwell: spying on our private lives with our cell phones, smart TVs with cameras, not to mention the Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod microphones. The Internet is a tool that increasingly takes over the daily activity of modern society.
The devices became accumulators of personal data and this data is stored and used by large corporations and governments that control information and power. Regimes choose puppets to feed the masses of fear and hatred, and determine which facts are true and which are “fake news”, inspired by Big Brother but with touches of parody. 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a manual. What Orwell must never have imagined is that people would voluntarily buy and install surveillance devices in their homes.
Of the few vehicles we see on the streets, a large percentage are the Deliverators from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Hiro Protagonist, the novel’s main character, is a freelance pizza delivery boy in a dystopian future. In our reality, Snow Crash Deliverators work for Uber, Just Eat, Deliveroo, Glovo, OrdersYa, and other alternatives. Delivery drivers’ lives are basically at the mercy of corporations and their technology.
The packages to be delivered are decided by algorithms, as well as the routes to travel and the prices to be charged. Deliverators don’t carry swords or ride super-tech cars with an automatic pizza system, but they rely on their cell phones to get their work done.
Something that we will surely see in the outcome of our dystopian cyberpunk reality is a new social order thanks to this pandemic. As they always say in the isolated mega events that are added to 19 other isolated mega events of the DC and Marvel comics:
Nothing will ever be the same. Being optimistic, this could be a giant opportunity to globally change the order of things towards a more just society for all. Realistically, we can imagine that things are going to get worse and 6 months after the pandemic has passed, everything has been forgotten and we are in a worse place.
Returning to the topic of screens, although they are a way to get closer to another person, they will never equal face-to-face contact. We are looking at a pixel representation of what the other person was doing the number of milliseconds ago it took for the signal to be captured by the camera and travel through the internet to our device where the video card had to process the image and present it on the screen. We lose the real-time behavior of the person, whose movements have to be synchronized by the computer with the sound that also traveled from the other device to ours. We forget to look into each other’s eyes. Either we look at the camera so that on the other side it is perceived that we are looking straight or we look at the place where the eyes of the other person are seen. We are no longer us, we are what is interpreted of us on the other side and behaving knowing that we are in front of the camera. There is a lot to unpack here regarding the extension of the person through their interaction with others exclusively through technology.
Going into more detail on the subject, for almost 6 months I have been working with people that I have only seen through a screen. I don’t know how tall they are, I don’t know what gestures they make outside of what is seen in the rectangle captured by the camera. I have no idea if they wear shoes or not, pants, dress, kilt or bermudas.
And this is normal for working in a remote company, although under normal conditions several opportunities to meet in person would have been generated to avoid the distance that virtuality generates. The issue is that these days that virtuality expands to all relationships: family, friends, and others.
I have lived alone for a long time, and in other (darker) periods of my life I fell into “I haven’t talked to anyone for a long time” or directly “I haven’t talked.” But in these times it has become more noticeable, especially the difference between speaking through a camera and speaking in person.
I have a friend who lives on the second floor of a building and I have stopped by the house on my government-authorized exercise trips. Do you realize what I am writing? “Exit from exercise authorized by the go
Well ”? Well, with this friend, I talk to him from the street and he from his window, and so we spend about 10 or 15 minutes talking. And it is so strange, so different to have that interaction again that is not for work or through a screen.
Having to move away from people on the street at least 2 meters is not natural to me, it is not a very normal behavior. Something positive about this is that by making the movements to leave the necessary distance, you can often see a mixture of solidarity and empathy on people’s faces. We are all in the same, we have no other choice, but we are still human.
If there is one thing to get out of all this text, let it be:
Let’s take advantage of the fact that we had to go through this at a time where there is technology to communicate more and it is relatively accessible.
Let’s send messages to people, create groups of friends or acquaintances or simply people with common interests. Let’s write, call, and spread out more to make a contact. That we are all in the same and ultimately it is good to communicate.
This is one of the experiences in which we grow a little. Most of us are in an abnormal condition where we test ourselves on various things. If we survive this, when everything returns to some kind of normality, we will value some things more, and have learned a lot. Both from our environment and the way we interact with others and ourselves.
And at the end of the day, we have no choice but to comply with the isolation and do everything possible so that everything ends as soon as possible.