When this is all over I wonder how it will change our relationship to technology. Will this time of physical distance with social contacts pushed through machines move us to a stage of more comfort and more satisfaction with our digital lives? Or, will we be so tired of seeing and speaking and typing at a distance that when the all-clear arrives the first thing we will do is find others in person and hug them and grab their hand and drag them to dinner?
Will there still be restaurants when this is over or will people become so accustomed to picking up and delivery—eating their food in their safe dens—that the idea of eating in the vicinity of other’s sneezes and coughs and droplets will be too unbearable?
I’ve seen so many examples of people making because they have the time and they cannot buy as much right now. Baking bread, cooking meals, pickling pickles, making art, planning strategies for spring planting. They share the things they learn and connect with others though their productions. This is what humans have done as our species evolved. We are social. We have never been individuals: H. Sapiens are wired to share and connect and work together. These are skills that our consumer-based economy has taught us we don’t need anymore. When this is over will people make more and buy less? Will we have strengthened our making and make-do muscles to the point that we no longer accumulate so much crap? Will some of the useless stores never reopen and the market for the senseless products dry up? Will the excesses of the economy-of-shit be recognized for what they are? Or, perhaps this period will have been so exhausting, our consumer-bodies so constipated, that when the stores reopen everything of all kinds will fly off the shelves in an orgy of directionless consumption.
I wonder how months of living in-place with family, friends and strangers will change people and their ways of dealing with others. Will people have grown closer to one another? Will they have learned how to be together in space in new ways? Will working and living in place next to one another create new pathways of care and affection?
In some cases I imagine this will be a test that some relationships dramatically fail. I imagine the moment the doors open again some will dash out into the streets in a puff of dust and continue scurrying off to the horizon, the conclusion to a Loony Toon.
Will there be a baby boom in nine months? Will there be a divorce boom? Will new habitation and family patterns emerge? When this is all over will many of us have clarity about the relationships between people and place and space? Will our homes be clean and organized after months inside, or will we be buried among our plies, having all become hoarders.
Communicating without human presence makes things different. When we aren’t there with others we aren’t as careful with the brakes. We aren’t as sensitive to cues and emotions. We don’t take as much time. Technology makes things short. The medium affects the message. It has affect effects. Technology makes things efficient, but clips the human edges. Faces on a screen are OK for a while, but they distance us—especially if they are the faces of people we have never met IRL.
I’m concerned that during this time we will make mistakes: emotional mistakes, mistakes of care, the things that happen when human presence is absent. It is easily to write things online that we will regret, especially between strangers. Flame wars are easy to start. What happens when huge parts of a whole society suddenly shift from real life to screen-mediation? What are the mistakes of the media of which we are unaware?
One thing is for certain the media giants are having their day. The age of The Platform has come to full maturity. And, I’m afraid that when this is all over total surveillance will have won complete acceptance.
Our entire society has become digital content. We are all providing for each other while the platforms watch. Our society is going online and as our data flow along the private lines of Comcast, through the private servers of Facebook, Google, Amazon and the others (are there others?) we are generating data traces on an unimaginable scale.
This pandemic is being recorded in real time: every typed post, emoji, call, purchase, meeting, class, package delivery, complaint, worry, meme, expression of love or fear. And, of course, these are all geolocated to our homes. When our COVID spring is over will we all be fine with this? Will we accept the new skills we will have achieved in mediating our lives on the private digital platforms. Or, is there any chance that we might see how valuable the networks and platforms and electronic machines have become to our lives and seek more community oversight of their power.